Saturday, September 20, 2014

Cafe Navarre

    As I was planning my husband's birthday celebration I scoured the websites and menus of the higher end dining establishments in the South Bend/Mishawaka area (near the hotel I booked for the night), until I came across THE dish. There is a dish that my hubby has wanted to try for as long as I can remember, but because we live in a state that doesn't have an abundance of good seafood, he has been left with his longing, until tonight. Tonight I was able to make one of my hubby's culinary dreams come true and found a restaurant that serves Cioppino, and this bowl full of seafood and mussels did not disappoint.
       We started our meal at Cafe Navarre in Downtown South Bend with a delicious basket of bread, with not just one variety of bread, but two. We sampled the cranberry bread with whipped butter first and then moved on to a warm, crusty bread topped with rosemary and herbs. Along with our bread we each had salads that were more than just a pile of lettuce, but an actual dish. He had the wedge salad topped with bacon, bleu cheese dressing, and a hard boiled egg, and since he asked for the salad sans onion, he got double bacon. I had the Navarre salad topped with green apples, candied walnuts, and a delicious, light white balsamic vinaigrette that was dang near perfection, in fact the whole salad was nearly perfect.
      With such an incredible start to our meal, we had high expectations for our meal, and we were not let down. After years of waiting, my hubby was rewarded with an "out of this world" bowl of cioppino (pronounced chi-pea-no), which is traditionally a tomato based soup loaded with shellfish and seafood. Cafe Navarre's bowl of cioppino is made with an arugula and almond pesto, but does have tomatoes in it. This bowl had lobster, shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, and fresh fish, and every piece of seafood was cooked perfectly, which is a rarity. The shrimp had that perfect snap to it, not overdone and not mushy, and the scallops practically melted in our mouths, the flavor was perfect...and yes! I did sneak a couple bites!
     I ordered the pork chop with blackberry compote accompanied by grilled, creamed corn and fried squash. I wish I had a picture of this for you, it was one of the most beautiful things that I have ever eaten and delectable to boot! I was leery of ordering a chop as I think it can be such a tricky cut to cook well, but Cafe Navarre outdid themselves. This thick chop was cooked perfectly, it was juicy and tender, was not over seasoned, but had a wonderful smokey taste that was perfectly complimented by the sweet tartness of the blackberry compote. The creamed corn along with my dinner and the fried squash were great side kicks to this delicious chop and made for an appealing and delicious plate.
     Since it was the hubby's birthday he was given a free dessert and of course I had to order something as well! He got the flourless chocolate torte with fresh cream and a blueberry compote. As  expected, the cake was rich and could have used a more tart fruit to cut the sweetness, but it was still so tasty. Per the recommendation of the manager I ordered the lemon tart, although it was a tough choice as the cheesecake of the night was chocolate peanut butter, but after the first bite I had no qualms about my choice of dessert. I was presented with a lemon tart in a small jar topped with salty pistachios, tart raspberries, and sweet cream...this was the quintessential dessert, a perfect melding of flavors that was light enough that I didn't feel guilty, but decadent enough to make me feel like I indulged (is that possible? I don't know, but it happened!).
     If the deliciously perfect food at Cafe Navarre wasn't enough, the customer service is unmatched by any restaurant that we have ever been to. We were served by the outstanding team of Lori and Killian, and they treated us as if we were their top priority for the night, and though I know that they were busy with banquets and other parties, they acted as if we were the only customers in the restaurant. Tim, one of the managers, also stopped by our table to ask how our dinner was and ensure that we didn't need anything, and he, too was incredibly kind and took time to chat with us about the food (and recommended the incredible lemon tart). Cafe Navarre offered a dining experience above any other that we have ever had, the food and customer service made this a perfect evening and a great way to celebrate my hubby's 29th year. Oh, and if you decide to celebrate at Cafe Navarre like we did, don't do what we did and wear jeans!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Golden Egg

I love breakfast! It doesn't have to be fancy, well not always, just solid, well made, and good, and luckily for me my other half is finally coming to my side of the table and enjoying breakfast himself. Last Sunday we found ourselves awake, hungry, and without our son, so we headed over to The Golden Egg's new location on Nappanee Street in Elkhart. The restaurant was previously an Asian market and before that an Arby's and they have done an incredible job of turning a fast food joint into a sit down restaurant. One of the things that my hubby loves about The Golden Egg is that when you order an egg you get two and an order of two eggs gets you four, he also loves that their hash browns are actually crispy, he hates mushy potatoes.
I love Belgian waffles and this one did not disappoint, I got it with pecans for an extra crunch and covered it with butter pecan syrup, which was money! Butter, pecans, and butter pecan syrup may seem like overkill on a waffle, but it was delicious and I highly recommend it.
The Golden Egg is your pretty typical pancake house, good, solid breakfast food, waitstaff with years of experience that make you feel like your Southern aunt is serving you, and a family atmosphere, so next time you want breakfast out skip IHOP and Denny's and dine locally at The Golden Egg.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Five Star Dive Bar

If you know us, you know that we really aren't into the bar scene, neither of us has ever really had a taste for alcohol, BUT when we hear that a bar has good food we are more than happy to check it out on one of our treasured kiddo-free date nights. The Elkhart area has had a burger competition and Five Start Dive Bar made it pretty dang far in the bracket, so we thought it would be worth a try. Just be warned that while the restaurant serves awesome food, it is not health food! We started with fried mushrooms, my hubby's favorite, and they were huge with an awesome, crispy batter.

I expected my hubby to try the smokehouse burger that was in the competition, but there was a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon and tomato on the menu and that was all he needed to know. The Five Star Grilled Cheese with a side of hand cut fries was a pretty ideal meal for my hubby and the perfect comfort food to boot!
I ordered my standard, go to fish and chips and while this wasn't my favorite version, it was solid and really tasty! The fries were delicious as well, you just can't beat hand cut fries!

We overheard the folks at the table behind us raving about a dessert so I had to know what it was, they said the words fried and cheesecake in the same sentence and I was sold! We were presented with three "egg rolls" covered in caramel, and when I bit into that crispy wrapper and was met with the warm creamy cheesecake, I was in heaven. The fried cheesecake isn't on the menu, but you officially have the inside scoop on this killer dessert!
If you're looking for a great bar, bar food that's better than bar food, or just someplace to hang out and play pool or listen to local talent, check out Five Star Dive Bar on East Jackson in Elkhart. Just don't forget to ask for the fried cheesecake!








Saturday, May 31, 2014

Taste of Asia

We started going to Taste of Asia on Main in Mishawaka for their Chinese food, but have kept going back for their Thai food. It's not that their Chinese food isn't delicious, because it is, but the Thai food is that much better! So good, in fact, that we have eaten there twice this week (perhaps I shouldn't admit that, though). My hubby got the drunken noodles with pork and had the noodles fried crispy, which was a great recommendation, I don't even eat noodles and I thought they were really good. This Thai dish didn't have traditional noodles, they were large square cut noodles, mixed with lots of veggies and a mildly spicy sauce. I confessed to eating their twice a week, the other secret is that it was on hubby's suggestion, so that should tell you how good his food was!
I had the Pad Kra Tiem, and if you are a garlic lover this dish is for you! It is your choice of meat with sliced, fried garlic, which takes on this caramelized outside and softened inside that is so good and so unique. I have tried this dish with shrimp, beef, and during this latest trip, pork (you can also get chicken, tofu, or tilapia), all have been delicious, but the pork was especially tasty. It is served with jasmine rice and a sweet, cilantro laden sauce (you can also order the sauce hot, but I'm a wimp), that is the perfect compliment to the slight spice of this dish.
If you are looking for a change from your ordinary, Chinese take-out, give the Thai menu at Taste of Asia a try. Even if you don't want to stray from the beaten path, check out Taste of Asia for their delicious, well made Chinese dishes.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

La Esperanza

Chipotle, Hacienda they're good at what they do, but they just don't have the authentic cuisine that this area boasts. There are enough carnicerias, taquerias, and restaurants run by Latino families in this county that you could spend a good month eating nothing but tacos, enchiladas, carne asada, tamales, chorizo, guacamole, and well, I could go on and on, but the point is the Elkhart area has a plethora of delicious Mexican food. La Esperanza on Jackson in Elkhart was no exception to this rule! We started with delicious chips, that were seasoned with something more than salt, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what that was (we had take out so I couldn't ask) and some very fresh tasting guacamole, the salsa was good, too, but a little too spicy for my taste. Mr. Albert let me order his dinner as we didn't have a take out menu, so I chose a combo dinner with a chilli relleno (a pablano pepper stuffed with cheese, dipped in batter, and fried) and carne asada, accompanied by refried beans and rice. He was introduced to the chilli relleno by his dad and has searched for a good one in this area as long as he and I have been together, and La Esperanza's version did not disappoint. He really liked the carne asada, which was actually a steak and not the diced beef that we are accustomed to in our tacos. The beans looked a little runny, but he assured me that they were actually pretty good.
We are tamale lovers in this house so I was excited to find them on the menu, and though I love the thrill of unwrapping them from their corn husks, I have learned to love the unwrapped version and the red sauce many restaurants top them with. I had a pork tamale and a chicken one, the pork had a little bit of a kick to it, but both were incredibly tasty. I also really liked the rice on the side, it was delicious, although I skipped the refried beans as the texture of them doesn't do much for me.
Next time you are craving a burrito, just keep driving up Jackson street past Hacienda to La Esperanza where you will be greeted with delicious Mexican food in a clean and pleasant dining room.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Puerto Vallarta Express

We are big fans of the build your own burrito style restaurants, and while I do think Chipotle has a great concept and delicious food, we aim to eat local and support local business, I mean what better way to pour into your community and local economy, right? So we were excited to find yet another local version of the Chipotle chain, Puerto Vallarta Express, which was definitely more authentic and had more options.
My hubby jumped right in to build his shelless burrito, with Spanish rice, Carne asada, cheese sauce, black olives, cilantro, salsa verde, black beans, shredded cheese, tomatoes, and, of course guacamole. His bowl was huge, and from the bite (or three) that I stole of his carne asada I can tell you it was delicious. Heck, any time the man can have guacamole and black olives he is a happy camper!
 
I love chimichangas, so when I saw it on their special board I jumped on the opportunity to have a chorizo chimichanga, a dream come true that I don't think I have ever seen on another restaurant menu. While the chorizo was a little greasy, it had an excellent flavor and just a little kick to it, and was great in the crispy tortilla. I was also impressed with the Spanish rice I got on the side and would probably choose that over Chipotle's cilantro lime rice, it was cooked perfectly and had a wonderful flavor.
We also got a side of chips and guacamole that was delicious, the guacamole had a very fresh, natural taste, and though it had a few jalapenos it wasn't overly spicy. Puerto Vallarta Express really was a great fusion, of what I guess to be an American concept, the build your own burrito restaurant and traditional Mexican cooking. Next time you need a meal that is quick, but not fast food or are craving a giant burrito, look off the beaten path (or Hickory Road in this case) for Puerto Vallarta Express, South Bend's local alternative to Chipotle.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Evil Czech Brewery and Public House

If you have followed the blog you know that we often visit bars, pubs, and breweries because the food is good, I'm sure our waiters/waitress' roll their eyes a little, but honestly we always get good service, and tonight was no exception. Our waiter, Brett, greeted us promptly and warmly with a small bag of what Evil Czech Brewery calls "hop"corn, and was quick to share with us that they had root beer to offer (it was delicious!!) since we passed up his explanation of their beers on tap. I have to say though, if you do like beer, this is a place for you, the vats they brew in are behind a glass wall in the main/family dining room so you can see everything that they are doing, and from there move to "glow tanks" until they hit your glass, meaning that their beer never touches air or the light of day until you order it. Evil Czech not only has an extensive beer list, but their menu is vast as well, in fact it was a little overwhelming with it's many delicious looking dishes. We began our meal, or should I say experience, with Pork Belly Corn Dogs, which was a large piece of rendered pork belly, with a crispy, sweet cornbread coating on a stick. This app was delicious, but I will warn that it is very rich between the fattiness of the pork belly and the deep fried crust, however it is served with a delicious whole grain mustard that works well to cut the richness of this dish.
My hubby was pretty quick to decide what he wanted, which was in part due to the fact that he has always wanted mac and cheese with jalapenos, but, I suspect, was also influenced by his desire to ask the waiter for Menage A Trois! Yes, that was the name of my hubby's mac and cheese that was chock full of braised pork belly, bacon, house made pastrami, pickled jalapenos, and topped with crushed pretzels, and despite the fact that he isn't a big fan of pretzels he thought they were a perfect topping for mac and cheese as it added a nice crunchiness.
As I said, the menu was a little overwhelming for me, normally my go to is fish and chips, but I didn't want something deep fried, I poured over pizzas with many unique toppings, salads served in pizza crust bowls (all made with the spent grains from the brewing process), loaded sandwiches and burgers, and even a couple dishes made with schnitzel, but still couldn't decide. When Brett came back to take our order I panicked and ordered the chicken fingers, to which he promptly asked me to step outside of my comfort zone, and I'm glad he did! I decided to order from their street taco section, and was greeted with two delicious chipotle red corn taco shells full of their house made pastrami and pork belly confit covered in a delicious hoison glaze. I ordered the spicy slaw on the side and when my hubby took a bite and declared "it's a good thing you ordered that on the side," I knew it was too spicy for this wimp and didn't even try it.

And while we are talking about this house made pastrami, I think it is important that you see exactly where it came from, as this is the sight that greeted us when we pulled in the parking lot, and the smell was intoxicating!
We opted to bring half our dinners home in favor of ordering dessert (thank goodness for roomy saddlebags!), as the dessert menu looked too delicious to pass up! Brett recommended Mamma's sour cream cake with fresh local blueberries or the bread pudding made with chocolate chips, pretzels and almonds, but the "Czech Mex Sundae" looked too delicious to pass up. We were not disappointed, the cold ice cream alongside fresh, hot churros covered in cinnamon and sugared then topped with chocolate and caramel was divine! It was served in a pizza crust bowl covered in cinnamon and sugar, which didn't really add or take away from the dish, but if I had it my way I would trade the bowl for a couple extra churros.
Whether you like beer or, like us, don't really drink, Evil Czech Brewery and Public House is a must try! Their food is delicious and locally sourced, their staff is incredibly friendly, you can go on a date or take the whole family, and if you are like my hubby, you will be totally fascinated with the brewing system. Oh, and when you go, make sure to ask to sit in Brett's section, he offers exceptional customer service that is pretty rare to see nowadays.