Monday, October 9, 2023

Eating BIG in South Bend (and beyond)

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Exploring Northern Indiana

I’ve never been a Notre Dame fan. I grew up rooting for Florida State so I actually disliked Notre Dame despite having both family and friends that were big Fighting Irish fans. That said I’ve always enjoyed South Bend and the rest of the Michiana region. I attended basketball camp at Notre Dame in my youth and I enjoy poking around the area in my adulthood, especially this time of the year when the air is crisp and the colors are changing. South Bend has a cute little downtown area with lots of landmark buildings worth a peek and the Notre Dame campus is also worth a walk though the college football hall of fame was moved to Atlanta. Howard Park is a beautiful 13 acre park that sits on the St. Joseph River. It was given a makeover in 2019 turning it into one of the Midwest's best. But my favorite thing to do in the area is just ride around and visit all of the towns that make up the Michiana region. I’ve always enjoyed the small town charm of the Midwest and this is one of my favorite spots to do so just a short ride from the city. You can explore the area by car, bicycle or motorcycle. 

Sights from South Bend 

If you head 15 mins east of South Bend you’ll end up in Elkhart which is one of my favorite Midwest towns. I enjoy walking around their downtown area which is similar to South Bend. It’s a real Main Street type of community that has a decent amount of history and is a hub of not one but two major manufacturing industries - Elkhart is considered the RV capital of the world. One of every two RV’s on the road today comes from here. They also boast a big musical instrument making heritage with more than five companies still making instruments to this day. If you head 20 mins southeast of Elkhart you’ll end up in the county seat of Goshen which is another cute as buttons Northern Indiana town. They too have a historic Main Street with restaurants, bars and shops in operation. Elkhart County and neighboring LaGrange County is home to one of the largest Amish communities in the U.S. with more than 25,000 Amish people calling towns like Middlebury and Shipshewana home. You can immerse yourself into the culture by planning a road trip along the Heritage Trail which will take you through all the Amish communities which are home to many Amish owned businesses and what not. Now is the best time of the year to do so with the Fall colors in full bloom. This area might not be the most exciting when it comes to food but there’s still stuff to be found. You can find previous reports from the area at the end of this report but here’s where I’ve ate lately as in the last five years or so.

Sights from Elkhart County 

The View Tavern (South Bend)

We'll start off with some dive bar dining.. You can usually find a worthy bar burger in a college town like this and some searching led me to The View Tavern where the Becky Burger is said to be the best in all of Northern Indiana. It’s a 1/4 pounder cooked on a flattop and dressed with grilled onions and bacon plus barbecue sauce and served on a toasted sesame seed bun. It was a pretty prototypical college town burger in that it was cheap and greasy but the bar itself is more of an old timers spot. I’d bet a few of the regulars were sitting in their exact same seats back when Lou Holtz was coaching the local college football team. They also list "Gulyas" on the menu which they describe as a Hungarian variety. I tried that too and it was the better option should you decide to stop in. 

Lunch at The View Tavern 

Chimichurri - Argentinean Food (South Bend)

You can find our next stop a few hundred feet from the last place. Chimichurri is an Argentinean empanada spot with a walk-up window. They also do steak and chicken sandwiches but it was the empanadas that were calling my name. I tried a few and they were all well made. I liked the traditional one with ground beef, hard boiled egg, and olive the most though the spinach and the ham and cheese were also tasty. These were smaller than most of their peers but above average in flavor. 

Empanadas at Chimichurri - Argentinean Food

Taqueria Chicago (South Bend)

There's a bunch of Mexican restaurants found up and down Western avenue. I decided to try Taqueria Chicago based on the awesome mural they had painted on the side of their building. It's a typical taqueria with some pretty good tacos that would blend into just about any neighborhood in Chicago. 

Steak Taco at Taqueria Chicago 

Starlite Pizza (South Bend)

Starlite Pizza seems to be one of those family owned restaurants where there was some sort of spat between the family causing them to takes sides and split apart. But I'm just assuming so as there's a Starlite Pizza in Granger that has a completely different website with no mentions of the Starlite's in South Bend. According to that website, the Krawiec family officially opened Starlite in 1958 in South Bend after emigrating from Poland in the 1930's. I visited one of the South Bend locations bc I was curious about the pierogis mentioned in many of the online reviews. I saw a picture of one and it reminded me of the pierogi I tried years ago at Pejza's Lydick Tavern, also in South Bend. Starlite sells their pierogi by the piece with the option to have them sautéed or fried. I tried the jalapeno with potato option and opted for it fried as that's how they're done at the aforementioned Pejza's which I kind of liked. This one was also pretty good and really large making it a complete carb bomb.

Pierogi at Starlite Pizza

Rocco's Restaurant (South Bend)

It seems like every college town has an old school pizza place like Rocco's. They've been serving the South Bend community since 1951. The area it's in was heavily Italian when they first opened but Rocco's is one of just a couple places from the old neighborhood that still remains. The full story behind Rocco's is very interesting. He was from Calabria and spent time as a POW in the U.S. where he would write letters to a young lady in Mishawaka from the same Italian town as him. They fell in love through those letters and married and then settled in South Bend in the late 40's. Rocco's first job was as a cook in the dining hall at Notre Dame. They saved up and eventually opened Rocco's next door to where they lived. More than 70 years later it's grown into one of South Bend's most popular dining destinations. The pizza here is neither thick or thin but if you ask they'll make it extra thin. I haven't tried the extra thin version but the standard offering is really well constructed and is pretty unique in that there's really nothing else like it. Both the dough and the sausage are made on-site. The dough has a good chew with a really nice undercarriage and the sausage has hints of fennel. Pizzas are served up in a charming old school space that pretty much stays busy. Worth a stop. 

Pizza at Rocco's

Nedderman's Steak Place (Mishawaka) 

Mishawaka is to South Bend as St. Paul is to Minneapolis, just on a much smaller scale. They’re independent municipalities with defined borders and their own mayors but they're also sister cities that are commonly linked together. I’m not sure how I came across Nedderman’s Steak Place but it’s the type of spot I’ll stop at if I’m passing through and looking for food. They do steak tips in a drive-thru only operation and that caught my eye in the same way it might someone from the Boston area where steak tips are a hyper regional dish. Steak tips are just pieces of beef that are are heavily marinated and then grilled until well browned. The ones here weren’t on the same level as Boston's but they’re similar at heart. Nedderman’s steak tips are clearly cooked by the bundle and thus they're steamed and sautéed. I enjoyed them for what they were paired up with mashed potatoes, green beans, and mushrooms. A Midwest meat & three so to say. They also make sandwiches and the shaved sirloin steak looked good but I went with the steak tips since those are their signature item. 

Steak Tips at Nedderman's Steak Place 

Volcano Pizza (Elkhart)

There's a few things that Elkhart Indiana is known for producing - The RV Museum and Hall of Fame. Haha. Never been but it’s fitting as the county is home to more than 30 RV manufacturers. Elkhart is also the boyhood home of NBA legend Shawn Kemp aka The Reignman and where Volcano Pizza has called home since the 50’s. If their pizza looks familiar and or similar to the Quad Cities style that’s bc there’s a connection in that Quad Cities style actually comes from Calumet City, a suburb of Chicago and a part of the Calumet region that extends into Northwest Indiana aka The Region. Gregory Anthony Campanello is the founding father of Volcano Pizza. His “Napoli Style” pizza is now served out of three locations although I’m pretty sure the original is long gone. Typically I’ll get sausage but bc this is similar to Quad Cities style that means it’s of the loose meat variety, ground pork is seasoned up pretty nicely with lots of fennel but there’s something about this sausage that I don’t love and it’s probably just the fact that it’s not the traditional pinched style we do in Chicago. So I decided to try the “Greg’s Special” which is sausage with pepperoni, green peppers, mushrooms. I don’t judge people based on the pizza they love bc in many cases that’s likely what they ate growing up and it’s now comfort food in an adult life. It’s not bad but nothing beats tavern style Chicago thin, as that's what I grew up on. All that said I thought the meatball grinder was a slam dunk. I ordered it the same way as the pizza sans pepperoni and it was an all star quality meatball sandwich. Lots of the old school pizzerias do these up really well and Volcano is no exception. Open since 1957.

Meatball Grinder at Volcano Pizza

The Volcano Special at Volcano Pizza 

Vanilla Bean Creamery (Elkhart)

I walked by this inviting ice cream parlor housed in a beautifully restored building on Elkhart’s Main Street and just had to stop in for some ice cream. Vanilla Bean Creamery makes hand crafted ice cream in small batches which means they have some creative flavors like their Amish Peanut Butter which I thought was really good. They do seasonal flavors too. Next time I might bring a cooler. 

Amish Peanut Butter ice cream at Vanilla Bean Creamery

Olympia Candy Kitchen (Goshen)

I finally got a chance to try the one and only Nut Olive Sandwich at Olympia Candy Kitchen last Fall. This is the type of place that takes you back to another era as soon as you step inside. The Nut Olive sandwich is their one of a kind concoction consisting of chopped cashews and sliced green olives with lettuce and mayo on toasted white bread. Nobody is exactly sure how the sandwich ended up on the menu but it’s been on there for a really long time. Almost as long as the business itself which is still in its original location dating back to 1912 when it opened shop as a confectionary. The dining counter came about 20 years after that and it has remained virtually unchanged ever since then. So how was the sandwich? I liked it although I havent really had any craves for another. I have had craves for a classic chocolate phosphate like the one from here. The chocolate turtles are also great. 

Nut Olive Sandwich at Olympia Candy Kitchen 

Rise 'n Roll Bakery (Middlebury)

If you grew up in Indiana’s Amish country you’ve likely started your day with a donut from Rise ‘n Roll Bakery at some point in life. They have 16 Indiana locations with the red-roofed original located along Indiana 20 in between Middlebury and Shipshewana getting visits from more than 100 tour buses a year. On a busy day, employees they sell 12,500 doughnuts at locations in South Bend, Mishawaka, Nappanee, Fort Wayne and so forth. It was founded in 2001 by a local Amish couple who have grown their little business known for their signature cinnamon caramel donuts into a regional powerhouse. I always make sure to stop by and get some if I’m in the area. One of the Midwest's best donuts.

Cinnamon Caramel Donuts at Rise 'n Roll Bakery 

Wana Cup Restaurant (Shipshewana)

I stopped into the Wana Cup for a quick lunch at least five years ago. I was taking a cruise through Amish country and decided to stop for some root beer which they make there. I also got a classic Beef Manhattan which is a popular Midwest comfort food said to be named after a similar constructed sandwich that some Navy guys tried in New York. So the story goes the Manhattan sandwich was a popular menu item at a now defunct Indianapolis deli during the 1940's. As time went by it became a regional food staple of the state. It's a stick to your ribs dish of mashed potatoes, roast beef, gravy and bread served open faced. Wana Cup seemed to be one of those small town spots that does alot of scratch cooking but the gravy came from a can so it's not going to win any best in-state awards. 

Manhattan Sandwich at Wana Cup Restaurant 

Return to Amish Indiana (Oct. 2013)

See ya next time @chibbqking

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