Tuesday, January 24, 2012

#249: Winter Restaurant Week in South Bend

I am a day late, but it's Restaurant Week in downtown South Bend!

If you like food, or hate to cook, this event is for you.  If T.G.I.Friday's commercials about its 3/2/$20 deal entice you, this is your event.

Thirteen restaurants -- with a wide range of ambiance, cuisine, sophistication -- give you a reason to try them out, whether for the first or fifteenth time.  They have set special menus to highlight their best dishes and to lure you (if you need luring) downtown to eat. 

Most of these multiple course meals cost $25/person for 3 courses, with several restaurants offering meals for $25/couple.  Some two-person lunches run for $15.  Restaurants are featuring New Belgium beers for $3, Finlandia mixed drinks for $5, and Guernoc Lake County wines for $6/glass ($25/bottle).

In less words: a wonderful blend of big city extravagent with small town prices. The website www.eatdrinkdtsb.com has all the information you need -- parking, menus, participating restaurants.

Those who lack the ability to indulge a litte are not forgotten.  Diners can opt to pay $5 for 'an extra helping,' not for themselves, but for the Northern Indiana Food Bank.  These donations contribute to its task to nourish more than 10,000 people in the community.

Don't forget to make reservations to guarantee a spot.  Restaurant Week runs until February 4.

Monday, January 16, 2012

#248: LaSalle Grill

Since I left South Bend, I’ve become an infrequent guest visitor to this blog and the city itself. I made it back for the recent holidays and re-visited many of my favorite South Bend spots along with a few new ones. One of those new ones happened to be one of the most renowned dining establishments in the city, the LaSalle Grill.

Since 1991, the restaurant has been a focal point of the city’s dining scene. AAA, the national travel organization, has awarded the restaurant 4 diamonds out of 5 for a dining experience described as:

“A distinctive fine-dining experience. Often an executive chef and accomplished staff. Menus reflect high degree of creativity and complexity using imaginative presentations to enhance market-fresh ingredients. Proficient service staff meets or exceeds guest expectations. Wine steward typically available. Ambiance is highly refined, comfortable and well-coordinated, incorporating quality materials and upscale design enhancements for a first-class impression. Typically expensive.”

Our visit only confirmed all of the above. We ordered a first course of the house salad and bison soup followed by entrees, Amish chicken with potatoes and asparagus and a New York strip steak, respectively, and dessert, a chocolate cake with peppermint ice cream, all accompanied by wine selections recommended by the wait staff. The food is simply classic, and the atmosphere is warm and friendly. If you’re looking for drinks after dinner, visit Club LaSalle (on the third floor of the building) which we’ve featured previously. If you’re a South Bend resident or just passing through, this is a restaurant you don’t want to miss. For me, it was a wonderful welcome home.

For more information and a menu, visit their website here.

115 West Colfax Avenue

Tip #1: Their stated attire is “Coats and ties for gentleman preferred but not required”. Go fancy or go home.

Tip #2: The owner, Mark McDonnell, is a huge supporter of the South Bend food scene, and, in particular, the upcoming Winter Restaurant Week from January 23-February 4. This might be the perfect time to visit!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

#247: MLK National Day of Service

"Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Although it feels so nice to laze around on a day off, consider the reason why you have the day off.  I encourage you to participate, in whatever you can, in a national act of giving -- you will feel great.  Tomorrow is the only federal holiday designated as  a day of service, a fitting tribute to our nation's great civil rights activist.
Although mlkday.gov lists only one serve event for the South Bend area, there are multiple MLK-related activities around town -- South Bend Tribune has compiled a thorough list, and we highlighted the annual concert for Post #107 -- but any act of kindness honors his legacy of non-violent activism.  "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," Dr. King wrote in his "Letter from Birmingham Jail."  Even if you donate some canned food (Ivy Tech is holding a drive) or that extra pair of gloves you have, you will be doing something for justice.

If you have to work tomorrow,  you could take a lunch break for a long-standing South Bend tradition: the annual MLK march.  Join city leaders in government and in religious groups at 12 Noon for a non-denominational prayer service outside the County-City Building, the seat of the government for South Bend and St. Joseph County.  Afterward, march with great fanfare to the Century Center, where various events are happening all day long. 

For those who work at Notre Dame, there is another non-denominational prayer service happening right on campus.  University president Fr. John Jenkins will lead the service, which starts at 11:30 AM in the Main Building.

"More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will," Dr. King also wrote in his famous letter.  If we were lucky enough to have him still with us today, let us hope that he would think differently.

Friday, January 13, 2012

#246: Cocoa and Candlelight Ski

Think you have to drive miles away from South Bend to ski?  You need to drive (approximately) five miles away from the heart of downtown to reach St. Patrick's Park, where there are groomed cross-country trails.

Last year, we highlighted their tubing hill (which isn't open yet this season!), but for this post, I'm going to highlight an event that occurs only a few times each season.  Tonight, thanks to a well-timed snowstorm, "Cocoa and Candlelight Ski" will be taking place.

Full disclosure: I am vouching for this activity without ever having participated -- never skied before in my life! -- but I do love the way snow reflects light, brightening the night.  The routes at St. Pat's will be lined with luminaries to guide your way to Marion Cabin, where a fire and hot cocoa will be ready.  Dress in warm layers, but once moving, you'll heat up fast -- cross-country skiing is a top calorie-burner.

The park is normally closed after sunset, so this is rare opportunity to see it by night.  I am sure it will a unique, gorgeous, and romantic (if you're not a huge klutz on skies) way to spend your evening.

If tonight's cold warning makes you leery of heading outdoors, you have two more chances.   The event will repeat on Jan. 27 and Feb. 10.

Where: St. Patrick's Park on Laurel Road, north of Auten Rd.
When: 6:00 - 9:00 PM, Friday
Cost: $5 for the event; $10 for a skis, boots, and poles
Website: http://www.sjcparks.org/leisure.html
Phone: 574.277.4828

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

#245: Trio's Restaurant

With a lot of buzz going on about the opening of Cafe Navarre, the new upscale restaurant in downtown South Bend, it's easy to forget the other fine dining establishments DTSB, some even in the same block.  I was fortunate enough to try Cafe Navarre tonight -- the food was excellent, and the decor spot on -- but on my way in, I could not help but think of its neighbor just down the street, Trio's.
Trio's, opened in 2007, is distinguished from other restaurants in the area by its Cajun twist.  The menu serves quality steaks, a decent wine list (at least to my limited knowledge), and some interesting ingredients to spice up the dishes.  My favorite meals have been pasta-based, but they have gumbo, house made Cajun ribs and--unexpected but quite welcome--fried green tomatoes, although prepared fancy-like.  For a sit-down business lunch, there is also a nice menu, with options ranging from a grilled vegetable sandwich to fried macaroni and cheese (food coma alert). 

A unique feature about Trio's is the jazz club next door, which features live acts several nights a week.  There's a separate menu for this place, but you can "Eat steak even late," to borrow a Wendy's jingle.  When I came in for food on a weekday night after 9:00 PM, a time at which most DTSB restaurants have closed for the night, they were happy to serve me from the regular menu as well.  The chef was also happy to accommodate my quirky requests (eg. the time I wanted the wild mushroom risotto as my main dish...too good to be an accompaniment, okay?) and go above and beyond to make it a quality dining experience.  The quality of the service is a big factor in feeling like you get what you pay for, and in this case, I was not disappointed.

We have highlighted Trio's Jazz Club before, so I won't go into great detail, but as a heads up, this weekend, you can hear such performers like regulars William Cole Quartet, internationally-playing Bill Boris Group, and the 24-year-old Chicago sensation Marquis Hill.  No charge for admittance into the Jazz Club for most events.

I hope the addition of a new restaurant in downtown South Bend is not seen at the expense of the restaurants, but rather as an addition to the family.  I hope it will be a draw for people into the city, a 'foodie' district.  Even without organized events like the Holiday Wine Walk, it would be so easily to hop from one place to another, sampling the mussels parisienne there, the Cajun crab cakes here.

Where: 129 N. Michigan St. (you can park in the lot across the street after hours)
When: Lunch--11 AM - 2 PM (M-F); Dinner--5 - 10 PM (M-Th); 5 - 11 PM (F, Sa) and the Jazz Club is open two hours later than the restaurant
Website: http://www.triossb.com/

Monday, January 9, 2012

#244: Niles Frigid 5K

If you want to get going on your New Year's Resolution to work out more, here is the thing to do for you this weekend: the Niles Frigid 5K.  Finishing a race, especially one with such a hardcore name, gives you such a feeling of accomplishment, no matter what place you finish.  (Eg. See the excellent guest post recap of the Sunburst races.)  Age group awards, a forgiving start time (9 AM) and the appeal of hot chili afterward make this race an even better way to start an exercise regimen. 
It's rare to have a race mid-winter and rarer that we don't have significant snow cover, so take advantage of this opportunity, and you will have of being on your way to meet your fitness goals.

And you're waiting until the Chinese New Year to make your resolution, come to pique your appetite for the Hunter Ice Festival, which we featured last year (#105).

Where: Niles Amphitheater, Niles, MI
When: Saturday, Jan. 14, 9:00 start time
Cost: $20 w/o shirt; $25 with shirt (quantities limited)
Register at the website http://www.nilesf5k.com/ or on the day of.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

#243: New York Central Railroad Museum

It started off as a trip to Amish Acres.  I have never visited this popular Nappanee tourist attraction, so I thought today, on this lazy, sunny Sunday, it would be a great brunch destination.  With thoughts of homebaked pies and pastries in mind, my cohort and I jumped in the car, and the 28 miles to Nappanee passed in a flash.  Following the signs, we arrived at Amish Acres...where there was only an empty parking lot to greet us.

A phone call confirmed that they were closed until March (disputing the hours listed online).  We decided that playing one round of 'the ring game' on the deserted grounds did not suffice for an adventure, and we got back into the car determined to find an alternate destination.

I admit that sometimes I hold local businesses to a double-standard.  I want the charm and authenticity of a place whose owner seems to be part of the community, a real person; on the other hand, I want convenience --why aren't most restaurants open in DTSB past 9PM!?!-- and clarity--why hasn't the website been updated in months?!?  Yet I must place my frustrations aside and remember that just as I cannot work 24/7, I cannot expect businesses to.  Owners need vacations and days home with the family just like I do.

We kept this in mind as we drove around looking for a local restaurant open on a Sunday.  Soon enough, somewhere near Bremen, we spotted a restaurant with a parking lot filled with American-made cars and a 'OPEN' sign in the window: Country Cafe.  The special was chicken and noodles, and the regulars were eating it up.  I myself was delighted by the hush puppies and sweet tea on the menu.  We filled up on the downhome cooking, so much so, no room for homemade pie was left.  But the day was still young, and we were still hungry for adventure.

We took the long way home, through Elkhart, and thanks to smartphones, we realized that the National New York Central Railroad Museum was nearby, just across from the Amtrak station downtown.  I didn't know any more than that, but that was enough reason to drive past.  And I am so glad we did.  Although the parking lot was rather empty, this time, the neon 'OPEN' sign was on to welcome us inside. 

The museum recounts the history of railroads, both in the region and nationwide, and appropriately, is housed in 1915 passenger coach.  The gift shop is in 100 year old freight house.  There are artifacts and photos in a timeline sequence that show how railroads were built and operated, what it was like to travel via rail, and when and where trains went.
The South Shore

I found this museum wonderfully interactive, and to be honest, I was more excited by the Brio set and functioning conductor's bell as much as the historical displays.  The indoor museum ends in a wonderful model train room, which features models of the trains displayed outdoors.

If one enjoys playing around inside, the outside holds even greater fun.  The "rolling stock" consists of (at least?) five trains.  First is the Mohawk, #3001, the only one remaining in the world, which is the largest piece of steam equipment this line featured.  It is jaw-dropping.  The wheels are taller than an average adult.

There are boxcars, the lead car of the last east-bound 20th Century route, a 150-ton crane, and an old South Shore train car.  (I found that South Shore's interior design hasn't changed much in the years.)  The best part?  You can hoist yourself up onto the decks and explore inside.  If you've ever been to a ghost town out west, you know what I'm talking about.  Passing trains add to the ambiance.

We drove back to South Bend a little more knowledgeable about railroad history.  It was only appropriate that the route home paralleled the tracks.  The museum was a true delight and the perfect way to spend a snowless, wintry Sunday. 

Where:  721 S. Main Street, Elkhart, IN
Phone: 574.294.3001
When: Sundays, noon - 4 PM; closed Mondays; Tuesday-Saturday, 10 AM - 4PM
Cost: $5/adult; $4 for children and seniors
Website: http://www.nycrrmuseum.org/

Did I mention you can climb on them?  (I think...) Of course, I couldn't resist striking my best conductor pose.
One cool fact I remember: Elkhart once had the largest railyard in the world...and is still second overall.  This picture helps:

View Larger Map

Friday, January 6, 2012

#242: Get some Moves / Tres Reyes

"New Moves" is the theme of this month's First Friday celebration.  There are various events happening in Downtown South Bend tonight related to this theme, including a dancing lessons at the Woodward.  Whether you want to try out swing, latin dance, or salsa, there is an opportunity to learn from the masters.  If neither learning some new movers nor losing your inhibitions are on your new year's resolution list, then come (perhaps after a drink at Fiddler's or Oyster Bar) for the people-watching.  There's a reason "So You Think You Can Dance" averages over 5 million viewers on television.

If dancing really isn't your thing, you can check out yoga, either at Dhanwantari or at the South Bend Chocolate Company.   Or "Zero Balancing Therapy," a type of mind-body massage, at the DTSB office.
Why are dancing costumes always so ridiculous?
When: Tonight, 5-9 PM
Where: Downtown South Bend
Check DTSB's website for directions, parking, and details here!

If you are pining for the eating, singing, and festivizing of the holidays, get back into the Christmas spirit at the Tres Reyes celebration at the Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in Mishawaka.  This important Mexican celebration marks the Epiphany, the arrival of the three wise me to Jesus.  Come for tradition treats like horchata and rosca de reyes (cake).  There was also a celebration last night on the west side -- Jesus, sorry I'm late!