Fat Cam’s at Garver Lake

Shrimp. Grits. Hush Puppies. Oh my! Fat Cam’s at Garver Lake is a Cajun restaurant that’s situated just across the street from Garver Lake in Edwardsburg, MI. Their menu is packed to the brim with delicious fare straight from the bayou, including shrimp and grits, gumbo, crawfish étouffée, and po’boys. You can wash down your food with a craft beer – including a Louisiana favorite, Abita – or one of their many cocktails, such as a Hurricane or Low Country Lemonade.

I was pleasantly surprised – actually ecstatic – about how good Fat Cam’s food was the first time I tried it. I have a true love of shrimp and grits after visiting my friend who lives in New Orleans numerous times. I have to say that Fat Cam’s has the best shrimp and grits I’ve had outside of Louisiana, and it’s only 25 minutes away!

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Bayou Pasta, Catfish, and Gumbo

The restaurant is cute inside, and it has an outdoor patio that’s open in the warmer months with views of Garver Lake. I recommend starting off the night with the Bacon Dip or Orleans Shrimp appetizers (or gator is an option if you’re more adventurous). They’re both super good. They always have great food and drink specials. My friend got a seafood platter special that was packed with crab legs and shrimp. He said it was excellent. As I mentioned before, I really like their Shrimp and Grits. I’ve also tried the Gumbo, Bayou Pasta, and Creole and all were great. Don’t worry, if you don’t like seafood there are plenty of options for meat eaters, including a rib eye and huge pork shank.

Fat Cam’s is definitely worth a trip – or several. But first, be sure to make a reservation, especially if you’re planning on going Friday or Saturday night. Fat Cam’s is only open for dinner, except for Sundays, when they also serve lunch.

As they say in New Orleans, “laissez les bons temps roulerz” or “let the good times roll.”

-McK

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Watermark Brewing Company & a Southwest Michigan Beer Tour

img_1024-2Watermark Brewing Company is one of the newest additions to the region’s craft beer scene and it’s pretty awesome. Located in downtown Stevensville, MI, about a 45 minute drive north of South Bend, it may be my new favorite place to hang out and drink a beer. It has a modern industrial vibe, the folks who work there are super friendly, and the beer is creative and tasty. It also has a huge outdoor beer garden with fire pits, bistro lights and comfy patio furniture, which will be great in the warmer months. I love the ambiance, and wish it was closer to South Bend!

My friend Colleen and I ordered two flights so we could try out most of the beer on their menu. I really loved the Professor Botanicus Peanut Butter IPA. I’m not a huge IPA fan, but this was more like a peanut butter stout. We also enjoyed trying the saisons, Lemon Drop Ugly Face and Marzell Dunkelweizen.

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Watermark’s Patio in the winter

The craft beer scene has exploded in Southwest Michigan recently, and you can now make a full day trip just out of beer tasting. I haven’t yet tried all of the locations below, but I’ve heard great things about many of them. Here are some of the other breweries in the area to add to your Southwest Michigan Craft Beer Tour:

* Breweries I’ve visited and can tell you they’re good.

If you take an epic beer tour, start with brunch at the Mason Jar Cafe in Benton Harbor. You can have lunch while sampling beer at Greenbush or Round Barn Public House. Head to Cafe Guilistan, Wheatberry or Staymaker for dinner.

-McK

Beer-at-Greenbush

Beer at Greenbush

Brunch at The Mason Jar Cafe

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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).

-McK

Venturi

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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.

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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.

-McK

Arabesk Palace

Arabesk Palace

Kufta Kebab

Kufta Kebab and Shawarma

A Middle Eastern restaurant, hookah bar, and nightclub recently opened on Ironwood Road in South Bend. Naturally, Meg, my husband Bob, and I had to check it out. Arabesk Palace is a restaurant and bar during the week. It transforms into a nightclub with either a live DJ or musician (and belly dancers!) on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The interior of Arabesk Palace is impressive. The entire place is covered in Moroccan tiles and Middle Eastern light fixtures hang from the tall ceilings. On one side of the restaurant there’s a stage with a large area for dancing. The other side has tables, couches, and a bar.

We went on a Tuesday night for dinner and enjoyed a giant feast.  Our waiter brought us a lengthy cocktail menu and a beer binder, which included descriptions for their huge beer selection. I ordered a Moroccan Mule – a twist on the classic Moscow Mule – which was yummy.

For dinner, we started with a sampling of dips and pita, falafel and the wings entrée (which we ate as an appetizer). Everything was delicious. Marinated in olive oil, lemon and garlic, the wings were extremely juicy and cooked to perfection. I’m usually not a fan of wings, but these were so good I’d definitely order them again. The side of buffalo sauce was completely unnecessary since they were already so flavorful. After the appetizers, we moved on to our main courses. I had the Kufta Kebab, Meg had the Shish Kebab, and Bob had Shawarma. The portions were huge and all of the entrees were very good. By the end of dinner, we pretty much had to be rolled out of the place we ate so much.

img_0558As I mentioned above, Arabesk Palace turns into a nightclub with live entertainment and special events on the weekends. This Friday, there will be a live musician and belly dancing show beginning at 10 pm. On Saturday, they’re hosting a masquerade ball. If you like to dance, you should definitely add this place to your list for a classy nightclub experience. Check their Facebook page for information about upcoming events and covers.

Arabesk Palace is always 21 and over, so don’t bring the kids. It’s located at 1701 North Ironwood Drive, next to Cre-Asian.

-McK

Zoo Brew

What’s better than beer and Takins?

One of the best events of the year is taking place in South Bend tonight – Zoo Brew! Zoo Brew is an annual fundraiser for the Potawatomi Zoo. This year’s event will feature thirty-four craft breweries, primarily from the Midwest Region. The event is all you can drink and vendors are located through the zoo. As you wander from exhibit to exhibit looking at the animals, you can fill up your four-ounce commemorative glass with samples of delicious craft beers. It’s a great event to enjoy with your friends.

In addition to beer, there will also be food samples and live music. The event will take place tonight, October 1, from 7-10 pm. I would recommend getting there when it opens to beat some of the lines. It typically sells out, so be sure to buy tickets in advance. Tickets are $40 for non-members. 

-McK

New and Fun: Render Kitchen & Bar

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by Jane

Happy Friday, Benders! Here’s something to celebrate: we’ve been waiting a long time for Render to open, and it was worth the wait!

Sometimes you need a romantic splurge in your life, and Render is the perfect little spot for a light early evening  dinner of great mixed drinks and shared small plates.

First, let’s discuss the cocktails. The one pictured above is called Rosemary Among Us. It was my favorite drink of the night, though all 3 cocktails Sam and I tried were amazing. This one was light and airy, thanks to the whipped egg whites, and the lemon rosemary flavor blend was refreshing and herbal without being too sweet. We also tried A Bourbon Breakfast—this bourbon cocktail has a blend of stout and coffee flavors, with a hint of pecan. The topper for this one? A skewer with a cherry and pork belly bites. Amazing, and it really brought out the “breakfast” theme. Finally, we sampled the Planter’s Punch, with an interesting twist that came from an allspice dram, very tasty!

Because Render focuses on small plates, we got a vegetable and 3 main dishes to try. (Apologizing now for the quality of our pictures, we went to dinner late, and it was getting dark so the light quality was not the best. Most of these don’t do the food justice, so definitely don’t judge by them!)

First, we had a beet salad, with red and gold beets, goat cheese, watercress, and crushed pistachios. This was just beautiful, with the beets plated in a ring and dotted with the creamy goat cheese. Just the right mix of tangy and sweet, we were very impressed with this dish. I even bought ingredients to recreate this at home a few days later because I was craving it!

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I really enjoy the creative plating at Render. If you’re at all a Food Network Chopped junkie, like I am, it’s going to make you very happy!

The next two dishes were seafood. The first was oysters with a lemon cucumber sauce similar to a gremolata and edible flowers. Unusual flavors, but if you like oysters, this is a must-try dish. I’ve never had oysters with a sauce like this. It highlighted the fresh salty flavor, but brightened it and brought a tiny bit of sweetness. Also? Edible flowers are really cheerful, and add a touch of fancy to many of Render’s dishes that you don’t see at many South Bend restaurants.

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The scallops with tagliatelle, peas, and pancetta was my favorite dish. This was the point of the meal when I wish I could have just ordered a giant version of this plate. The pasta tasted like it was homemade, fresh pasta, the cubes of pancetta were pefectly crisp and not at all burned. The scallops had a beautiful sear, but were not too done, so the middle still had the creamy, rare consistency that it should. I should tell you that we’re slow eaters, and our waitress took this plate away with 3 peas and a noodle still left on it, and my poor husband was devastated! That’s how good this one was!

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Our last main course option was a duck breast and pickled plum (vinegary but sweet) with something I’ve never tried before—an almond custard. It was another win! The creamy custard was more flavorful than you’d expect, and it was a perfect complement to the seared duck. Duck is an Indiana specialty, you can always count on really good duck in this area.

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We tried the Olive Oil Cake for dessert. This came with a buttermilk sorbet and fresh berries. It was just as delicious as it was beautiful. I really like this not-too-sweet style of desserts. And, it’s always great to eat your own entire cake!

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Render is a pricier restaurant for the South Bend area, and it’s certainly not a place to go if you haven’t eaten any food all day.  But, it’s well worth the price if you like to try new creative food, prepared with real skill, and with an eye for beauty. Sam and I were both satisfied after our meal, and didn’t feel too full to enjoy the rest of our evening. He does want you to know that if all else fails, and you’re just a person who needs more food than this, have a couple of dishes as an appetizer with a good cocktail, then go next door for a burger at The View! Ha!

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As for me, this might be one of my new favorite places for a special occasion, and I really can’t imagine having eaten a burger after all this deliciousness. I wanted to savor the moment. (Another plus: they take reservations, and you can do it from their website!)

So, go to Render and enjoy the evening. Sip a fancy cocktail, try the scallops at the very least, and watch people stroll down Jefferson. Life doesn’t get much better!

 

 

 

Wheatberry Restaurant & Tavern

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Shrimp po’boy and mac and cheese

It’s hard for me to believe that I haven’t yet written a post about Wheatberry Restaurant and Tavern in Buchanan, Michigan. It’s one of my favorite places to go in the area for a delicious lunch or dinner in a trendy, yet casual environment. While I enjoy many of the items on Wheatberry’s extensive menu of small plates, sandwiches, salads and entrees, it is hands-down my favorite place in the area to get barbecue. The slow-smoked, free-range barbecue chicken as well as the pulled pork are awesome. Pair them with sides of macaroni and cheese and sweet potato fries and I’m in heaven. The garlic fries are also excellent. End your meal with the Michigan Blueberry Crumble or the Texas Sheet Cake.

Wheatberry is constantly hosting special events. Last week was Lobster Fest and nearly everyone in the restaurant was eating the lobster special. Since I’m not a lobster fan, I enjoyed a yummy shrimp po’boy. I also love that they bring you a plate of cornbread when you sit down and they have an awesome beer menu.

Wheatberry is located in a beautifully wooded area along the St. Joseph River on Red Bud Trail, just north of Buchanan. It’s about a 25 minute drive from South Bend. You need to go!

-McK

 

Breweries, Bikes, and Beer: Exploring Goshen and Elkhart by Bike

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Toast to kick-off our ride

As you know, Meg and I both love biking and beer. Last Saturday, we decided that it was time to combine two of our loves and bike the MapleHeart Trail, while stopping at some of the region’s newest breweries.

The MapleHeart Trail is a five mile paved trail that runs from the outskirts of Elkhart to the outskirts of Goshen along County Road 45. In Goshen, the name changes to the Maple City Greenway, which runs another 3.2 miles into the heart of the city and then connects up to the Pumpkinvine Trail, which runs all the way to Shipshewana (read Meg’s review of the Pumpkinvine here).

We left South Bend around 11 am, which put us in the Goshen Brewing Company parking lot, our starting point, around 11:45 a.m. When we pulled up, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the Goshen Farmer’s Market, located next door to the brewery, was holding a Maker’s Market filled with tons of home goods and arts and crafts. We decided to take a stroll through the market, admiring the fresh produce and items for sale. I had no idea that, like South Bend, Goshen also has an indoor Farmer’s Market, and there were plenty of fun things to look at. I was intrigued by the smoothie and homemade cheese stand.

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Lunch at Goshen Brewing

After our quick detour, we started our official brewery bike tour with lunch at Goshen Brewing Company. I had the pulled pork sandwich with fennel slaw, my husband had the Hot Mess (pork shoulder, BBQ sauce, cheddar and pickled jalepenos) and Meg enjoyed snacking on the brussels sprouts, which were incredibly yummy. We washed down our food with some beer samples. I tried the Vesna, a pale lager, which I thought was delicious.

After lunch we hopped on our bikes and got on the wrong bike trail. The bike path right next to Goshen Brewing Company is NOT the MapleHeart Trail, so don’t get on it, and definitely don’t cross the river. When we realized we were clearly on the wrong path, we took an odd road route past the Old Bag Factory until we could hook up with the bike path. In order to avoid this mishap, stick to the mapped route below.

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Ox Bow Park Path

I wouldn’t necessarily call the MapleHeart Trail a scenic bike route. It parallels a road, runs next to the train tracks, and passes mostly houses, sub-divisions, and some old factories. However, there are some sections that are prettier than others, such as the section that passes Ox Bow Park. We decided to get off the bike path for a quick 10 minute ride around the park, and it was beautiful. Trees and flowers were blooming and it was great to see all that the park had to offer. There was a lookout tower, stables, soccer fields, an archery range, and hiking trails. We all commented that we’d love to spend more time there.

Eventually, the MapleHeart trail ends and you have to bike for about two miles on fairly busy roads to get to downtown Elkhart. It appeared there was an alternate bike trail along the Elkhart River, if we turned right off Sterling Avenue on to Lusher Avenue, so we tried it. Unfortunately, the route wasn’t paved so we took a very bumpy, muddy ride for about 10 minutes until our butts couldn’t take it anymore. It was a beautiful path that would be great for walking along, but it was not ideal for biking. The trail does finally become paved once you get to Studebaker Park, but I would recommend sticking to route below – it’s much faster.

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Iechyd Da

Our next stop was Iechyd Da, a popular brewery and restaurant in downtown Elkhart.  We shared the Bread of St. David (garlic cheese bread) to refuel and each got a taster-size glass of beer. The Local Blonde was light and refreshing.

We hopped back on our bikes and biked the eight or so blocks south to New Paradigm Brewing Company. The name is a bit misleading. It’s not actually a brewery, but rather a bar that has tons of craft beers in bottles and on tap. Supposedly the burgers are excellent, and based on the descriptions on the menu, I would definitely return to try them out. I had a pint of Sun King’s Sunlight beer. Sun King is based in Indianapolis. We also split the pretzels with beer cheese and mozzarella sticks appetizers. We clearly felt we had to load up on carbs for our bike ride back to Goshen.

It took us about two hours to get to downtown Elkhart due to our many detours and the rough terrain along the Elkhart River (14 miles total), while the ride back primarily using the MapleHeart and Maple City Trails only took us about an hour (11 miles).

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Thomas Steiglitz Brewing

When we arrived back in Goshen we celebrated the end of our journey with a beer at the newest brewery in the area – Thomas Stieglitz Brewing. Thomas Stieglitz is located in an old laundromat, and the building is really cool. The interior is tiny – there are just a few seats at a bar, but it has a large outdoor patio filled with adirondak chairs and tables. I enjoyed my favorite beer of the day – the saison. It was light and fruity and super refreshing on a warm spring afternoon. One of the friendly owners told us the brewery had just opened a few weeks prior. I’m sure they’ll have a large following soon.

Overall, the journey was extremely fun. We had a great time exploring parts of Elkhart and Goshen that we had never seen before. Our brewery bike tour was an amazing way to spend an afternoon.

-McK

The bike route:

 

 

 

Temper Grille

On Wednesday after work my friend Sonia and I hit up Temper Grille for dinner. Temper is up in Granger, very close to Costco and Aladdin’s.  Despite the fact that I end up in that neck of the woods weekly (because of my Costco problem), I’d never been in to Temper.  I explain the omission as some combination of my being intimidated by the angry name of the restaurant and my typically being already full from free samples after my Costco run.

Anyways, don’t overlook Temper.  The food is incredible, the prices very reasonable, the vibe is cool (and not at all angry), and it is a great option out on the Granger/Mishawaka border.  This particular night they were running specials on their craft beers, and I had the chance to try a new and really nice porter from a brewery up near Detroit.  (Forgot the name!)

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As usual, ate most of the food before remembering to photograph it…

Dinner at Temper is tapas style.  We split a hummus platter, some edamame, and the ahi poke.  The latter came with a condiment called “Real Wasabi”… I guess because it wasn’t just a horseradish-esque ersatz wasabi?  Whatever it’s ontological status, it was really good.  And the rest of the menu seemed interesting (lamb pops? scallops?  steak bites?).  Meat-heavy, so perhaps not the best bet for our vegetarian readers.  I’m already planning a trip back.

We had no problem getting a booth on a Weds night, but they take reservations which might be a good bet on busier weekends.