The building at 119 N. River Road in West Lafayette has always been a bit of an odd duck. Getting in or out is tricky. The first floor is tiny. Parking is … a gamble. (More on that later.)
Several businesses have come and gone. But in its third year of tenure, Town & Gown Bistro capably caters to differing demographics for quick breakfast, upscale dinner and everything in between. (Plus, breakfast all day? Yes, please.)
Town & Gown is owned by Chef Matt O’Neill, an Ireland native who also owns Bloomington’s Runcible Spoon. O’Neill has shrewdly separated space on a relatively small lot with a staircase on which servers get more than their daily recommended steps. There’s quiet café seating downstairs, a bustling full room and bar upstairs and a patio with gardens of herbs and lettuces. (Yes, it overlooks River Road. But you can still enjoy a few more weeks of comparative quiet.)O’Neill makes good use of plates, too … namely covering every inch of them. I’ve yet to try the dinner menu, but Town & Gown’s breakfast, brunch and lunch options are outstanding.
So jammed with bacon, potato and onions is the Bonne Femme Omelet that they practically pop up from the light, fluffy eggs. Much like auto parts stores sprout up across from one another, West Lafayette’s best Reubens are adjacent. Town & Gown’s has that perfect sour crunch with copious amounts of corned beef. From-scratch pancakes and French toast are a divine indulgence. On a healthier tip, their fruit cup is packed with the premium stuff it’s elsewhere hard to find.
On this most recent visit, I started off with an Old Fashioned — a tough drink to muff, but it’s been done around here. (No snitching in print, but I can tell you in person.) Town & Gown has the perfect fruit muddle to keep the flavor throughout — the right balance of clean and busy, stinging and sweet.
I then chose a menu staple I hadn’t yet sampled: Smoked salmon, here thinly sliced (with capers and dill) atop a hefty breakfast hash with horseradish caper sauce on the side — all topped with eggs over-easy and a side of hickory bacon for a dash of traditional breakfast. The yolk softened the hash just right while the horseradish added some noteworthy kick to yet another delectably flavorful and definitively filling meal there. Oh yeah, the bacon was good, too.
Town & Gown’s biggest downside: Parking. You will be tempted by all those open spots at the fast food place next door. Don’t. I’ve seen tow trucks hovering in anticipation and cars hauled away. To their credit on busy days, Town & Gown has had eagle-eyed scouts helping people find spots. Other times, they have a sign out front that warns you of the towing fee. Upside: That’s the only thing that could otherwise sour the many good meals at Town & Gown.
Rob Ford is Tipmont and Wintek's communication director, a role he's held since 2015.
Rob has a bachelor's and a master's in Communication from Purdue University. He lives in West Lafayette with his wife and three children and has a life-sized Yoda statue in his office. Away from the office, you’ll find Rob working on his golf swing, jump shot, or hope for a Purdue basketball national title – all futile endeavors.