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Westmain Tavern is a true hidden gem in Lake Country

The Elkhart County line is barely a quarter mile from the stoplight at Huntington and Main streets in beautiful downtown Syracuse. Just south of that border, in the theater district (yes, there really is a theater in Syracuse), sits Westmain Tavern, a quaint little restaurant that offers a world of flavor.

Since opening Westmain Tavern in May 2014, Jason and Emily Traycoff have established it as a go-to place for simple but excellent fare with a Mediterranean influence.

The building at 201 West Main St. was once a café that often fed Syracuse high school kids (the old Syracuse High School was two blocks away), then became the local Bureau of Motor Vehicles office. A veterinarian’s office followed, then a physical therapy group. Then, the building sat empty for some time waiting for a reawakening.

Enter the Traycoffs with their dream, and Westmain Tavern was born.

Westmain Tavern seats only 36 — including the six-seat bar area — and doubles as an art gallery, but the emphasis is squarely on the food. It opens for dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday each week.

Jason spent several years in the restaurant business and was once involved in a restaurant in the Columbia City area.

Emily is an outstanding artist who creates jewelry and paintings of all types. Many of her creations adorn displays in the restaurant, alongside those of several other local artists.

Coupled with a wine list superior to most you will find here in Lake Country, the simple menu is top-notch. Jason is careful to never over-buy ingredients, to keep everything as fresh as possible. The restaurant often buys produce from local farms, in line with the farm-to-table notion.

Specialties from the small kitchen include filet mignon, two types of pasta dishes (his marinara sauce is one of the best I’ve ever tasted), chicken thighs cooked simply Jason’s way, pork loin and a selection of pizza baked quickly in a stone deck oven.

Fish is generally a special on Thursday, as Jason buys fresh fish weekly from multiple purveyors, including a local Indiana fish farm.

Classic salads include a humongous wedge salad with blue cheese dressing and a spinach salad. However, my favorite starter has quickly become the fried Brussels sprouts, slightly wilted but still crunchy — simply wonderful for those of us who are sprout-lovers!

The chalk board on the back wall is always filled with new dishes for the evening. Last week, ruby trout was on the board, and it did not disappoint. Anointed with a very light caper butter, it was cooked to perfection and simply melted in my mouth.

Various gelatos purchased from a source in Noblesville are always available for dessert.

In addition to its above-average wine list, the restaurant supports local craft beers. One recent selection on tap was Man Cave beer (also made in Syracuse) — the Sandbar blond ale is superb.

Westmain Tavern needs to be visited more than once to sample the variety Jason puts forward five nights a week.

There is an hour-long wait during the busy summer months because there are no reservations, but you will always be greeted with Emily’s friendly smile.

For more dispatches from the dining scene in Kosciusko County from Loren Shaum, subscribe to the Lake Country Escapades email newsletter.

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