On a dinner last week at Esan Thai restaurant in Bloomington, Indiana, I thought the Thailand beer Chang listed on the menu sounded interesting. I like to try international brews and sometimes end up with something undrinkable for my tastes. Chang was quite good – clean-tasting and very cold, just the way I like it.
I was surprised to learn that Chang Beer, brewed by Thai Beverage, has only been in existence since 1995 and is now the No. 1 selling beer brand in Thailaind. The beer reportedly is brewed with deep well water, the same well water that is bottled and sold in Thailand as mineral water.
Whatever it is, the beer is good. And the label is quite eye catching.
The word “Change” means elephant, an animal renowned for its superior strength and mental capacity. Elephants played a major role in Thailand’s history, taking warriors into battle against invaders as well as being used in royal or religious ceremonies. In particular a white elephant was a venerable creature worthy of use by royalty and all those of noble birth.
The two white elephants on the Chang beer logo symbolize happiness, harmony and prosperity and the name Chang itself means elephant in Thai.
The Esan Thai restaurant in Bloomington is easy to find. It is located across from the library on the corner of Kirkwood Avenue and Lincoln Street. Esan Thai also has a big plus – four free parking spaces on the east side of the restaurant and two spaces on the north side by the handicapped accessible door. No need to feed those blasted downtown parking meters or worry about running out of meter time during a leisurely meal.
Esan Thai isn’t a very big restaurant but it did a bustling business while I was there. I noticed several people coming in for carryout bags. I also saw diners of all ages, except children, during my dinner.
Since Thai food is often spicy, the menu notes the “hot” level of each dish and warns that diners might not want to order the top “Thai hot” unless they are sure they really like hot. Other choices are mild, medium, medium-hot and hot. I got mild and it was tasty to me.
The décor of Esan Thai is simple. Tables and chairs, a few booth seats again a wall. Linen tablecloths top glass-topped tables. Thailand art works on the wall. Live orchids in planting pots on the tables. The bathroom was clean (I always check that and don’t want to tell you how many times I have been disappointed in classy establishments).
Opened October 2003 (Happy 10th Birthday!) in the beautiful Victorian Towers building, Esan Thai was the dream child of Don and Don and Luangthong “Aey” Schoonover. The two met when Don went to Thailand for a second time.
“My first trip was an around-the-world trip with my bicycle,” Don says. “I fell in love with Southeast Asia – the friendly, smiling people and the food and culture – and came back to the area again and again.”
The Schoonovers moved from Thailand shortly after the birth of their daughter Kara. They decided to settle within a day’s drive of the Chicago area where Don’s parents lived.
“I remembered Bloomington from many years of riding my bicycle in the Hilly Hundred Invitational Ride,” Don says. “I thought my wife Aey would like the town because of the diverse group of citizens and the beautiful surrounding pars.”
A few years after becoming Bloomington residents, Aey because interested in opening a Thai restaurant. Thus Esan Thai was born.
“My wife is from an area of Thailand called ‘Esan,’ primarily the norhteast side of Thailand,” Don says. “The name came from that connection and it sounded nice.”
The interesting menu at Esan Thai was created by Aey using her recipes. Aey is head chef and manager. “However, much credit should be given to our tow other Asian cooks,” Don says.
As for future plans, Don says he is awaiting approval of a submitted building permit to open up the south wall of the kitchen. “The opening will allow for a much-needed expansion of the kitchen area. At the same time we'll open up additional dining space with a Kirkwood entrance.”
The Schoonovers are also considering changing the menu to give diners a great choice of other Asia foods. “Also, there may be an addition of a coffee and light sandwich/bakery shop where the former Shanti Indiana restaurant used to be,” Don says.
New dining options are always welcome and a big reason why Bloomington has developed a good reputation for a wealth of excellent eating establishments.
For more information: Contact Esan Thai at (812) 333-8424, www.esanthairestaurant.com