Years ago, if there was Instagram, I fear that much of what I would have been posting was photos of bland, mostly beige, food.
I keep shaking my head as I post food pics on social media. I keep nodding and smiling as I take bites of curries, Neapolitan pizza and salads with roasted vegetables and grains.
I can’t quite believe we got here from there.
There is a tricky place, a place that I remember but may not fully have a grasp on.
I was a kid in the country east of Goshen. I ate school lunches at Millersburg and Fairfield schools, where women made the best of the federal ingredients in an era where Ronald Reagan got ketchup declared a vegetable. The women could cook and they did. We were better for it, though they didn’t do much to change those rectangular slabs of pizza or the canned corn.
My parents would bring home take-out from Pagoda Inn, Goshen’s Chinese restaurant. There was one, with Cantonese food, and we didn’t go often but at least I got take-out sweet and sour chicken.
I remember going to Super Steer, where there was meat and potatoes, and Burger Chef, a burger joint where the KFC is now at the corner of Indiana and Pike. I would go to Das Dutchman Essenhaus as it grew from a diner into a huge restaurant, and Hilltop, both in Middlebury. There was pizza at Village Inn when we weren’t eating pizza made with those Chef Boyardee kits.
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When I was 15, my dad took me to Yoder’s Restaurant at Fifth and Lincoln in Goshen and I got a job washing dishes. I learned to eat fast, take every chance to eat pie, and, eventually, make such things as liver and onions.
When I started working in Goshen in 1993, there was an Arby’s at the corner of Main and Washington. Soon there was talk of it becoming a coffee shop and it did indeed become The Electric Brew. About a year later, The Daily Grind opened in Elkhart, which was an unexplored country for me and one I still wish I’d ventured into. What I wouldn’t give to have gone to Nicky D’s or some Flytrap’s when it was still in the Montagano clan.
Back in Goshen, things started changing. Slowly at first, but changing nonetheless. Yoder’s was gone. Plain & Fancy, another Amish-Mennonite restaurant along downtown, went away. At some point, Memories of China opened at Linway Plaza and added to the range of flavors. I wish it were as good as it was 10 years ago.
All along the way, County Seat Cafe, Dandino’s, Dutch Maid Bakery, The Oasis, The Chief, Olympia and The Nut Shoppe have all thrived and survived. The former Everett’s deli found a new life in Dana J’s. South Side Soda Shop found its way into the hearts and stomachs of a city and then into that of Guy Fieri, the host of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
Rachel’s Bread left The Old Bag Factory and moved downtown as Rachel Shenk taught a Midwestern city that it needs French bread and croissants to the point that when she closes for her vacations, people go into a bit of withdrawal.
Downtown, people started taking some chances. The Dembufsky opened as a bar with craft beer and a different take on food. I remember when Mark Yoder made a jerk sauce that had more pop and sizzle than what had been done in Goshen.
The bar closed due to ownership drama, but it gave birth to Constant Spring 10 years ago. When Jason Oswald opened, he’d run out of money and couldn’t afford smoke-eating machines, so he went non-smoking. People said it wouldn’t work, but it worked better and this became a place where folks who wanted good food, a beer and no smoke could go.
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In 2008, Kelly Jae’s Cafe opened and introduced people to tapas, small plates full of deliciousness.
In recent years Goshen has gotten, in the word of Goshen advocate Gina Leichty, a set of world-class taquerias. There’s also Pizzeria Venturi, a Neapolitan pizza that somehow made an Esquire list of “life-changing pizza.” Now there’s Maple Indian Cuisine, serving Indian food along Main Street. A few block away, Goshen Brewing Co. opened in May and started serving both delicious craft brew and great food that complements what Goshen already had. Goshen now has not one but two Japanese restaurants.
Some of you accuse me of loving Goshen too much, or preferring it over Elkhart. I’ve lived in both places. I happen to reside in Goshen and work mostly in Elkhart. I’m thrilled with how the food scene has grown and evolved in northern Indiana and southern Michigan since I started caring and particularly excited about how it keeps getting better in all of Elkhart County. I love places in Elkhart and Goshen, Mishawaka and Middlebury.
I’ve had some time to think more about this Goshen food evolution. We’ve been filming a video with FiveCore Media for the Good of Goshen marketing campaign on the Goshen food scene. I’m not being paid, but simply talking about what I see and taste there. I’d gladly do the same thing for Elkhart if given the chance.
And we’re getting ready for Goshen Dining Days from March 5 to 12. During those eight days, restaurants in Goshen will offer specials of up to $25 and give 10 percent of the proceeds to The Window, which helps folks in poverty. It’s between a couple restaurants along Main Street and the agency does good work.
Elkhart County keeps getting more delicious. Goshen, my hometown, keeps getting food that’s more and more interesting with a wider range of flavors. You can celebrate with me March 5 to 12.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.