My unusual work travel destinations often take me to some of the less traveled corners of the United States. Most recently, one of my projects has me taking several trips to South Bend, Indiana, a region (“Michiana”, in the local parlance) that I hadn’t actually visited since the late 1990s. South Bend itself is a bit of a difficult destination: the downtown area is one of those classic Midwest industrial cities that hit their heyday around WWII (with Bendix and Studebaker having extremely large plants there), but they’ve been in a state of decline since the 1960s: the downtown area is filled with all sorts of abandoned industrial buildings. But the area is also supported decently by University of Notre Dame (north of town in their own municipality of Notre Dame, IN). So it’s a mixed bag.
Despite some of the economic challenges, the region has several things going for it. First of all, it’s actually a rather good region for beer, with quite a few beers from Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan being ubiquitous in local bars and restaurants. It’s very easy to find even fairly rare beers from such well-regarded breweries as Bells and Founders, and the region itself has several good local breweries, including Bare Hands , Iechyd Da (Elkhart), and the nationally famous Three Floyds. But while it’s a very, very good beer destination, I’m still figuring out the food scene.
My first stab at figuring out the local food scene was a popular Celtic pub downtown that caters to the Notre Dame scene, Fiddler’s Hearth. It’s located on a fairly dismal block of Main Street downtown, but once you are inside, it’s a warm and inviting pub, primarily with bench-style seating encouraging you to actually meet your fellow diners. And they’ve got a great beer list.
Looking over the menu, they’ve got the basic pub fare you’d expect from most Celtic pubs (note that labeling the place “Celtic” and not “Irish” offers one a somewhat wider latitude in including other items from the British Isles), and it didn’t take me long to settle on one of the house specialties: fish and chips. Two sizes (two pieces of fish, or three pieces of fish) were offered up, and I opted for the smaller, as well as taking them up on their offer of house-made tartar sauce. My coworker, meanwhile, ordered up the Irish stew.
I’ll admit I was a bit surprised when the food arrived… in front of my coworker they placed a rather hefty bowl of Irish stew. In front of me they placed… A parcel wrapped in newspaper. Yup, Fiddler’s Hearth is one of the few fish and chips places that is still serving up the dish the traditional way, wrapped in newspaper (indeed, a quick check indicated that it was indeed a page from that day’s issue of the South Bend Tribune. Opening up the parcel, I found two things: a rather nice bounty of fish and chips, and that they had indeed had to pay service to modern sanitation requirements by lining the newspaper with parchment. But still, I liked the concept.
How was the fish and chips? It was quite good, with two fairly substantial slabs of cod nestled into a pile of fries. Usually, when given the choice, I’ll opt for haddock, but this was a rather nicely done cod, with the fish cooked perfectly, crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, and just started to flake apart. The batter was light and airy as well. The accompanying tartar sauce was indeed a nice house-made product, with a substantial bite alongside the creamier notes of the sauce. The fries were light and crispy, although they had Old Bay seasoning on them, applied with a slightly heavier hand than I may have liked. But it was a most pleasant fish and chips, all things considered.
For dessert, I couldn’t resist the Fighting Irishmen. It didn’t look like much, but it was a brownie sundae on overdrive. The brownie is a Guinness brownie (and pretty decent one at that), and the cream has whiskey in it. The result is, literally, a bit of a hot mess, but it’s a tasty and flavorful hot mess. I’d even consider getting this again.
Overall, I was quite pleased with Fiddler’s Hearth. They have a great beer list, good pub food, and a pleasant interior. I’ll be more than happy to visit again when I come back next week for more work.
And hey, for those keeping track, with this post Offbeat Eats has now had reviews in 27 states!