I left Elkhart when I was 18, knowing I would probably never live there again. I returned in those first few summers to work at Callahan’s restaurant and Beck mobile home frames, enjoying the camaraderie of the friends I grew up with and the comfort of my parents’ home.
My mom and dad still live there, in the same house where I lived from age 3 to 18. Every time I return with my own family, I revisit my favorite places, the must-see list grows a little each time.
Often, I think of the food establishments that no longer exist, like Scotto’s pizza and the Farmer’s Garden at University Park Mall, where we often stopped for lunch during a shopping excursion. Or the heart-shaped pizzas that the C.R. 4 Vesuvio’s used to make on Valentine’s Day. I can’t forget Johnny’s, the tiny deli nestled in a cluster of stores near Elkhart Memorial High School, where my friends and I enjoyed open lunch hour after we got our driver’s licenses. I mourn Shakey’s buffet — especially the mojos.
There are a surprising number of places still open and serving a very similar menu to when I left in 1989 — a snapshot of a moment in time. I never fail to return to Simonton Lake Drive-In (I worked there for four summers) for a root beer malt and French fries with burger salt. All year I crave Redamak’s burgers. And although I was a late fan of Volcano Pizza, I’m now a devotee.
Now, I call Texas home, and I see well more than my fair share of Tex-Mex. For reasons my Austin-native husband cannot understand, I still love Hacienda. I know the salsa isn’t the best, but it sure tastes like high school in a bowl when I mix it with the house ranch dressing. I’ve tried churros all over the world in cities such as Paris, Barcelona and Brussels, but I honestly don’t think anyone makes them like Hacienda. The addition of the caramel sauce really seals the deal for me, too.
For the past several summers, I’ve coordinated my summer vacation with my sister around the time of the Elkhart County 4-H Fair, and the food is more than half the attraction. No one makes elephant ears like the ones at the fair. The Dairy Bar makes the best and freshest ice cream in the world. Take my advice and skip the haystacks in favor of something else.
There is something ethereally beautiful about Elkhart in the summer, especially around July when the corn is green and tall. No farmer in the world can touch the quality of corn grown in Indiana fields. Peel open the husk and sweep aside the silk to find plump, milky kernels that drip sweet liquid when you bite into them. Slice down the side of the cob and throw the whole mess into a pot for the most decadent corn chowder you’ll find anywhere. Friends of my parents host a corn and sausage roast every year, and next to the grill is a large pail more than half-full of butter. The drill is to grab an ear in gloved hands, husk it and dip it, steaming hot, into the butter. Messy perfection.
Maybe I can smuggle a dozen ears or so in my suitcase when I go back to Texas this summer. I’d take some churros, too, but I’m fairly sure that not even a crumb would make it home anyway.
I’m coming home soon, Elkhart.
Kristin Shaw is an Elkhart ex-patriate who now lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and son, where she works as a freelance writer.
This is the first installment of Savoring Home, a Flavor 574 series that asks readers to submit stories about local foods and spots that hold special memories for them. If you have a story to share, whether you live here still or have moved away, email editor Gwen Ragno at email@example.com.