Clauss Bakery & Café
When traveling the interstate highways, dining choices are pretty much limited to fast food and truck stops. We prefer to off-ramp toward small towns in search of eateries that cater to local folk. That’s how we found Clauss Bakery and Café in downtown Rensselaer, Indiana, about mid-way between Chicago and Indianapolis. It’s a route we drive a few times a year.
As you head into town on Washington Street, Clauss’ storefront establishment is on the main square across from the courthouse. The interior is reminiscent of a farmhouse kitchen, with linoleum floors, laminated tabletops and the comforting smells of freshly baked bread. The bakery cases near the front door are filled with sweet temptations, practically insuring diners can’t resist taking home a treat or more.
The menu is comprised of light fare, mostly sandwiches, soups and pastries. Daily specials are handwritten on a whiteboard. Every day, there’s a lunchtime salad bar and, on certain days, a baked potato bar or taco bar. The bakery selections include bread, dinner rolls, cookies, cakes and pie. Soup and pulled pork are available in bulk. Everything is made daily for eating in or for carrying out. Prices are reasonable, with sandwiches are in the $5 to $6 range.
The bakery, a town mainstay for decades, was struggling back in December 2004 when Rex and Tammy Clauss decided to buy it. Rex had been working in the insurance industry and was burned out. They didn’t have any experience running a bakery, but no matter. They hired a former employee to teach them.
These days Rex is the baker. He also makes a tangy vegetable soup on Fridays. He starts at midnight and works until dawn, when he goes home to get a little sleep. Then he returns to greet the day’s customers. Tammy decorates wedding and graduation cakes and keeps the books.
The hours are hard, but the people are wonderful, Tammy told us. Even during the overnight shifts, Rex has company. The town’s insomniacs know they can wander in for coffee and a chat.
As for my favorites: Egg salad on homemade white bread and coconut crème pie.
110 W. Washington St.
Rensselaer, Indiana 47978