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One Tank Trips: Culver, IN

Published: Jun. 24, 2021 at 3:47 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 24, 2021 at 6:23 PM EDT
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CULVER, Ind. (WNDU) -16 News Now is helping you celebrate summer by uncovering some of the best travel spots you can get to on less than a tank of gas.

This time, Jack Springgate headed to the shores of Lake Maxinkuckee, showing us all the town of Culver has to offer.

Culver Indiana is a great place to cool down this summer and it’s where I’m at for today’s One Tank Trip.

Roughly 20 minutes away from Plymouth and less than an hour away from South Bend, this Indiana Oasis has some great places to unwind and arguably even better places to eat.

My stomach is growling just thinking about this, so I’m going to head to my first stop. A great family restaurant right here on the main drag.

For a small community, Culver packs some serious flavor.

It’s a lowkey foody destination that has cuisine ranging from breakfast favorites to sushi.

Now a lot of people might have heard of this town because of Culver Academy, but there’s a lot more to this place than just the boarding school. From the Culver Visitor Center, Matt Keedy joins me here at Cafe Max where the history is all around you...and good grub isn’t too far away either.

“We decorate with the three facets of the community which are the town, the lake, and the academy. So, that’s what you see adorned on the wall, is memorabilia from the community, given to me by the community,” said Cafe Max owner Susie Mahler.

This unofficial tour of the town arranged on the walls makes Cafe Max great for first-time visitors.

But it’s their food that makes this spot a favorite for locals and tourists alike.

“Sinful French Toast is wonderful. It’s a cinnamon roll that we slice, buttercream frosting, egg wash, and grill just so it caramelizes. People like that. The original corner tavern fried chicken which was a throwback years ago. There was a corner tavern and we serve that same recipe here,” Mahler said.

Once you’ve tried either of these comfort favorites, you won’t be surprised to hear they landed Cafe Max on Indiana Foodways ‘Rise n’ Shine’ and ‘Winner Winner Chicken Dinner’ Foodie Trails.

It’s not hard to find a few other foodie trails here in town.

Four of them take you to The Lakehouse Grille where you can try their version of the Hoosier State’s favorite sandwich that landed them on the ‘Tenderloin Lovers Trail’.

The ‘Here Fishy Fishy’ trail recognizes them as a great place to get seafood. Don’t shy away from the crab cakes and even sushi.

You can enjoy a bite to eat while taking in the view of the second largest natural lake in Indiana and our next stop, Lake Maxinkuckee.

“If it’s a busy summer weekend we’ll get about 1,000 people to come out here and enjoy the lakefront property. It’s only $3 for adults. $2.50 for kids. We’re open 10 A.M.-7:00 P.M. every day which includes lifeguards on duty, concession stands, and public restrooms here at the beach lodge. We have our sailing group, that’s Sail 22. They hold ‘Sailing Saturdays’ and camps for kids. People can enjoy some boating. We have a lot of water skiers. There’s a public launch on the west side of the lake. If they’re just visiting for the weekend or something, they’re more than welcome to use the public launch,” said Culver Parks Superintendent Amber Cowell.

Whether you’re on land or on water, there are plenty of options for the whole family to stay cool here in Culver on these hot summer days. Luckily I have friends like Matt here to take me out on his boat so we can hang on Lake Maxinkuckee.

You can find some great grub even by boat. We docked at The Lake Max Beach Bar who offer street tacos that are full of flavor and keep you looking good in a swimsuit. Go for their ‘beach bod’ option and they’ll replace the tortillas with bib lettuce.

Take a gluten-free pizza to go if you want to have something to eat while cruising around the lake for amazing views of the shoreline.

It reveals what some call the best view of the academy grounds, and its connection with the lake throughout its history.

“Of course having the Culver Academy Summer School here, there’s a naval program. There’s the largest three-masted ship on inland waters in the US as part of the fleet there, so that lends a lot of beauty to the natural surroundings of the lake,” said Culver Academies Museum and Archives manager Jeff Kenney.

Now to cap off our trip with a refreshing and tasty treat you can scoop up on your way out of town. You won’t even need to leave your car.

I don’t know about you, but I can never go wrong with an ice-cold root beer to finish a sizzling hot day, and it looks like I’m not alone. Just a stone’s throw away from the public beach and you can get your hands on one at the Original Rootbeer Stand.

“Rootbeer float is awesome here. Get it every time I come here. I like the cold glass they bring it out in. Yeah, frozen frosty mugs,” said two lunch customers.

“My husband likes their Italian beef and it goes fast. I usually get the Chicago hot dog,” said another customer.

From their original rootbeer recipe to the carhop service, the only thing that’s really changed here in the past six decades is the addition of neon lights and a few new menu items.

“The rootbeer is pretty special. The Chicago-style hotdogs I added to it. I added a beef sandwich back in the day, so I changed it but not very much,” said the Original Rootbeer Stand owner Mark Damore Sr.

Add this to your list as a way to cap off a great day, or just to show your kids how people used to hang out before cell phones.

And while this might be a small town, you’ll no doubt find something new for every member of your family each time you visit Culver. You can start planning your trip by heading to FindCulver.com and for now reporting in Culver, I’m Jack Springgate, keep exploring.

You can also learn more about one of the best times to visit this summer over the 4th of July weekend for the 37th annual Culver Lakefest by heading to culverlakefestival.com

16 News Now wants to give a special thanks to the Culver & Lake Maxinkuckee visitors center for all their help in discovering the great places featured in this One Tank Trip.

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