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Little Black Dog is a little taste of New England right here in Mishawaka

Last Wednesday, a friend of mine asked if I wanted to join him, his best buddy and his wife for dinner the next evening. I’m thinking, okay, dinner on a Thursday night with one of his buddies…burgers and a beer, right?

As it turns out, we were actually not going for a burger and a beer. We were attending a wine pairing dinner at a place called Morgans and Little Black Dog Tavern at the 100 Center in Mishawaka.

Before I even walked in, I immediately felt like I was back in Boston on one of the cobblestone streets of the North End. My first thought was that I couldn’t wait for warmer weather, when we could sit outside — the patio must look marvelous.

As we entered, we were greeted by a woman we later find out is the owner. I love that! The owner should be greeting guests. No one will greet them better than you.

The bar has a very warm and inviting feel. I absolutely love the soft seating arrangements by the windows, and the chalkboard tables were a stroke of genius.

Hospitality is not about perfection. It’s about making people feel welcome, comfortable and happy.

During dinner, my new friends beguiled me with the story of how they met. All the while, my other friend was sketching the entire story out on the table top. Sometimes, I laughed so hard that I cried! There is nothing funnier than a drawing of who has the upper hand in a marriage. Talk about an ice breaker.

Not that we needed one. The dinner was set up very well. The representative from the winery did a great job keeping up the tempo and explaining how each wine complemented each dish. Both the food and the wine were wonderful!

The servers delivered each course in a timely manner, although a little more attention to the removal of dirty silverware would have been appreciated. However, when I asked for clean silverware, it was brought to me on a tray with a white napkin. That was a “Hallelujah” moment for me.

As wonderful as the wine dinner was, I wanted to go back and experience a regular dinner. So this past weekend, I took my mom, my daughter and her twin friends for an evening out.

I know — what the heck was I thinking, taking three pre-tweens anywhere? They can be noisy, and although often hilarious, not always appropriate for a quiet, cozy restaurant. Even so, I hate when they all have their heads buried in one form of technology or another.

You don’t have to worry about that at Little Black Dog. From the moment we sat down, the girls were asking for chalk. They chatted and joked with each other while they drew and drew. It was reminiscent of my childhood, like going to dinner in the ’80s. 

We sat in the family dining room, which has a little bit of a different feel than the bar. It’s not quite as cozy, but has an adorable fireplace with wing back chairs in one corner.

Visiting the second time gave me the chance to really get a feel for the level of service.

  • Our server was friendly, although she didn’t tell us her name — and at a small, intimate place, I think that’s important. Nonetheless, she did a great job of checking on us and was very sweet.
  • My view was unfortunately a direct line of sight to an ice machine behind the bar, as well as the area surrounding it. There is a door that could be closed to prevent that view at all, which would really enhance the atmosphere of the family area.
  • I did encounter one of my major pet peeves when dining at any restaurant. I call it “The auction.” You know what I’m talking about. It’s like a cattle auction when the food is brought to the table — the server eyes a plate, then the table, and says, “Uhhh…who had the burger? Who had the fish?” Then you say “Umm…I had the rare burger, is that one mine?” I have two words: seat numbers.

But all of these hitches were entirely forgotten when the owner, Mary Lou, stopped by our table. She chatted with us like we were old friends, sharing secret ingredients for her pie crust with my mom and recapping the wine dinner with me. That is the kind of personal touch you won’t usually find elsewhere in town. 

I have heard through the grapevine and from Mary Lou herself that the restaurant has recently suffered from some staffing issues. But the owners want nothing more than to make right any problems their guests may have encountered — and I believe them.

This is exactly what I was talking about in my first blog. Having issues is not the issue. It’s all in how you respond. Offering a sincere apology, making a concerted effort to make things right, and simply smiling goes a long way. Every restaurant encounters problems. I love that Little Black Dog relishes the opportunity to bring back an unhappy guest and delight them.

Hospitality is not about perfection. It’s about making people feel welcome, comfortable and happy. Morgans and Little Black Dog Tavern has perfected that.

For more stories of Christina Tembo’s dining experiences in Michiana, subscribe to the Fancy Pants email newsletter.

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