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.
Where Offbeat Eats has been:
The interesting thing about business travel is that sometimes it takes me to some truly neat places. Sometimes it takes me to, well, offbeat locations that have their charms. And sometimes it takes you to… malls. That was the case with a Navy client, who periodically requires me to come to a briefing in… Tysons Corner, Virginia. Which is basically several upscale shopping malls all in close proximity. Which instead of my usual, quirky destinations, often means several days of… chain food. But that said, sometimes I do encounter a chain I like. You can read my old reviews of Shake Shack from back in the days when Shake Shack only had a few locations, and for the most part I think their product actually holds up. And there are other chains I still particularly enjoy, like Wagamama. So a trip to the mall isn’t always bad. And in this case, I found a smaller chain that I actually rather enjoyed: Earls Kitchen.