When it comes to Render Kitchen & Bar, the fine dining restaurant that opened in July in South Bend’s East Bank neighborhood, the owners could have followed what they’d been taught, what they’d learned from the owners with whom they’d cut their teeth.
Eamonn McParland, Bryan Robertson and Hilary Maich wanted something different.
Between them, the trio worked at LaSalle Grill, Café Navarre, Rocky River and Corndance Tavern. They’d learned at the established restaurants in the area, Maich and McParland in the kitchen and Robertson in front of the house.
Chef McParland made news when he announced that he would open SENSE with another chef. That fell through and he went into business with Robertson and Maich, whom are married.
They renovated the spot at 521 E. Jefferson Blvd. and opened in July with a menu that at first glance looks similar to others you could find in the area. It’s similar to what McParland would have cooked at LaSalle or Navarre, but not identical.
Render isn’t a tapas, or small plate, restaurant. It also doesn’t have huge entrees. It has mid-sized plates of some of the most beautiful food you can order in the South Bend/Elkhart region.
Two or three of the plates make a meal, though some order more. The best way to dine is with friends and to truly eat together, sharing plates.
The trio is the next generation of restaurant owners. They’re Millennials who pay a lot of attention to online reviews and using social media to drive business. McParland turns 30 on Saturday, Maich is 28 and Robertson is 26. Render is their restaurant and they’re shaping it into what they want a restaurant to be: a fun place for customers and employees with great food and drinks.
“This is exactly what I wanted to be doing,” McParland said. “We’re all in the same boat: We all want to be creative,” Robertson added.
The restaurant opened just a few months ago, and McParland has already crafted his third menu. He’s certainly not the only chef in the area creatively playing with fresh, local ingredients, but McParland’s food has a moxie and a prettiness that’s uncommon.
“He continues to impress me,” said Maich, who works alongside him in the kitchen and makes the desserts.
His combinations don’t just bring together flavors, but layer them to build on each other. Berkshire pork is being served with mustard seeds, apple and farro, an Italian form of wheat ($16). Chicken is served with red mole sauce, puffed quinoa and plantain ($12). Scallops, at the moment, are served with bacon, fennel and potatoes.
The menu is divided into beginnings, vegetables, seafood, meats and desserts. Each section has three to five offerings. Most are $8 to $18, but there is a $30 dish made with wagyu beef. The bar offers signature cocktails, craft beer and a wine list Robertson has compiled. I’m not sure of another local spot to find gin and tonic on draft, which is both mellow and full of flavor.
Not every fine dining restaurant chef relishes special requests from diners, but McParland seems to. If a diner is vegan, he can easily adapt. Same with food allergies. The very structure of the menu means that it can be nimble. If a diner is willing to play, Render can provide a playground filled with discoveries. The servers and owners welcome that. “I wouldn’t be able to do what we do here at a 130-seat restaurant,” McParland said.
Render’s owners want buzz about what they’re doing, but also to be part of a dining scene that keeps progressing in South Bend.
This is a different take on eating. The format and pricing may put off some, but it’s nice to have this as an option for those willing to spend $45 to $50 a person for dinner.
When you’re charging $16 for two large scallops, they must be cooked perfectly. At my last visit, they were. So was the pork. The sticky toffee pudding was stellar, but almost too sweet.
All three owners said they welcome feedback and want to keep getting better at the craft they love. They relish chasing better combinations, better choices, as they make and serve food and drinks. They are accepting requests for special parties that take over the entire space. For now, it is business that builds on the theme of responding to customers, but there is risk because of what it may mean for those who travel to visit and find it unavailable.
Eventually, the owners hope to have al fresco dining outside and even serve brunch. Robertson wants more cocktails on draft.
Address: 521 E. Jefferson Blvd., South Bend
Social media: Facebook
This is a new generation of owners, the next generation of food. There has to be room for such things so that how we eat can change for the better. Render has started strong.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.