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Illinois or Indiana? At The Beef House, they all get fed | Restaurants


COVINGTON, Ind. — The Beef House Restaurant in Covington, Ind., is generally closed on Mondays.

But on two such days in the last month, the restaurant was open for some special visitors.

On the way back from its thrilling double-overtime win over Illinois at State Farm Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the No. 3 Purdue men’s basketball team dropped by to celebrate with sandwiches.

On Monday night, the 13th-ranked Illini stopped in on their way to West Lafayette for a full meal of steaks, pasta, famous rolls and desserts.

“We try to take care of them pretty good,” owner Bob Wright said. “They can get in, get fed and get out pretty good. … All the teams are always so friendly. When they leave, it’s always good to see a nice bunch of kids that are pleasant to be around. It’s fun to do that.”

This is far from the first time the rivals have fueled up with a trip to Beef House or food from Possum Trot in Oakwood, which is owned by Bob’s son, Greg.

On the Illinois side, Bob Wright remembers Lou Henson dropping into the restaurant on recruiting trips to a high school tournament in Indianapolis in the early days of his coaching career in Champaign. The two struck up a quick rapport, as was common with the winningest Illinois basketball coach of all time.

“Lou and his wife (Mary) always made you feel like you’d known him all his life,” Wright said. “Even after he quit coaching, he and his wife would come here.”

Soon, the team began making regular trips to the restaurant.

At the same time, Purdue coach Gene Keady frequented Beef House with his team each time they crossed the border. In 1984, the story goes, the fiery Keady was so mad after a 30-point blowout loss in Champaign that he took their Beef House sandwiches and threw them out the window.

Another fixture in the Illinois-Purdue rivalry, though, said that story might not be completely factual.

“Bruce Weber said that never happened,” Bob Wright said with a laugh of the former Illinois coach, a longtime assistant for Keady.

The restaurant also hosts teams from Indiana, Indiana State and Iowa every so often. Coaches, Bob Wright said, are always polite and thankful, including longtime Illinois foil Bob Knight, who is not necessarily known for his light-hearted personality.

The relationships the Wrights have built have created some complicated feelings. Both Bob and Greg, along with others in the family, are Purdue graduates. Those feelings grew even more complex for Greg, who catered some recruiting visits for the Illini for Weber and John Groce, in recent years. When Brad Underwood took the helm in 2017, he began serving the team its pregame meals.

“The kids are fun. It’s fun to be in the dining room for pregame,” said Greg, who serves lighter meals before games than a typical Beef House steak. “They’re polite, and they say, ‘Thank you,’ and they’re just well-mannered kids. They’re enjoyable.

“I know all of these kids so well that I’m a big Illinois fan. I’m in a fortunate situation where my alma mater, Purdue, is having one of their best seasons ever, and Illinois is having one of their best seasons since 2006. So, this is exciting.”

While Purdue and Illinois fans both flood the restaurant before and after games, far more fans in Illinois gear come into the restaurant, Bob Wright said. The longtime owner roots for the Illini every game they’re not playing his alma mater.

“Even though Illinois is a game ahead of Purdue in the standings right now, I was glad to see them beat Indiana” on Saturday, he said.

For Greg, it’s not quite so simple.

“I just tell them when they’re playing each other, I want to see a great game,” Greg said. “I know all of the players for Illinois, so it’s hard not to root for them. The coaches always tease me and say, ‘Who are you rooting for tonight?’ And I say, ‘You know I’m pulling for you guys.’ I just want to see a good game.”

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