The fundraising event was a sensory experience. The smell of bacon cut through the scent of flowers, and the sound of brisket sizzling on a flat-top grill pierced the still, quiet atmosphere surrounding the lake.
Attendees walked around the gardens towards a large, white canopy, under which 18 restaurants offered a smorgasbord of diverse food.
The Iechyd Da Brewing Co. was one of the booths closest to the tent’s entrance, with its red dragon emblazoned on the banner in front of the table. For co-owner Summer Lewis, the Taste of the Gardens offers restaurateurs a chance to try out new flavors.
“While we have pizzas and sandwiches, we don’t want to be seen as an Italian joint because we’re not. There are plenty of those in town,” Lewis said.
One of those new flavors is a chicken and chickpea curry, which Lewis would like to introduce as a new special at the brewpub.
Each plate had a green sprig of parsley that sat atop a red curry sauce dotted with yellow chickpeas and a bed of white rice. It’s mildly spicy, but hearty and flavorful.
“We make it at home, and we love it so it’s something we felt we could do well and present in this kind of environment with a couple of thousand people wandering around,” Lewis said.
The people behind the counter at Iechyd Da Brewing Co. come from different backgrounds, Lewis said. The diversity of employees encourages her to always try new things with their menu.
It’s that creativity that’s needed for local restaurants to really make an impression on the taste buds of Elkhart County, said restaurateur Cam Snyder, owner of the Flippin’ Cow Burger Joint on the edge of Simonton Lake and The Chubby Trout restaurant on the north side of Elkhart.
“That’s the fun part of being in the restaurant business, is creating a dish that’s somewhat unique,” Snyder said. “In order to be successful in business today, you have to have a niche.”
The Flippin’ Cow Burger Joint’s niche is the Stella Moo Burger, which won the Elkhart County Burger Wars earlier this year. It’s a “hand-pattied steak burger – smoked brisket, smoked bacon, pepper jack cheese, onion straws, an alehouse barbecue sauce on a toasted wheat brioche bun.”
For this year’s Taste of the Gardens, the Chubby Trout sold bacon fried in beer batter and malted waffles dipped in hot chocolate with whipped cream and a cherry on top.
But it’s not just about giving people a taste of what local restaurants have to offer, Snyder said.
“As a restaurant owner, it’s a way to kind of showcase our food and give back to the community at the same time, because a large portion of the proceeds go back to support the botanical gardens here.”
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