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Small plates a big hit at Evil Czech

The idea of serving a smaller portion of food has gotten big.

When you first mentioned “a tapas place” to someone, they immediately thought you said “topless.” Embarrassing conversation ensued.

Now, most know that tapas means a smaller plate of food for a smaller price and it’s OK to order more than one. Chefs seem to enjoy preparing small plates packed with flavors.

What Evil Czech has done with small plates at its public house and brewing company at 3703 N. Main St., Mishawaka, may just be huge. The brewpub started offering a Sunday brunch with plates of tastes from the menu. It worked so well that it expanded to “Lightnin’ Lunch” from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays. Now you have a new concept that should be replicated in more places.

Buffets have huge fans – sometimes literally. I realize the value-conscious diner often seeks out a buffet because there are no limits for a limited price.

I ate from and sat next to the buffet at Das Dutchman Essenhaus recently. The salad bar had a variety of greens and prepared salads such as sweet coleslaw. The hot foods included a lot of starchy vegetables and meats that were either fried or served from a thick gravy.

It was indeed a comfort food buffet offered for a great price, and those eating from it obviously relished it. The question is, how often one can eat from such an array and not harm health.

Food is not designed to stay on a steam table for long periods of time and turns to mush or rubber if it’s there too long. At least at the Essenhaus buffet the food was fresh and hot. So many people were eating from it, the food didn’t linger long between preparation and being consumed.

Not every buffet works. Not every fine dining, small-plate restaurant does either. At GT Fish & Oyster House in Chicago in February, a server was almost adamant about how many small-plate dishes a diner needed to order. At some point after ordering and sharing, the server turned on us and we felt his anger but didn’t know what we had done. It took the fun out of the meal and when the check came I regretted what we had spent to have a bad experience.

The next night at Girl & The Goat, the service was attentive and patient. Our server took time to explain dishes, but also figure out what would make us happy. The flavors were amazing and it was one of the best dining experiences of my life.

Locally, Kelly Jae’s Cafe in Goshen is a master of serving great food in a smaller portion, though it also has larger entrees too.

The beauty of Evil Czech’s twist on the buffet and small plates is what makes it genius.

Here’s why:

  1. It’s fast. The advantage of buffets is that you can eat immediately. The food is awaiting you. You can politely greet your server and order your drink and dive in. Same goes at Evil Czech.
  2. The food is fresh. There is no steam table. Kitchen staff are preparing a series of plates with small portions and setting them out. A staff member is there to explain what items are. What’s being served is fresh and made with an eye toward how many people are in the dining room or bar. I saw a few salad portions that were a bit limp because that’s what happens over time when you dress greens, but otherwise the food was hot and didn’t bear the marks of having been on a buffet.
  3. It’s reasonably priced, but not cheap. Not everyone wants to pay $11.95 for lunch, but for that amount you can get a taste of most of the menu without having to choose one item.
  4. The overwhelming menu gets broken down. I’ve said before that the Evil Czech menu is overwhelming. This allows you to try most of what’s on it without having to make a difficult choice.
  5. It’s surprising. If you don’t like something much, you don’t have to finish it and can avoid it on the next trip to the kitchen. But if you like something, you can get a bit more. I got seconds on the bit of churro with a white chocolate mousse and caramel. I am not a huge fan of white chocolate because it isn’t chocolate, but this dish was memorable and I got another taste.

Making small tastes from the menu at lunch and setting them out for customers who are sitting there is a great idea. I hope other restaurants try it. I also hope they do it as well as Evil Czech has.

I’m hungry. Let’s eat.

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