In 1935, a house moved overnight to 1047 Lincolnway East, South Bend.
It took a lot longer than that to convert the former VFW that included the house to Crooked Ewe Brewery & Ale House.
Andy Walton and Sean Meehan were patient. They wanted a place that would serve amazing, interesting food and great beer. It took three years from idea to first sold pint. The customers who have visited since it opened June 6 would tell you it was worth the wait.
1047 Lincoln Way East, South Bend
Hours: Noon to 10 p.m. Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Noon to midnight Friday and Saturday. Closed Tuesday.
“We knew if you have good beer and good food, you’re pretty much firing on both cylinders to start,” Meehan said.
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In fall 2012, they started looking for a building. Meehan was working at Fiddler’s Hearth, one of the area’s true pubs that his parents started in 2002 and the family continues to operate.
Walton was a homebrewer, part of Michiana Extract and Grain Association along with Chip Lewis of Iechyd Da and a lot of other excellent brewers.
They looked at the VFW property that had fallen into disrepair a couple times before purchasing in February 2013.
To get ready for its new life, it took a structural engineer working three months, another 10 months to finish the plans and a 10-month build. They took off roofs and looked at how to stabilize the various levels of the building.
Meanwhile, Alain Helfrich had left The Mark and started Sept. 1, 2014, as executive chef and construction worker. He would work on recipes in the Fiddler’s kitchen and build tables at the new Crooked Ewe. He made sure his menu didn’t have pizza, grilled cheese or macaroni and cheese. He loves the dishes, but sees them on enough other menus.
He has two menus. The one that leaves the “ewe” off the bottom of the printed sheet is the one that’s vegetarian and vegan. He’s an omnivore who has compassion for those who choose not to eat meat or animal products. He’s a great enough chef to know how to make food taste amazing without them.
“There are some dishes that change people’s minds,” he said, noting he does wonder how our meat consumption will hurt the planet in the long-term.
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The best-selling dish on his menu is the brisket, smoked for hours. It’s tender and delicious. It’s smoky and doesn’t need sauce, but the sauce with 20 or so ingredients is great, too.
The second-best-selling dish on the menu is Ewe Tso, a hunk of cauliflower fried in tempura batter that’s vegan and gluten-free and served with an Asian sauce Helfrich and his staff make. It’s a dish that can change your mind about how good vegan and vegetarian food can be. It’s definitely vegan, but people argue with servers about it being chicken. It’s a case where the customers aren’t always right.
The menu is more progressive than the one at Fiddler’s, Meehan said.
“The food speaks for itself,” he said.
However, let me say more. It’s more progressive than just about any restaurant in the area.
It’s the little things, like the hot sauce Helfrich barrel-ages, the ketchup he’s making, the pickles that make people remember pickles they enjoyed years ago.
And it’s the big things, too. Making good brisket is a big thing. Making a great burger, one with cheese curds, bacon made from brisket, pork belly and fruit leather made in-house from stone fruits, is a very big thing.
It’s hard to choose from this menu that has so many things that delight meat lovers, vegetable lovers and people who just generally love delicious food.
I haven’t put anything in my mouth at Crooked Ewe that didn’t make me sigh in appreciation. That’s rare at a restaurant — really rare.
In the brewery, Walton is churning out 10-barrel batches of great beer. His IPAs are outselling everything else about two-to-one. His Wampus Monster double IPA shows his talent. It’s got balanced tartness along with the sweetness and doesn’t taste like it’s nine percent alcohol by volume.
“Big beers, they’re my favorite,” he said.
Though they’re not necessarily one and the same, he’ll turn his attention to stouts because that “season is upon us,” he said.
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He’s busy making beer in his brewery and couldn’t be happier. He used to have to recruit friends to help him drink all the beer he enjoyed brewing. Now those friends, and a lot he didn’t have, are called customers.
The menu is designed to intrigue people, but make them ask the servers about the food. The servers are great at their jobs, too. The three men knew a lot of good people in the industry.
Now that they braved the electrical outages that plagued a soft-opening and the crowds that came when they opened, they get to host people coming to town for Notre Dame games.
The setting is funky, almost hipster. The menu is interesting and the food is great. Now what the trio is working to make happen while they keep up with demand for food and beer is family dining. A construction project is underway upstairs so that they’ll be able to accommodate those under 21. By spring, outside decks will be ready for guests, as well.
Northern Indiana and southern Michigan is getting a big dose of great craft beer. It’s even better when it comes in a fun setting with a menu that can please all sorts of adventurous eaters.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.