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.
As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t usually do bar reviews on Offbeat Eats, but as I mentioned in my review of Soho last year, every once in a while I find a place that’s offbeat enough that it’s worth at least a mention. In this case, it’s Bare Hands Brewery, in Granger, IN (unless you are from the Michiana area, that in itself likely has you going “Where?”). It’s offbeat nature starts with a description of how you get there. From South Bend or Mishawaka, you take Highway 23 until you hit the edge of the suburbs and things start to thin out. Right before the highway turns north and crosses into Michigan, turn left on Princess Way. You’ll go past an odd little Italian restaurant, and then past a KOA campground. Behind the KOA is a small and nondescript industrial park, and at the entrance of the park, a small 8.5″x11″ sign directs you to the “Brewery”. And sure enough, one of the suites in the industrial park is Bare Hands Brewery. Without the internet, you’d probably never stumble onto this place unless you got lost at the KOA.
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.