Tuesday, February 21, 2012

#253: City-Wide Liquors

You must think I'm scraping the bottle of the barrel if I'm highlighting a liquor store as one the top "things to do in South Bend." 

Au contraire, mon amie -- City-Wide is more than a liquor store: it's a destination.  They have arguably* the best selection of beer and wine in town, and unless you know what you want ahead of time, plan to spend 10, 15, 30 minutes browsing their selection.  Peruse the extraordinarily expensive beer in their beer cellar. (Dear, how about we try the 2008 Behemoth Blonde Barleywine tonight? Only $39!**)  On Thursday nights at their downtown location, they offer tastings -- last week it was of specialty spirits and cocktails, but primarily beer and wine distributors offer samples.  From my description, this place might scream pretentious snob to you, but happily, the atmosphere is truly the polar opposite -- the staff is always at hand, willing to help and offer a pointer or two.  Plus there's always a sale on cases of  popular brands.

So for a complete Mardi Gras, after you pick up paczkis at Dainty Maid or king cake at Chicory Cafe, walk just down the block to City-Wide, where you can find Abita, Lousiana's finest brew, in stock and waiting for you to try out!

Where: There are four locations city-wide, but head downtown (109 E. Jefferson) for their tastings.
When: Monday-Thursday, 9 AM - 10 PM; Friday-Saturday, 9AM - 11 AM
Website: http://citywideliquors.com/home/
Tip: Are you interested in specialty/limited release microbrews?  Get on their newsletter to hear when the stock will be arriving -- often, there is a purchasing list for the in-demand stock!

*The side story behind this claim: There is a wine, whose imports are limited to one distributer in North Carolina, a wine which I had only seen in Italy and on the menu of a single restaurant in Richmond, VA.  A wine so special that my 90-year-old grandmother smuggled out a bottle from this restaurant to send me one of their bottles for my birthday.  Yet there it was, at City-Wide, sitting amongst the Chardonnays and the Pinot Grigios.  That sealed my allegiance to them.
**Totally fictional price estimate and choice of beer.  We can begin a discussion about the journalistic responsibilities of bloggers, but please consider this creative license.

Monday, February 13, 2012

#252: Cooking Class with Chef Laurent

Thanks to 'Chef' C. for contributing this culinary-minded post!

Still looking for something special for your Valentine? Here’s your chance to save your Valentine’s heart – and your chivalrous character– with a fun idea for a quaint night out on the town. You’ll get to learn how to make a few delicious dishes, and sample them in the meantime. What could be better?

There are a number of establishments in the South Bend area that offer cooking classes, but one particularly fun spot is Chef Laurent’s kitchen in the basement of Villa Macri near Heritage Square, just two blocks north of Target on Main Street.

With a heavy French accent and a flair for culinary deliciousness, Chef Laurent Robic keeps his audiences entertained throughout his 1.5 to 2 hour cooking lessons. Born in northwest France and a  student of the Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris, Chef Laurent came to South Bend after working in Chicago and Southwest Michigan. His specialties are seafood and desserts, but his upcoming menus feature everything from Chicken with Mango Sauce, to Quiche Lorraine or baked Italian frittata.
Can't take the heat? Get outta tha kitchen...and into his class.
Classes vary in price but generally cost around $50 per person. Keep in mind that this price includes the cost of instruction for three to four great dishes along with very generous samples of all the menu items. (The word generous is to be taken seriously - don’t eat dinner if you take an evening class). Another plus, of course, is that you don’t have to clean up or even do the dishes once class is over!

Students at the class are also invited to purchase a glass of wine (or two!) upstairs at Villa Macri prior to dinner – the bartenders can recommend a drink selection based on the evening’s menu. Glasses generally range in from $6-15.

When: Classes are normally held in the evenings (5:30-7:00) with a few on the weekend.  Check teh website for specific times.
Where: 225 Toscana Park, Granger
Website: http://cheflaurentinc.com/
Call: 574.993.2772 for reservations and gift certificates

Tip: Cooking classes are great for more than just dates. Next time you can’t figure out what to get mom, Uncle Fred, or Grandma Ginny for their birthday, consider an “experience” like a cooking class rather than a token gift. Chances are that your gift will either end up in next year’s white elephant exchange or the local goodwill box anyway!

Friday, February 10, 2012

#251: South Bend Studebreakers

Last year, we made a few (tongue-in-cheek) suggestions for blind/first date ideas.  One suggestion was a South Bend roller derby event, and we haven't elaborated on this great group since.  Since it's rolling round to Cupid's special day, appropriately, perhaps it is timely to highlight "Heartbreaks and Beatdowns," this Saturday's match-up between the South Bend Studebreakers and Naptown Roller Girls Third Alarm.

The movie "Whip It" might be have brought roller derby into semi-mainstream culture, but it's really something you must see (experience?) for yourself.  From Afro Disiac to Twiggy Tormentor, the skaters will impress with their skills, hilarious names, and of course, bad ass-ery.

The group also hosts fundraisers for the community with regular frequency.  They're not all about dealing and taking hits -- a motto of theirs is: Northern Indiana has a taken a beating and we want to give everyone something to be excited about!  (Aww.  But don't let their kind motives fool you into false expectations about their ferocity.)  If you're not a girl, or a skater, you can still get involved by attending events like these.

Although they were accepted into the Women's Flat Track Derby Association just six month ago (July '11), the South Bend Roller Girls have a huge following, and previous events have sold out.  You can buy tickets for tomorrow match-up online here, but online sales stop at noon, FYI. (Tickets available at USA Skate Center and Orbit Music as well.)

When: Saturday, Feb. 11, 8:30 PM (doors at 8:00 PM)
Where: USA Skate Center, 3909 N. Main St., Mishawaka
Cost: $10/advance, $12/door
Event Website: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/222314 or https://www.facebook.com/events/211652435594456/

Tip: Can't make it Saturday?  They host free public scrimmages the first Thursday of every month at USA Skate Center.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

In Memoriam: Bonnie Doon Drive In

Yesterday, en route to Mishawaka, passing by the comfortably familiar sights of Club Landing and the Wooden Indian on Lincolnway, I noticed, to my deep disappointment, that a well-known landmark was not readily apparent: the italicized letters spelling out Bonnie Doon, usually glowing a soft neon blue and pink, were dark.  In a vague recollection, I remembered an article a couple weeks ago about it closing soon... but I foolishly thought we had at least until April, or May...at least one spring day left to enjoy a chocolate malt/IUSB sundae/mini-scoop sampler.    But the windows are papered; the parking lot, empty.
And so I call, just like I have done countless times before.  I have often called to find out when they close for the evening in the hope I can make it in time to that perfect place to end a day's adventures.  It's happened before that my luck ran thin, and I headed to the Dairy Queen instead.  But it wasn't the same.  It wasn't just the ice cream -- it was the red vinyl and jukebox, or the indestructible poured concrete tables and Harleys outside.  It's that intangible feeling one gets visiting somewhere unique, where the experience can't be found anywhere else. 

I guess it didn't use to be this way.  I have passed former Bonnie Doon drive in's, still standing like skeletal remains in the desert surrounding downtown South Bend and Mishawaka... yet I naively assumed that the location I grew so fond of over the past two years was safe, a timeless local institution, somewhere that had such essence of the community that it would remain forever.  I should have paid closer attention to the seemingly unavoidable consequences of bypassing old Lincoln [high]Way with US-31 and the Toll Road. 

Honestly and undeservedly, this post is more of an apology than elegy.  It wasn't the price, or the customer satisfaction.  There simply wasn't enough traffic, one might say.

Friday, February 3, 2012

#250: East Bank Emporium

Highlighting the celebration for First Friday in downtown South Bend is a monthly favorite.  It's truly an event not be missed, and there always seems to be one stand-out event (or a few) that distinguish one month's festivities from another. 

For February 2012, the theme is "Shiver on the River" and it features fireworks over the river at 8:30.  The Howard Park Ice Rink is open, and around downtown, there will be free hot chocolate around the area.  Lucky for us, unlike last year's blizzard, the weather forecast will be more forgiving for roaming around between spots.  Less fortunately, it also marks the second-to-last night of Winter Restaurant Week (bummer). 

With these factors in mind, I recommend making a stop at the East Bank Emporium.  This restaurant, right on the East Bank Trail, is on the other side of the river from downtown and might seem a little distant from the action.  Quite the opposite.
1) It's located between the downtown art galleries and stories and the Jefferson row shops, not to mention the nearby ice rink.
2) You will have the ideal vantage point for watching the fireworks. 
3) The Emporium is participating in restaurant week, so you can get a 4 course meal (app, salad/soup, entree, and dessert -- per person!) for $25.

[I took advantage of this deal last week --and I emphasize deal.  The crab cake appetizer was delicious, and the BBQ salmon portion generous.  I was too full for dessert, but our waitress kindly gave us each a slice of cake to-go instead of insisting we forgo what we couldn't eat.]

In addition to its food, its ambiance is worth the trip across the river.  The light woodwork and antique light fixtures give this place a nostalgic feel.  The tiered eating levels break up the large space, so it is a comfortable place for a couple or a party of 12 to go. 
It's hard to articulate how unique the interior is.  See it to believe it.
For First Fridays, it will be especially lively because of Chicago rocker Don Savoie, who will be playing will be live music from 5:30-8:30 PM.  At the end of his set, you will be in a perfect position to watch the fireworks go off over the river. 

Where: 121 S Niles Ave
Call (574) 234-9000 for reservations and hours.
Website: http://www.eastbankemporium.com/

Tip: Huge parking lot!  Don't worry about that. 
Tip 2 (for later): They have a spacious deck that is perfect for an outdoor drink or meal, right on the river!  I don't know of any restaurants closer to the river's edge than this one.