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Lake Country Escapades: Boathouse Restaurant mixes nautical theme with great food

On the east shore of Winona Lake and at the north edge of the beautiful, historical Village of Winona sits the Boathouse Restaurant.

Positioned on an original, early 20th-century boathouse foundation, the restaurant overlooks pristine Winona Lake and is the northern gateway to The Village at Winona.

Overlooked from the hill to the east by Grace College and Theological Seminary, The Village at Winona is a collection of restored Victorian buildings with a long history of ups and downs.

Over the years, it has been a religious center for over a century (the Billy Sunday Tabernacle has since been torn down but there is a Billy Sunday Visitor’s Center and the Billy Sunday House); a college town for nearly fifty years and a crime-ridden, rundown neighborhood in the seventies and eighties.

Thanks to local entrepreneur Dr. Dane Miller, the Winona Restoration Company was formed in 1994 to renovate the village. Nearly thirty properties have since been restored, turning the village into a historic summer resort town and resulting in resurgence in the local economy.

The Boathouse Restaurant building was one of the Winona Restoration Company projects and constructed in 2000. Partners Kyle Phelps and Peter Christos, Boathouse Restaurant owners, then took over the building.

They added the bar, complete with a lakeside entrance, in 2012 and after some changes in 2014, the décor is, “contemporary lake style with comfort,” said Kyle. The ambiance definitely has a nautical feel and, sitting nearly at water’s edge, you feel like it really could have been a boathouse.

With seats for 50 on the outdoor, screened-in deck, 300 seats in the main restaurant and 30 more in the bar area, there is ample room to accommodate crowds of lake visitors. There is banquet space for 50 upstairs and downstairs from the main restaurant, as well. To keep the restaurant going everyday of the week, Kyle and his partner employs around seventy people.

The main lunch and dinner menu is an eclectic collection of American fare from Chef Jimmy Davila’s kitchen. Jimmy has been with the restaurant since opening and emphasizes fresh, seasonal ingredients ordered weekly.

The same menu is offered for both lunch and dinner and includes ten starters, two freshly made soups each day, eight unique salads plus a large house salad (fresh mesclun greens served with a delightfully mild balsamic vinaigrette), eight chicken entrées, seven meat entrées, five seafood entrées and five pasta entrées. There are also a myriad of side dishes that can be selected to accompany any entree.

The salmon filet has been a signature entree for years. This 8-ounce chunk of fresh fish is coupled with a creamy lobster sauce and can be ordered blackened and/or topped with blue cheese crumbles. Also popular are the Boathouse baby back ribs – cooked low and slow – accompanied by the house special barbeque sauce. This full slab is fit for a king!

The most popular chicken entree is the apple, almond and brie stuffed chicken breast. This complex mixture of flavors is served on a bed of rice and accompanied by caramelized apple slices and almonds with an apple butter cream sauce. That is a lot going on for one dish.

A gourmet sandwich menu includes seven variations ranging from fish tacos to a fried green tomato BLT. Then there are five wraps, of which the chicken and bacon wrap is the most popular. Lastly, there are three types of half pound burgers offered with all the accompaniments required.

During past visits, the crab cakes starter has been particularly well done. The two plump cakes loaded with crab are accompanied by a delightful roasted red pepper sauce and adequate as an entree for many. But Kyle says the nachos platter (served with your choice of Cajun chicken or seasoned ground beef and beans) and the sesame crusted Ahi tuna starters are also very popular, particularly for lunch.

The salmon salad has also been a good choice on several visits. The salad includes fresh spinach, chopped boiled egg and red onion topped with a 4-ounce piece of tender, nicely seasoned, grilled salmon. Served with the house-made balsamic vinaigrette, this salad is a complete meal in itself, as are all the salads on the menu. They also offer vegetarian and gluten-free options on several of the starter and salad dishes.

Besides the main menu, the restaurant also offers seasonal weekly specials. During this recent visit, the features included strawberry summertime salad or pear and walnut salad (both offered throughout the summer months and topped with a nicely seasoned grilled chicken breast), plus five other entrees varying from a specialty pizza (carne asada grilled steak pizza), to an olive burger, specialty steak entree, specialty chicken entree (grilled chicken breast with mushroom cream sauce) and specialty seafood entree (tilapia and shrimp a la scampi).

Also featured each week is a wine. This week it was a Guenoc sauvignon blanc – so crisp and light, this wine is a perfect accompaniment to any fish, chicken or salad dish. The restaurant wine list is “small but eclectic,” according to Kyle.

All twenty wine varietals stocked are offered by the glass except for two. The bottle-only wines are high-end cabernet sauvignons from Cakebread and Stags Leap wineries. Depending on the year, these wineries produce some of the best cabs found anywhere.

There are seven desserts offered with the tuxedo mousse and spumoni amaretto cheesecakes as featured specials. The ice cream pie is another favorite and includes layers of vanilla ice cream mixed with Oreo cookie pieces in an Oreo crust topped with a decadent chocolate cream sauce, whipped cream and roasted almonds. The restaurant serves this complimentary to birthday guests.

Clearly this wide array of dishes offers something for everyone and requires a fair-sized kitchen staff (usually around ten) to put each dish out perfectly and in a timely fashion. The restaurant emphasizes portion per price, and based on my experience, they exceed that expectation.

The friendly and efficient staff pulls it all together, and one feels welcome whether sitting at the bar or elsewhere in the restaurant. The bar is particularly nice because you can watch Kyle or any of the bar tenders build a colossal Bloody Mary, which is one of the best you will find in Lake Country.

On an excursion into Lake Country, The Village at Winona should be a destination of choice. There is much to see and do there with the wide variety of shops, and you can enjoy the ambiance and a great lunch or dinner at the Boathouse Restaurant on Winona Lake water’s edge.

Restaurant hours start at 11 a.m. and conclude with the last dinner seating at 9 p.m., every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Reservations are typically not required.

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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