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Goshen Dining Days 2015: How South Side Soda Shop sold me on local seafood

It’s always been my perception that seafood in the Midwest is like Han Solo. Both have been frozen a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. My stomach is telling me “yes” every time I see a seafood spread, but my mind is telling me, “It’s a trap!

But ask chef Nick Boyd at South Side Soda Shop, and he’ll tell you how recently his oysters were fished out of the ocean and when they came through his front doors.

It’s some of the freshest seafood you’re going to find in Elkhart County, and it is what’s on the menu for Goshen Dining Days.

The longstanding Goshen diner has $30 seafood specials for two, including crab cakes served with a side of cocktail and tartar sauce or the parmesan reggiano prepared with either jumbo Gulf shrimp or Maine sea scallops. Both meals are served with drinks, dinner salads and either ice cream or pie.

There are also Philly cheese steaks for $6 and fresh oysters for a dollar each.

I decided to try the crab cakes and oysters because, unlike most people, I have no shame about eating a dinner for two. 

But before I get into my thoughts on these dishes, I want to say I’m not a picky eater. But I did grow up on a southeast Asian peninsula where, if seafood were any fresher, I’d be fishing it out of the ocean with my teeth. No pressure. 

Turns out Boyd’s the same way. He’s originally from Philadelphia and is meticulous about where his seafood comes from, whether it’s shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico or oysters from Delaware. 

His attention to detail shows every time you slide an oyster off the shell onto your tongue. They’re sweet and smooth. The oysters are served alongside slices of lemon and cocktail sauce, which Boyd tells me is made up of ketchup, horseradish and lemon juice.

The sauce has a kick and a nice dash of citrus. But take it from me, you’ll want to hold off on the sauce just so it doesn’t mask the flavor of the oyster.

The dinner salad made me a believer. It’s greens, tomato wedges, cucumber slices, onion strings, croutons and goat cheese. The croutons had the flavor of a rich, dark toast and lent a crispiness to the salad.

The goat cheese was light and creamy, so it wasn’t competing with the rest of the flavors. I chose a savory but light raspberry vinaigrette dressing which rolled thick off the plastic cup.

Finally, I reached the main course — the housemade crab cakes. I’m particular about my crab cakes because, more often than not, the ones I’ve had are more like bread cakes with the faint suggestion that they once saw a sea animal.

But Boyd is not stingy with the crab meat in these cakes, which are packed into two jar-lid sized patties. They’re also made with egg, mayo, parsley and Old Bay seasoning.

The top and bottom of the patties are browned, and the meat in the middle is moist. It’s a touch salty, but not overwhelmingly so. The crab cakes are served with a mix of cocktail and tartar sauce which, honestly, tastes more like the latter. But the patties stand so well on their own that, again, I believe you should let the crab meat speak for itself.

I would have kept better notes about the slice of lemon meringue pie I had for dessert if I didn’t wipe the plate clean in 30 seconds. What I do remember was the sweet, tangy lemon custard washing over my palate, topped with a spongy meringue topping.

Now, this was my first stop for Goshen Dining Days, but the South Side Soda Shop will be a tough act to follow. Ever since I moved to the Midwest, I’ve had friends who make a face every time they see anything that calls saltwater home.

That hurts, people. Even when Boyd was starting out in Goshen, not everybody was sold on the taste of the East Coast.

“It’s been a process of educating people here,” Boyd said.

South Side Soda Shop is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The oysters, crab cakes and Philly cheese steak offers are available for either lunch or dinner, and the parmesan reggiano meal is available at dinner only.

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