Over the last month, I’ve spent a week in and around South Bend, Indiana. While I hadn’t found a lot of great culinary destinations, I did find two places my first visit that were both good, Fiddler’s Hearth (fish wrapped in newspaper), and Bare Hands Brewery (a great brewpub). But I was still searching for some other great places to eat, and while I kept finding some places that were good, most of them weren’t really anything to write about. For example, Hacienda didn’t exactly excite me with their Tex-Mex menu, but the beer I had there, a Lucky Dog from Evil Czech Brewing, was quite good, so I decided to look up where else I could find it.
Turns out that the folks that own Evil Czech also own a restaurant in Mishawaka, called Corndance Tavern, so I decided to give it a try (their web site looked interesting, and they had some pretty interesting beer specials). With my coworker Cal in tow, we decided to drive over to Mishawaka and check it out.
I’ll be honest, at first I was a bit dubious. Corndance is located on Grape Road, which is pretty much the epicenter of Chili’s-Applebee’s-TGIF-style restaurants for the greater South Bend area, and indeed, it’s right across the street from the TGIF. Walking up to the place, it also had a giant BBQ shaped like a pink pig, and that’s usually, in my experience, the setup for some dismal BBQ. But walking in the door, you come across an impressive wine room, a nice seating area, and a nice open kitchen area where there are serving up various roasted meats and steaks. Most of my hesitance dissolved, and we soon found ourselves enjoying a drink at a nice warm table by the kitchen, in my case, a perfectly pleasant and grapefruity Chucky double IPA from Evil Czech, while we perused the menu of steaks, roasted meats, flatbreads, and the like.
The meal was off to a surprisingly good start with my salad. Being a place that features steaks on the menu, I usually find myself craving one of the best accompaniments to steak: the classic “wedge salad” with iceberg dripping with bleu cheese and bacon. They didn’t have one at Corndance, but when they brought out the Caesar I ordered instead, I was quite happy: this was a substantial Caesar made with very lush and crunch hearts of Romaine in a very pleasing Caesar dressing. I enjoyed my salad, and soon found myself waiting for my main course.
So, what did I order for the main course? The steaks on the menu looked intriguing, as did several of the specials (most special ribeyes and fresh fish), but what caught my attention was an odd special near the bottom: the “Sword of John Adams.” Asking my server about it, I got the immediate “I’m glad you asked!” look, and he explained that it was their house specialty: with three different meats selected by the chef, served up to you with roasted vegetables, all skewered onto a sword served at the table. Yeah, a sword. Being starving (we had worked through lunch), I decided that was exactly what I was craving, and decided to give it a shot. (For those that are wondering, the name is a subtle reference to an alleged quote of our second President: “There are two ways to conquer a nation. One is by sword. The other is by debt,” although I wonder what they would serve up as the “Debt of John Adams”?).
The Sword of John Adams is one of those orders that doesn’t just show up at your table, it emerges from the kitchen area wielded by your server with more than a little flourish, and you are then beholding the rather architectural accomplishment sitting in front of you. In the case of our visit, the Sword included a hefty rib-eye, half a Peruvian-style chicken, a rather large jalapeno-cheese bratwurst, and two bell peppers (red and green), all nicely seared up and sizzling on the sword. If that wasn’t enough, it also came with roasted acorn squash, potato wedges, and cole slaw. If there’s ever a time to use the phrase “Pièce de résistance”, this is it.
Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve had a dish this, um, excessive, and usually I find that sometimes the dish suffers for the extravagance, but that wasn’t the case with the Sword of John Adams. Digging into it, the first bite of the bratwurst showed that this wasn’t just a novelty, it was actually a serious good sausage: some nice coarse texture, a juicy and flavorful interior, and a serious bite to the jalapeno. The sausage was, literally, worthy of many of the similar sausages I had down in the various Austin-area smokehouses. Similarly, the rib-eye was tender and juicy, nicely seared, and cooked to an absolute perfect medium-rare, not having suffered from being skewered on a novelty sword. If there was a weak spot it was the chicken, and while it certain wasn’t quite on par with, say, El Pollo Rico, this was still a good bit of Peruvian chicken: the flavor was good and the skin crisp, it had just dried out a bit. And heck, the sides (potatoes, squash, and cole slaw) were great as well, although I wasn’t able to finish them after all the food on the Sword.
In the end, I was very impressed with Corndance. It’s a pleasant tavern that really cook up some good meats, and even do such a crazy dish as The Sword of John Adams well. I’m actually looking forward to my next trip back to the area.