Dining A La King: 2015 burst with new restaurants in the 574, the year in review
At the end of the year, I do one kind of accounting.
I look at what the area gained and lost in terms of food, and 2015 was a very, very good year in terms of dining in northern Indiana.
Whether you love burgers, beer or bison, the year brought a significant amount of restaurant openings, and few closings.
The Big Openings
In Elkhart, two big places came to be. Artisan opened in early January. It was the place to see and be seen. More than that, the food and service were stellar. It was so good that in its first year it earned a AAA Four Diamond Award. It isn’t for everyone. It’s fine dining. You pay for that. Yet I think you get what you pay for here.
Bacon Hill Kitchen & Pub, 4000 E. Bristol St., Elkhart, opened in June after some nuttiness from the state of Indiana with its liquor license. The Lucchese brothers’ take on Southern food quickly gained fans. It’s a gastropub that paid tons of homage to meat in the beginning and has added some lighter options as time has gone on.
In Middlebury, people were buzzing about 41 Degrees North, and Austin Slabach opened the spot on April 1. The restaurant and bar put a shine on an old building and started offering some different dishes than Middlebury had seen in a casual and comfortable setting. It had some early wobbles and settled in.
Two long-talked-about breweries and accompanying kitchens opened in the first half of the year.
Goshen Brewing Co. auctioned off its first pint for charity on May 20 and then opened to the public. The outside patio was one of the places to be over the summer in Goshen. Sales were strong enough that more brewing equipment was quickly ordered.
Crooked Ewe Brewery & Ale House opened June 6 after delays and amidst high hopes. Chef Alain Helfrich quickly established that he’d do adventurous food for the meat lover, the vegan and everyone in between.
In downtown South Bend, Tapastrie finally opened in November after months of delays. The food, inspired by a variety of Mediterranean cuisines and wines from a variety of regions, comes together in a key spot downtown.
New Rise & Roll Bakery along Grape Road in Mishawaka opened on May 2. And there was much rejoicing. The expansion of Rise & Roll did prompt a year of food science experiments at the popular main bakery in Middlebury where they’re trying to make sure the quality stays high while they use different equipment to make the famous doughnuts.
RELATED: Dining A La King: Did the five predictions for 2015 come true?, Dec. 21, 2015
The north side of Elkhart has seen a surge in new food places, mostly chains. Sakura opened as a Japanese sushi and hibachi spot this year. At Shoppes on Six, Panda Express opened. Qdoba is coming and soon there will be a Buffalo Wild Wings up off Cassopolis Street.
Simonini Gourmet Restaurant & Deli opened Feb. 2 in Granger.
Coco’s Taqueria opened Feb. 14 at 910 Goshen Ave., Elkhart.
OEC Super Buffet at Elkhart Centre in Goshen in March.
Restaurants don’t just come and go. They twist and turn with time. Sometimes, they keep on going with new owners.
Mini Delights Bake Shoppe closed to walk-in hours in January and then transitioned to new owners, but in the family, later in the year. Steve and Lisa Green took over and offered walk-in hours again.
It’s not a restaurant, but Rentown Store in Bremen moved across the street to a larger location in May. And Four Winds Field upped its food game this year as thousands gathered to watch the first year of the South Bend Cubs.
Crimaldi’s owner Mike Crimaldi took the downtown Elkhart place back early in the year and started offering lunch in August.
Bill’s Bar-B-Que’s Franklin Street location closed for a time but reopened in September. The Benham Avenue location continued to operate.
Around the Corner Cafe, 23677 U.S. 33, served its last meals in July. The location has been a lot of restaurants, including the Minuteman Drive-In. Now it’s become Grandpa’s Concord Kitchen, with new ownership.
Hotdogeddy’s moved from a cart to an inside location near the Elkhart Post Office along Main Street.
In May, Chris Bontrager took over The Daily Grind and reopened it as The Electric Brew at 113 E. Lexington Ave., Elkhart. The longtime coffee shop got a fresh look and similar offerings to the popular Goshen location, which was named Indiana’s Main Street Business of the Year in December.
In Goshen, Dandino’s closed for a couple days before reopening a 1407 Elkhart Road, where it had been in business for more than 30 years.
The biggest closing of the year was ModMex. In September, the Rios family announced they were done and said goodbye to customers over a couple week period. I still miss the food. I miss the black bean burrito and the honey chipotle sauce.
Downtown Elkhart lost a good sandwich and snack place when a court order shut down Pumpernickel’s Pretzel Bakery in May for non-payment of taxes.
Siam Thai closed in Mishawaka and South Bend and fans of that food still miss it, though there was a surge in Asian food places in St. Joseph County.
It’s partially the fault of Flavor 574, but there were more events for food-lovers in 2015. The first Goshen Dining Days took place in April. Nine restaurants and food businesses joined in the fun for the first-time event. The $25 menu at Kelly Jae’s Cafe included salad, pad thai and some of the best crème brûlée you can find. Constant Spring offered an appetizer and two entrees for $25. South Side Soda Shop offered a $30 seafood dinner for two. Overall, the event sold more than 1,700 specials and raised more than $2,600 for the Share the Bounty program at the Goshen Farmers Market.
In late October and early November, Elkhart Dining Days got people eating out to help Church Community Services. When it was all served and eaten, more than 4,000 specials sold resulted in a donation of $7,200 to the charity. There were a lot of great dishes and specials that week, and people went out of their way for the ribs at Miles Lab and the fish at Cappy’s and Pete’s Simonton Lake Tavern.
There were other events. South Bend Brew Fest in January attracted 41 brewers and 1,400 people. More than 800 friends and fans gathered at a fundraiser for Jason Bodley at Oak & Alley in Warsaw. In Northern Indiana Pizza Wars, Wooden Peel won the online bracket and Iechyd Da won the critic’s choice.
RELATED: Elkhart Dining Days results in record setting donation to Church Community Services, Dec. 4, 2015
When Zing Japanese Fusion offered a promotion of 50 percent off all food and drink to celebrate its third year of business in Mishawaka, it was overrun and had to end the promotion early.
In 2016, we’re going to plan more Dining Days and take more trips. Tickets for the bus trip to the first day of Kalamazoo Beer Week are on sale at flavor574.com/beerbustrip. We’ve also planned a trip to Portland, Ore., for April 28 to May 2. You can sign up for that by calling Menno Travel.
As I think back on all the meals and all the fun this year, a few dishes stand out.
It was the year that the fall flavors of Brussels sprouts, pumpkin and cauliflower were all popular.
The Ewe Tso at Crooked Ewe is fried cauliflower in an amazing sauce, and it’s vegan. In addition, their brisket rivals some that I had on a pilgrimage to Kansas City, Mo., this fall.
The Voodoo BBQ Pizza at Iechyd Da during Elkhart Dining Days featured smoked cauliflower or chicken and it was actually better with cauliflower.
Bacon Hill and Sassy’s are both doing great burgers, and if there were a new search for the best burgers, they’d be near the top of any list.
Friends ask what to order at Artisan if they go to mark a special occasion, and without pausing I say the bison. There are other amazing dishes there, but the braised bison is like the best pot roast you’ve ever had.
To come in 2016
Next week’s Dining A La King will have a few predictions for the coming year, but we already know of a few places in the works.
Common Spirits could open early in the year. Owners Jami and Ryan Hawkins announced last February that they’d open a non-smoking bar in Goshen and worked on finding a location. It’ll be at 111 E. Lincoln Ave., and could be open this spring, she said.
Eamonn McParland announced that he and others would open Sense in the former Siam Thai in downtown South Bend. That didn’t happen, but he recently announced Render would open on the East Bank near downtown.
I look forward to another amazing year of food news at Flavor 574. I look forward to sharing meals with others and to experiencing new flavors.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.