Friday, December 16, 2011

#241: Find a Christmas Tree

If Chevy Chase has taught us anything, it's that the best way to begin a Christmas Vacation is by cutting down the perfect tree for the living room.  If you haven't already found the best six-footer in Michiana, no worries.  There's still plenty of opportunities to find a nice tree in the area.  Plus, the forecast of light snow over the weekend will make it the ideal wintry conditions (but not too wintry) whether you're cutting it down yourself or just packing it into the trunk.

Here are a (few) suggestions -- please feel free to comment if you'd like to add your favorite spot!

For the convenience factor and everything but the tree: Buy a pre-cut tree at the Downtown South Bend Tree & Wreath Sale, outside the College Football Hall of Fame.  Keep kids entertained with the Holiday Train, screenings of holiday movies inside the Hall of Fame, and a visit with Santa (and/or the Grinch, if they're being particularly mischievous).  Visit for more info.  Note: The sale was extended as of December 8, but selection may be limited.  Cash only.

For the 'out in the country' feel with all the convenience: Head to locally-owned and operated Matthys Farm Market at 57754 Crumstown Highway just west of town.  Fresh-cut Fraser and Douglas fir, Scotch and white pine, $25 and up.  Open from 8:30 - 6 PM weekdays; 8:30 - 5 PM Saturday; closed Sunday.  Call 574.287.1935 or visit

For the free hot chocolate and candy canes: Try Southern Plantation Christmas Tree Farm on 63727 Orange Road for precut and u-cut trees.  They offer a variety of tree types and wreaths, too... and of course, free sugary treats!  Open seven days a week at varying times until 5 PM .  Call 574.289.7485 for exact hours.

If you are willing to head toward Three Oaks, MI, Pinecrest Farms, 4403 Spring Creek Road, off US 12, offers free hot chocolate (and coffee for the grownups), as it does open at 9 AM.  Rides on the horse-drawn wagon are available in the afternoon.  Call 269.545.8125.

For the full woodsman effect: Trek to Gloria's Christmas Trees, 207 E. Bertrand Road (Niles).  You can have any blue spruce you like, from 6 feet to 20 feet (!!) for $25.  Open 9 AM - dark, Friday through Sunday.  Call 269.684.8632 and don't forget the hand saw and the Advil.

For the best swag: Roseland Garden Center on 25 Dixieway S. and Ginger Valley Garden Center off Route 23 in Granger offer a wide selection of fresh garlands, wreaths, and something called the "fancy mix." Probably named after Drake.  U fancy, huh?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

#240: Holiday Wine Walk

Birds of a feather flock together, so the saying goes.  There is some truth to the enjoyment that comes from hanging out with people who enjoy the same things you do.  If you like wine, or supporting the downtown restaurant scene, or supporting innovative events for that matter, consider joining tonight's Holiday Wine Walk.

Starting at 5:00 PM, you can enjoy 3 wine tastings with complimentary appetizers at four restaurants:  Carmela's at Macri's, Ciao's, the Emporium, and Sunny Italy Cafe.  You can purchase a wristband at any of the restaurants, and this allows you to visit (and imbibe at) at all four.

While I doubt the weather permits, (weather permitting) there will be free carriage rides between the restaurants.  With or without the horses, you may prefer to walk (or drive, soberly of course!)-- Sunny Italy and Ciao's are practically next door, and Carmela's and Sunny Italy are a bit just farther down Niles Street.

This group of restaurants, especially on a rainy day, have cozy and welcoming atmospheres that will make this jolliest happy hour (or wine dinner!) in the 574.

When: 5:00 - 9:00 PM
Where: from 601 North Niles Ave - 121 South Niles Ave.; copious parking available at any of the restaurants
Cost: $40, purchased from any of the participating restaurants

Really? On a Wednesday night in South Bend?  
Yes.  Listen: $10 from each ticket will be donated to the Food Bank of Northern Indiana.  When you factor in the donation, it's less than $8/restaurant for a lot of wine and food at top of the best Italian eateries around!

Monday, December 5, 2011

#239: A Christmas Carol

Have you changed your music to the unique mix Burl Ives and Mariah Carey, put up the Christmas tree, and decked the halls, and still don't feel in the holiday spirit?  Is the lack of snow around here keeping from feeling like the holidays are here?   Perhaps a different approach to the hap-hap-happiest season of exactly what you need to get your (holiday) swag on.

According to the recent review by the South Bend Tribune, the Civic Theater's production of "A Christmas Carol" is not your typical feel-good holiday theater.  This year, it's a bit more sinister, focusing on Scrooge and Marley, his deceased business partner.  Director Jewl Abram-Copenhaver has emphasized this element with sophisticated stage effects.  For those of you who miss Halloween, check this play out.

When you leave the theater, you will be all more grateful for the glowing lights that decorate Downtown South Bend this time of year.

When: Tuesday - Sunday shows through Dec. 18.  All shows begin at 7:30 PM, except for the weekends.
Where: 403 N. Main Street
Cost: Tickets start at $16/adult.  You can order tickets online here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

#238: Tippecanoe Place

It’s a funny thing how easy it can be to ignore the history of a place.  I’m afraid we live too casually, letting our harried selves set up impenetrable routines. For three and a half years when I lived in South Bend, there was never a reason for me to drive by the corner of Washington and Taylor, and so I never did.  It wasn’t until I was hunting for the closest parking space to downtown without a two-hour parking limit, which I found on those very streets, that I first physically stumbled upon Tippecanoe Place. I had heard of a fancy brunch place in an old mansion where you took your parents when they came into town, but I had never taken the time to go the necessary couple of blocks out my way.

And it wasn’t until several months after that initial, ignorant brush with South Bend history that I finally made it to the aforementioned brunch with two of my closest friends. For those of you in the know (I’m sure all of you), Tippecanoe Place represents the pinnacle of South Bend industry. It was the official and palatial Studebaker residence from 1889 to 1933, designed by a famous Chicago architect, and named, ostensibly, in honor of the family’s friendship with President Benjamin Harrison. Since then, the house has been transformed into a renowned restaurant and event space.

Even on a dreary Sunday morning in May, the house looked impressive. Inside, preserved Victorian remnants surrounded heaping trays of brunch food.  To give you some indication, we finished the made-to-order omelettes and then went back for Belgian waffles. After brunch, with the wait staff’s permission, we were able to explore the unused upstairs portion of the house filled with dusty velvet curtains, shiny wooden banisters, and small bits and pieces of a South Bend dynasty.

Since that morning in May, two of us have moved away from the city. So now, whenever I think of Tippecanoe Place, I think of them, and it’s always somewhat bittersweet. You see it’s a funny thing how even once you learn about the history of a place, the people you’re with while you’re there matter more.

For more about the fascinating history of Tippecanoe Place, go here.

Location and Contact:
620 West Washington Street