The north region spreads like a wide bracelet from west to east with widely varied charms suspended from each side. In this collection of cuisines and techniques, menus satisfy tastes from traditional to trendy. Beginning on the west end in Valparaiso, diners have been gobbling up turkey specialties at Strongbow Inn for more than 70 years while just across town Bistro 157 is experimenting with fusion dishes combining Asian and French cuisine in inventive ways. For a sweet treat, don’t miss supersized cupcakes at Designer Desserts.
Head north where Chesterton and Michigan City cater to appetites whipped up by the Indiana Dunes and Lake Michigan. Lucrezia Cafe’s specialties feature the freshest greens. For simple goodness try a tuna salad sandwich with veggie chips at Red Cup Café and Deli, or get one to go on your way to the Dunes. Michigan City’s ShoreLine Brewery gives patrons a chance to nosh further, complementing its casual menu of burgers and sandwiches with its own award-winning handcrafted beers in a friendly setting near the Dunes. Five miles north, family friendly Stop 50 Wood Fired Pizzeria bakes thin crust pizzas with imaginative toppings such as pistachios, prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano.
Heading east, the road travels to a different time zone—jumping ahead an hour to Eastern time—yet you can still kick back. In resort towns like Culver, visitors dine lakeside at Edgewater Grille or watch the water in Winona Lake where Cerulean Restaurant woos customers with sushi and bento boxes.
Farther north in Elkhart, Goshen, South Bend and Mishawaka, the dining options multiply as the South Bend Chocolate Factory fills a craving for handmade chocolates while upscale gourmet delights such as South Bend’s Carriage House and LaSalle Grill impart a taste of the finer things. To top it off, enjoy family fare in Amish Country where Das Dutchman Essenhaus welcomes young and old to Indiana’s largest family restaurant with its heaping helpings of homemade noodles and pastries—all made on-site. In Goshen, discover small plate dishes with robust flavors at Kelly Jae’s Café, an Asian-influenced tapas restaurant. The Vine combines seafood and steak entrees with a nice selection of wines by the bottle and/or glass in downtown Elkhart.
South Bend Chocolate Factory
A free 20-minute tour (with samples!) provides an up-close look at the process of turning chocolate into delectable treats.
After everyone dons hairnets (no exceptions), the tour begins with a brief history of chocolate and an explanation of how cacao is grown. In the kitchen, chocolate is melted, blended with other ingredients, molded into shapes and “enrobed” on popcorn, malt balls, nuts and more. After smelling the cocoa concoctions, visitors are more than ready for the free samples distributed throughout the tour. A sample bag is included, and if your appetite exceeds your sack, stock up on discounted chocolates in the on-site outlet store.
Tours available 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday–Friday and 9 am to 3 pm Saturday. Walk-ins are welcome, but reservations are recomended.
Upscale and exceptional, this is the kind of place usually found in only more cosmopolitan cities.
The LaSalle Grill transformed the old St. Joseph Hotel into an AAA Four-Diamond restaurant with an excellent chophouse menu. The hotel’s former lobby, with its high ceilings, serves as the main dining space where warm woods and fine art pair with an imaginative menu. Chef Thomas Sheridan changes the menu to reflect new ideas and seasonal ingredients. Expect hardwood-grilled steaks, along with chicken, seafood, duck and lamb. While delicious, dinner for two can be pricey ($150).
For something a bit more casual, head to the third floor for Club LaSalle, a comfortable lounge with live entertainment, cocktails on plush leather couches, and cigars in the club’s Cigar Parlor.
The Carriage House Dining Room
Tucked in a restored 1851 church, The Carriage House is a delight of a destination restaurant, serving artistically executed classic dishes in a beautifully gracious setting.
Double doors open to a cozy dining room with a soaring ceiling. The furniture is antique, the art is museum quality, the service is attentive, and the food is excellent.
Dinners begin with the complimentary Carriage House liver pate and pickle plate. It’s followed by a house salad of mixed greens with endive and oranges, topped with a honey-glazed pear and pecans. The signature veal Baltimore, lightly breaded veal cutlets with shiitake mushrooms and onions, lump crab and a velvety cream sauce, is simply amazing. The dessert cart tempts with mile-high lemon meringue pie, apple cake and triple chocolate cake, among other delectable sweets.
The dining room is open Tuesday through Saturday evenings; reservations preferred.
The Vine expresses a chic, European feel in a restored 19th-century building with an outdoor patio in downtown Elkhart.
As the name implies, The Vine emphasizes its wine list, which includes nice varietals, plus a revolving menu of about 20 wines by the glass.
The restaurant’s signature appetizer, Mike’s Hot Crab Dip, is a blend of crabmeat and mildly spicy sharp cheddar served with garlic toast. Entrees emphasize red meat and seafood, including grilled rack of lamb, lobster ravioli and Cajun-style salmon fillet. Some vegetarian options are on the menu as well, like the spinach and garlic ravioli and the Fra Diablo, penne pasta with mushrooms and a mildly spicy tomato-vodka sauce.
For lighter dishes and smaller appetites, try the specialty pizzas including the Tuscan Vineyard with Alfredo sauce, basil chicken, bacon, spinach and tomatoes.
Das Dutchman Essenhaus
Das Dutchman Essenhaus, Indiana’s largest family restaurant, seats more than 1,000 people and serves hearty meals three times a day.
Located inside a massive two-story, white frame house, the restaurant is divided into buffet and menu dining rooms. The 20 hot and cold items at the Thresher’s breakfast buffet include eggs, breakfast meats and fresh fruit. French toast, hot cakes, omelets and fried mush fill out the full menu. At dinner, visitors can choose from chicken, roast beef or ham dinners served family-style with sides of mashed potatoes, noodles, vegetables, gravy, dressing, hot-baked rolls and dessert. (The Essenhaus creates more than 30 varieties of home-baked pies including the popular Red Raspberry Creme and seasonal Strawberry Rhubarb.) Dinner is $15.50-$16.50, depending upon your meat selection, with discounts for kids.
In addition to the restaurant, the Essenhaus complex includes a hotel, conference center, bakery, shops, mini golf and more!
Kelly Jae’s Cafe
Exposed brick walls give this Asian-inspired cafe an upscale look while maintaining a chic atmosphere that’s casual and friendly.
Located in a renovated historic downtown building, Kelly Jae’s Cafe is surrounded by Goshen’s boutique shopping and coffee shops. The restaurant’s menu blends Asian flavors with the Spanish tapas concept of small plates, with cold and hot dishes. Look for pairings like wasabi guacamole with crispy wontons and roasted potatoes with melted Manchego cheese. The crab cakes with tomato-caper remoulade and the wasabi-pea-encrusted salmon with Thai chile paste and a soy-ginger glaze are especially good.
Kelly Jae’s Cafe offers a full bar and a pretty impressive wine list with several Spanish varietals.
Cerulean Restaurant and Sushi Lounge
With a beautiful view of Winona Lake, Cerulean offers an eclectic menu of Asian-Mediterranean fusion cuisine.
Named for a color of blue, the hue is used generously throughout the interior and creates a Zen-like feeling. The mix of bamboo and teak-color woods and modern lighting feels minimal and modern at the same time.
The seasonal menu focuses on seafood, sushi (more than three dozen choices) and Asian-Mediterranean fusion dishes, which use fresh ingredients. Diners will find a huge selection of pasta, chicken, beef and seafood options. Choose from entrees such as Australian lobster tail over three-cheese ravioli and mint pesto cream, duck breast with blueberry-green peppercorn chutney, and lamb chops with crispy goat cheese potatoes, mache lettuce, olive salsita and a Merlot reduction. And as you might imagine, the prices reflect the ingredients. Most entrees are $24 to $34 with some topping out at $42.
The Edgewater Grille
A wall of windows frames stunning views of Lake Maxinkuckee to add to the nautical feel of this restaurant.
Surfboards on the walls and boats hanging from the ceiling—nicely coupled with old Rexall and Max Wax signs—complement the understated black wood furniture, white tablecloths and abundant natural light.
The menu runs the gamut from appetizers, salads and sandwiches to full entrees (steak, seafood, pasta, lamb, ribs). For something a bit different, consider sampling one of the stir-fry specials, 12-inch pizzas or a chicken, steak, tuna or Italian sausage hoagie. Other options include a seafood platter (shrimp, grouper and crab cakes), Mediterranean chicken and coconut tempura shrimp, with pineapple-wasabi pico di gallo sauce.
Edgewater brews its own beer—Maxinkuckee Mist—using water from its namesake, and has a complete list of wines, beers and cocktails.
For more than 70 years, family-owned and operated Strongbow Inn has served turkey specialties every day of the week.
You don’t have to wait for the holidays for turkey at Strongbow Inn, once the site of a turkey farm. The traditional decor and home-style menu is as comfortable as Grandma's house. Definitely try the turkey in one of the many ways it’s served, including traditional sliced turkey, tasty turkey schnitzel, turkey Marsala or the Gobbler's Delight--a whole turkey leg. The Strongbow turkey pie includes generous chunks of turkey in gravy, baked in a pastry shell. The turkey pie comes to the table with a side of gravy, mashed potatoes, herbed dressing, cranberries and dinner rolls so delicious that they’re worth loosening your belt for.
The Sunday brunch is a big draw. Expect to wait for a table during buffet hours, 10:30 am to 2 pm, though reservations aren't necessary most other times.
This studio-sweet shop is an explosion for your senses. The colors hit you at the door, the aroma is amazing, and (once you decide), the flavors win you over!
Owner Adam Wiltfang has been whipping up decadent cakes for six years, earning the official baker status at nearby Michigan City's Blue Chip Casino. You’ll win big at the sweet shop with over-the-top cupcakes that require a fork. Choose from more than 15 decadent delectables daily, but the jumbo old-school chocolate cupcake and flamboyant coconut cream are consistent customer favorites.
Plunk down in poufy armchairs to indulge in cupcakes, pies, cakes, cookies, cheesecakes, muffins, brownies and mousses. You can get Adam's pink-o-licious hot chocolate (white chocolate colored with pink food coloring) poured year-round. The girly, swirly, pastel-color shop also serves lunch. Adam recently added a full-service candy counter. Choose from chocolate-covered nuts, truffles, new and exciting candies, and standby favorites from Grandma's crystal candy dish.
Chef Nicole Bissonnette's contemporary Bistro 157 in downtown Valparaiso draws foodies from Chicago.
Exposed beams with industrial lighting highlight contemporary artwork that adorns gallery-style walls in the bistro. The presentation of French-Asian cuisine is just as artful, made with farm-fresh ingredients that change regularly, reflecting the Midwest's seasonal bounty.
While seated at the bar sipping a glass of wine, many patrons make a meal of the appetizers and the fresh bread. The six-piece sushi appetizer changes daily. Balance the surf nibbles with juicy Kobe beef baby burgers. The summertime must-have salad: oven-roasted beets topped with broiled goat cheese croutons, roasted walnuts, orange slices and shaved fennel drizzled with citron-olive oil vinaigrette.
Lucrezia transforms a tiny Victorian house into a lovely trattoria, serving delicious Northern Italian cuisine in a cozy dining room or alfresco.
Named for a renaissance femme fatale, Lucrezia is a knockout in the fine dining category, serving an impressively wide menu for a restaurant that seats 40 people. The intimate setting is warm and inviting and matches the service. Seasonal specials can be found on the chalkboard near the tiny bar, a prime spot while waiting for a table to open. Lucrezia is known for super tender roasted lamb shank, as well as pastas, grilled meats and seafood dishes. Meals begin with warm sliced bread and olive oil, which is so popular it’s sold next door at Good to Go by Lucrezia, an even tinier house. The food tastes as good as it looks and utilizes seasonal ingredients like spring peas, which explode in your mouth.
Red Cup Cafe and Deli
Small-town goodness is a main ingredient in this downtown historic building, once home to a hardware store.
Some of the original details remain—like a multi-drawer cabinet-counter, corner water pump and beaded-board ceiling that resembles a giant red-and-white quilt.
Owned by Chrissie Jackson, Red Cup is Chesterton's hub of daytime social life. Locals gather to share news over fresh-brewed coffee, homemade coffee cake, scones and biscotti. Red Cup's relaxed crunchy granola atmosphere makes it easy to extend morning coffee into a lunch of one of the sandwich, quiche, soup and salad selections posted on the blackboard. Or take your meal to go for a picnic at the woodsy and beach spots just 5 miles north at Lake Michigan and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.
Everything is made on the spot and worth the slight wait time. For a real indulgence, get the peach crumble coffee cake.
ShoreLine Brewery and Restaurant
This microbrewery raises the culinary bar with an upscale and inventive menu that complements its handcrafted brews.
The entire brewery operation is on-site and serves as part of the decor: A high wall of windows in the main bar and dining area lets patrons look in on the operation.
Seating is comfortable and spacious, with substantial wood dining tables topped with butcher paper, maintaining a brewpub atmosphere. But the menu is not your typical pub grub. The brewery serves high-end entrees such as mahi mahi risotto, chicken breast in a mushroom-brandy cream sauce and slow-cooked lamb shank covered in oatmeal stout beer demiglace. The menu also includes simpler steak and pasta dishes, along with a roster of sandwiches, homemade soups and good-looking salads.
A chalkboard on the wall lists a half-dozen beer offerings, including Singing Sands oatmeal stout, Curse the Goat dopplebock, a light blueberry ale called Stella Blue, and Beltaine Scottish ale, a two-time winner in an international beer competition.
Stop 50 Wood Fired Pizzeria
Open seasonally, this neighborhood pizzeria specializes in Naples-style wood-oven pizza using fresh ingredients.
Stop 50 Pizza has managed to transform a former convenience store into a destination restaurant near the shores of Lake Michigan. The warm and inviting atmosphere complements the blazing wood-fired brick oven you can view while your pie bakes.
The imaginative menu makes for tough decisions with options like Parmigiano-Reggiano with red onion, pistachios and rosemary; wild mushroom; and prosciutto with pistachios, mozzarella and rosemary. The thin pizzas are small (12 inches); plan to order one per person.
Specialties also include fresh salads, tasty appetizers like firecrackers (goat cheese baked in a spicy tomato dipping sauce, served with roasted bread sticks), local beers, selected wines, cappuccino and delicious house-made gelato.
This family-friendly spot is open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day, weekends only in spring and fall. Closed December through February.