Skip the veal and try the boar at 523 Tap and Grill during Elkhart Dining Days

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Beets and boar are on the menu at 523 Tap and Grill in Elkhart.

I still shake my head a bit that wild game and roasted beets are part of Elkhart Dining Days. Chef Sean Collins and sous chef Aaron Beaver have devised just two dishes for this year’s event. Beaver is an old soul and tested cook who can make salmon as well as anyone I know. It’s been that way since he was in the kitchen at Lucchese’s.

Collins has just taken over the 523 kitchen at 523 S. Main St. He was promoted from within, said owner George Anagnos. He’s worked with Beaver and under Chef Jamie Amador, who recently left to go work in a South Bend restaurant.

The autumn salad at 523 Tap & Grill features roasted beets. Flavor 574 photo/Marshall V. King
The autumn salad at 523 Tap & Grill features roasted beets. Flavor 574 photo/Marshall V. King

The Dining Days salad coming from the kitchen is simply slabs of sweet beets with some herbs, pickled fennel and pink peppercorns. It’s the kind of dish ($10) that reclaims beets. Too many of us associated the root vegetable with the Harvard beets, which don’t make us think of Ivy League pretense and mostly make our throats want to close. The sugar/vinegar sauce doesn’t do much to engender affection for most people when it comes to these red beauties.

The salad can be followed by wild boar. The ribs are frenched, or cut and trimmed to produce what are essentially wild pork lollipops. They’re being served this week with pear and pecan risotto. Ours had a bit too much almond flavor, but that’s likely to be corrected. A rich pan sauce is there to go with the boar and risotto. Fresh figs garnish the plate.

The wild boar is a special for $30 during Elkhart Dining Days. Flavor 574 photo/Marshall V. King
The wild boar is a special for $30 during Elkhart Dining Days. Flavor 574 photo/Marshall V. King

I have this strange habit of imagining the lives of the animals I choose to eat. Given how some meat is now industrially produced, I think it’s important to do that. Did this hamburger come from a steer that munched on grass or stood on a concrete feedlot being fed only corn? Was the chicken I’m being served have a short but full life, free of antibiotics and being fed good grain or better yet grass?

It’s a dangerous exercise in the United States these days. Our hunger for meat has led producers to rely on some scary stuff to feed the demand.

I imagined this wild boar squealing and harumphing as it skipped along. I don’t know that was the case. It turns out they can be quite destructive and eating them may actually be doing a favor for the ranchers of Texas or other parts.

Somehow, someone got this to the table in Elkhart. The table is in a restaurant along Main Street that has become not quite fine dining, but is known for its range of options, including the saganaki often ordered, resulting in the cry of “Opa” and a burst of flame.

It's not on the Dining Days menu, but the peach creme brulee combines the fruit with the caramelized sugar well. Flavor 574 photo/Marshall V. King
It’s not on the Dining Days menu, but the peach creme brulee combines the fruit with the caramelized sugar well. Flavor 574 photo/Marshall V. King

By the way, the service at 523 is nearly always solid, thanks to manager Nicole Kinkaide, her sister Nina, and several other long-time employees.

Amador had an elk burger on the menu sometimes. On these nights this week, it’s wild boar and the game shows that 523 is willing to go beyond the norm.

Anagnos said Collins has wanted to be aggressive and try new things. As with any restaurant, they’ll have to balance what the customers already love with what they may come to love if they try it.

Skip the veal. It’ll still be there next week. Try the wild boar this week.

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