Go for a meal or a cup of coffee, stay for the southern hospitality.
Dixie, a new restaurant in downtown South Bend, is nearly complete and co-owner Aislin Keith said it will not only bring a taste of the south to northern Indiana, but also bring the culture, music and art right along with it. After all, she grew up on the south side of New Orleans.
“It’s just Dixie. That’s it. It’s food, it’s culture. It’s place, it’s a spirit.”
“I miss the food and the culture of the south,” she said. “It’s more about hospitality and taking something right in front of you and making something out of it.”
The restaurant’s focus will be regional southern, and Keith explained that can cover a big area – from Kentucky to as far south as New Mexico – with Cajun and French influence in dishes like red beans and rice or gumbo, and traditional dishes like grilled cheese, burgers or biscuits and gravy.
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Keith said she is trying to source most of her food as locally as possible — getting chicken and pork from local Amish farmers and even growing 60 to 70 percent of the restaurant’s produce with partner, co-owner and gardner Everett Kettle, she said.
Walk inside the restaurant, and Keith said you’ll see a map of Michigan, Indiana and Illinois that shows where the food comes from, complete with a picture of the farmer who produced the goods.
What Keith can’t obtain locally she said she will find via direct trade, so it tastes like you went to Louisiana.
“Southern or regional food is a spirit,” she said. “Particularly in New Orleans, food and culture can’t be separate. It’s the hand in the glove.”
The building that houses Dixie was converted from a gas station to a restaurant in 1962, Keith said. The front area is a diner where guests can grab a plate in what she called a “trough” line and fill up at breakfast with eggs, ham, and biscuits and gravy.
At lunch, Keith said the menu will switch to red beans and rice, three soups, a carved meat or an entree salad, or classics like burgers, sandwiches and po’boys.
“You should be able to get in and out in 20 minutes,” she said. “We want guests to get something tasty in a hurry.”
For dinner, the menu will offer more traditional southern dishes, and at least one vegan or gluten-free dish.
In between meals, Keith will offer pastries and pots of coffee to split with a friend in the afternoon, or tapas late in the evening.
Venture into the back room, and Keith said there will be an overflow area with a stage for live jazz and bluegrass music.
She also hopes to have a full liquor license by St. Patrick’s day, plus a veranda off the back of the restaurant by Easter.
There will be wireless internet in the restaurant, but Keith encourages guests to unplug.
“We have signs all over that remind guests to turn off their phones,” she said. “Staff are trained to greet guests and remind them to switch their cellphones off. I can’t stand that people have these boxes in their hands at all times. Enjoy your food, enjoy the people you’re with.”
The restaurant crew was resolving a few mechanical and electrical issues Tuesday, Jan. 27, but Keith plans to have around half a dozen breakfasts and lunches to serve next Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 4 and 5, respectively.
The official soft opening will be Feb. 9, and Keith has the grand opening planned for Mardi Gras.
“It’s not a cafe, it’s not a restaurant, it’s not a bistro,” Keith said. “It’s just Dixie. That’s it. It’s food, it’s culture. It’s place, it’s a spirit.”
If you go:
Dixie is at 808 E. Colfax Ave. in South Bend.
Hours are from 5:30 a.m. to at least 11 p.m., seven days per week. Soon, Keith hopes to stay open 24-hours from Thursday to Monday.