Brunch at The Mason Jar Cafe


Half of the huevos rancheros and a honey cinnamon latte

I can’t remember the last time that I was as excited about finding a new restaurant as I was about the Mason Jar Cafe in Benton Harbor, Michigan. When I lived in Chicago, my favorite part of the weekend was going to brunch at a place with delicious and creative food and espresso in an artsy and fun environment. I’ve been on the quest for something similar in or around South Bend for years, but haven’t quite found what I was looking for.

Well, I finally found it in the Mason Jar Cafe, which was even better than I imagined. It’s located in a small arts district in Benton Harbor, Michigan. The restaurant shares its space with a bunch of art galleries, which you can browse while you’re waiting for a table. The menu is excellent. My friend and I shared the Huevos Rancheros, which consisted of eggs, queso fresco, and guacamole over a corn tostada and black beans, and the Goat Cheese and Grit Cakes, a goat cheese and grit casserole served with eggs and breakfast potatoes.

When I thought the menu couldn’t get any better, I saw the long list of espresso concoctions. I had a cinnamon honey latte, which was SO GOOD, and my friend had a lavender honey latte. If you’re not a fan of coffee or espresso, I also saw a Nutella hot chocolate on the menu, which was very tempting.

The Mason Jar Cafe is located at 210 Water Street in Benton Harbor and is open Monday through Friday from 7 am to 3 pm, and from 8 to 3 pm on Saturday and Sunday. They also have a really yummy looking lunch menu. It’s a great place to start your day when visiting the wineries and breweries in the area. After breakfast, we did some wine and beer sampling at Dablon Vineyards and Domaine Berrien Cellars, and then visited a new brewery, Watermark Brewing Company – my other favorite find of 2016 (more on that in a later post).



The History Museum (featuring Downton Abbey costumes!)


Copshaholm (Image courtesy of History Museum website)

Happy Holidays, Benders! If you’re looking for a fun and informative way to spend a day off between Christmas and New Year’s,  West Washington Street is one of South Bend’s many gems and, in my opinion, the J.D. Oliver House is the Crown Jewel. The J.D. Oliver mansion, also known as Copshaholm, is part of the South Bend History Museum complex, located at the corner of Washington and Chapin.

As the name suggests, the History Museum focuses on the history of South Bend and includes a variety of photos and galleries that showcase historical artifacts from the city as well as photos of the city’s decline and development. Currently, the museum is hosting a special exhibit of costumes from the BBC series Downton Abbey -“Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times.” If you have any interest in historical clothing, or are a fan of the show, this exhibit shouldn’t be missed. The costumes are stunning.

fullsizeoutput_12e9Copshaholm is a 38-room Romanesque Queen Anne mansion once owned by J.D. Oliver, the president of Oliver Chilled Plow Works, and his family. The home was built from 1895-1896 by famous New York Architect Alonso Rich. What makes the home unique is that the family donated all the original furnishings and belongings with the home. Even the family’s safe was filled with silver upon donation. The home tour transports visitors back in time to when the Oliver’s lived there. Right now, the mansion is decorated with some original clothing from the time period to complement the Downton Abbey exhibit.

Three tours of Copshaholm are offered Monday-Saturday at 11 am, 1 pm and 2 pm. On Sunday the tours are offered at 1 pm and 2:30 pm. The tours last about two hours, and also include a visit to the Worker’s Home and the Carriage House. Since space on the tours is limited, I would highly recommend calling in advance of your visit to make a reservation for the home tour. The other exhibits don’t require a reservation.

The History Museum is connected to the Studebaker National Museum, so you can choose to visit one or both museums. The History Museum is $14 for adults, and includes the tour of Copshaholm as well as the special exhibit. If you’d like to visit the Studebaker National Museum as well, it’s only $4 more.

Looking for a full day of fun?

For a full day of South Bend history tour fun, grab brunch, lunch or dinner at Tippecanoe Place, located in the former Studebaker mansion, stroll the West Washington Neighborhood, tour the History Museum and the connecting Studebaker National Museum and then head over to the Civil Rights Heritage Center. Currently, Tippecanoe Place is hosting themed Downton Abbey lunches and teas on certain days. Check their website for the schedule and pricing.




Truffle Pizza

It’s hard for me to believe that we haven’t yet posted about Venturi. Venturi, in my opinion, is one of the best restaurants in the region. Venturi specializes in gourmet Neapolitan pizza and it’s the real deal. Venturi is the only pizzeria in the state of Indiana that’s certified by Italy’s Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana.

As a certified pizzeria, Venturi must adhere to strict Italian pizza-making guidelines, including using only San Marzano tomatoes, extra fine 00 flour and fresh mozzarella, which is made daily at the restaurant. After the pizzas are assembled, they’re cooked in a high-temperature wood-fired oven, for about 90 seconds. This creates the most delicious soft bubbly crust ever. If you’ve ever enjoyed a pizza in Naples, Italy, you know what I mean.

Venturi’s pizza is so good it was voted 15th in Esquire Magazine’s list of “most life changing pizzas in America” and by Yelp as one of the top 50 restaurants in the state of Indiana.


Italian Soda

While Venturi has some standard pizzas on the menu, such as the Margherita (fresh basil, mozzarella and tomato sauce), they also have many specialty pizzas that are incredibly good. My favorite is the Truffle White Pizza, which comes with fresh mozzarella, cremini mushrooms, grana padano cheese, and truffle oil. For a party of flavors in your mouth, try the Fig, which includes mozzarella, gorgonzola, walnuts, truffle oil, marscapone, prosciutto, fig paste and greens. In addition to incredibly delicious pizzas, they also have excellent cocktails and desserts.

Venturi is located at 123 E Lincoln Ave in Goshen. They’re open for lunch and dinner Wednesday – Saturday, and dinner only on Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday.


Erasmus Books

On Saturday, my friend Kris was in town from Syracuse.  He did some of his own research on South Bend before arriving, and asked if we could go to a cool used book store called Erasmus.  I’d never been — honestly I had no idea where it was. But I am always game for adventure.  After pulling it up on Google maps, I realized it is right down the street from my house…

Erasmus Books is a nondescript house on East Wayne Street in Sunnymede.  Inside IMG_5065.JPGthere are miles of well-curated used books on narrow shelves.  We lingered in the philosophy section, where Kris stocked up on some rare finds.  They have a great selection and most of the books were in fantastic shape. Discovering Erasmus is a bit like discovering South Bend’s secret library.

Erasmus takes cash or check, and it has a laid back, family-run vibe.  Worth tracking down for some shelf-wandering and personal library development.