Yellow Cat Cafe

Hey Benders –

Sorry for the long post hiatus. It was a busy spring to say the least.

My husband and I got back on Sunday night from a two-week trip to Thailand and Cambodia. After almost 30 hours of travel from Bangkok to South Bend and a 13-hour time difference, we were seriously suffering from jetlag. On Tuesday morning, we woke up at 4 am and were unable to go back to sleep. So, to make the most of the situation (and the lack of food in our fridge), we decided to try a new South Bend restaurant – Yellow Cat Café.

Conveniently, Yellow Cat Café opens at 6 a.m. for breakfast and is less than a mile from our house. When we arrived, there were only a couple of early risers in the restaurant, but the staff was super chipper and friendly. I ordered a vegetarian omelet, which was filled with onions, peppers, cheese, tomatoes and mushrooms, with grits and a biscuit. Bob ordered the breakfast burrito.

Both entrees were great and with a coffee and orange juice, our bill came to less than $20.

Yellow Cat is located at 808 East Colfax on the East Race side of downtown South Bend. Dixie and Colfax Café were previously housed in this location. It’s a cute breakfast stop with great food at reasonable prices.

While the restaurant is usually only open for breakfast from 6 am to 2 pm, they also serve dinner on Friday nights from 4-8 pm.

-McK

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

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

The History Museum (featuring Downton Abbey costumes!)

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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.

-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

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.

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‘Tis the Season…

‘Tis the season for holiday fun. There are a variety of events coming up in and around downtown South Bend within the coming weeks where you’ll be able to celebrate the season (and buy some Christmas presents). Here are a few ideas to get you in the holiday spirit:

  • The theme of this month’s First Friday in South Bend, which will take place on
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    Christmas decor at Tippecanoe Place

    December 2, is Downtown for the Holidays and the city and area shops will have a plethora of Christmas-themed activities lined up for the whole family, including the arrival of Santa, a tree lighting and sleigh rides. A full lineup of activities can be found on their website.

  • St. Joseph will Light Up the Bluff with Christmas lights this Friday, December 2, at 6:30 p.m.
  • The Howard Park Ice Rink will be the home of a Holiday Bazaar for the next three Saturdays (Dec 3, 10, and 17). Vendors will sell crafts and gifts.
  • Make South Bend is hosting an Urban Artisan Market this Friday and Saturday (December 2 & 3) at the J.C. Lauber Building at 504 E LaSalle in South Bend. Friday is a preview; Saturday is the full event featuring music, coffee and a variety of local artisans. If you’re in need of holiday gifts, you could also sign up for one of Make South Bend’s many craft classes and make homemade Christmas presents.
  • St. Joseph’s annual Reindog Holiday Parade is this Saturday from 4-5 p.m., beginning at Elm and State Streets in downtown St. Joe. Where else can you watch Santa being ushered in on his sleigh by dogs dressed up as reindeer? Seriously, it’s the greatest. If you want your dog to participate, judging for the costume contest will take place from 2:30-3:45 pm.
  • On Sunday, December 4, Downtown South Bend will be hosting its annual Historic Holiday Walking Tour from 1-5 p.m., where you’ll be able to explore the West Washington National Historic District. The best part about this tour is that you can see the interiors of many historic homes and businesses that typically aren’t open to the public. I went on this tour last year and highly recommend it. Read about last year’s tour here.
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    A random pic of my dog (although the sweater was purchased at the Reindog Parade)

    The Morris Performing Arts Center will be hosting the Nutcracker Ballet on December 10 and 11.

  • Enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner at Tippecanoe Place and see the beautiful Christmas decorations throughout the former Studebaker Mansion.
  • The Toboggan Runs at Pokagon State Park are officially open and they’re AWESOME (and refrigerated so you don’t have to worry about there not being any snow). The hour and 15 minute drive to Angola is definitely worth it.
  • There’s an ice skating rink at University Park Mall this year. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own skates if possible. If not, there will be a limited number of skates available to borrow for free.
  • You can also take the South Shore Line to Chicago to see the lights on Michigan Avenue, visit Christkindlmarket, and see the giant Christmas tree at Macy’s on State Street.

Enjoy!

-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

ArtPrize

The most-attended public art event on the planet, ArtPrize, takes place only two hours north of South Bend. More than 170 venues – including museums, parks, restaurants, hotels, parking lots and bars – located within three square miles in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, open up their doors to the public to display nearly 1,500 pieces of artwork. Artwork can take the form of a simple photograph to a huge art installation spanning a bridge across the river. This is the last week of ArtPrize Eight. It began on September 14 and will end this weekend, October 9.

Why do so many artists want to participate in ArtPrize? Two winners,  which are chosen by public vote and a jury of experts, win grand prizes of $200,000 each. Eight other winners will receive smaller awards. Prizes total $500,000.

ArtPrize is a great way to explore the city of Grand Rapids on foot, while viewing some amazing pieces of artwork. So how do you tackle an event like this? Before you go, I’d suggest doing your research. What are some of the most popular exhibitions? What do you want to see? What venues are hosting the most artwork? You can do the majority of this planning on the ArtPrize website. Since it’s the last week of the event, the first round of voting has already occurred and the top twenty pieces have already been announced, which makes it a bit easier to plan what to see. Once you arrive in Grand Rapids, grab a map at one of ArtPrize’s eight neighborhood HUBs or the main headquarters/HUB, located at 41 Sheldon Boulevard.

As you may know, Grand Rapids has been voted best craft beer city in the United States multiple times, so while you’re there, stop by one of the many delicious breweries or restaurants featuring great beers, such as Founders Brewery, Brewery VivantThe Green Well or Hop Cat.

Here’s a video of last year’s event so you can get a sense of the fun:

ArtPrize Seven from ArtPrize on Vimeo.

Here are a few of my photos from a few years back:

In my opinion, ArtPrize is one of the greatest public art events in the country, which is probably why The New York Times included it in its list of 52 Places to Go in 2016. Take advantage of living so close and head up there this weekend!

-McK