My wife and I have a twice-yearly tradition of spending our respective birthdays together traveling to some new place or attraction as a one-day road trip — partly as an excuse to spend time together on those most wondrous days, partly to explore areas of Indiana we’ve never experienced before. My 2016 birthday destination of choice: the northern Indiana city of Elkhart, with a bonus stopover in South Bend, both some 100+ miles north of here. Elkhart was regrettably cut a little short because the weather was miserable and tried to freeze us in our tracks, but we had enough fun to fill out another four-part miniseries starring a candy factory tour, a super-hero roadside attraction, and a selection of the “art” in Elkhart. Also, food.
Part Four of Four: that food! It wouldn’t have been my birthday without it. Only one of our three meals was in Elkhart, and it wasn’t a full meal, but I do hope you’ll forgive the aging birthday guy his occasional off-topic digressions. I hear it’ll get worse as I get older.
We left Indianapolis early Saturday to go grab breakfast in the north-side suburb-turned-city of Carmel at a place called the Kolache Factory. It’s a chain based in Houston, dozens of locations there, with two locations in all of Indiana that are nowhere near our house. Their lovely gimmick: things baked inside dough balls.
Kolache Factory catered a work event several years ago, and it’s intrigued me ever since. Sure, you can find donuts stuffed with cream, pudding, jelly, icing, and other forms of colorful sugar, but pastries stuffed with meat, cheese, savory seasonings, and more meat are a rare breed indeed. For Houstonians, Kolache Factories are as common as Subways. For us, not nearly so much.
My birthday breakfast of choice: the Smoked Sausage Jalapeno kolache, and their mammoth version of a sticky bun. The sweet and spicy contrasts played a nice tug-of-war with my palate, but in hindsight I wish the sticky bun had been more modest and that the smoked sausages had been ballpark-sized. My meal was imbalanced but filling.
Strictly speaking, the free chocolate we snacked on at the South Bend Chocolate Company counted as brunch if we ignore the dictionary and use our imaginations instead. Breakfast and brunch consequently didn’t leave us much room for lunch. We settled instead for an appetizer at an Elkhart restaurant called McCarthy’s on the Riverwalk. After a long walk through an unwelcome cold snap, we were grateful for the warmth and depth of their smoked lobster dip — cream cheese and parmesan baked into a bowl of seafood wonder and served with crostini. If only it had come in a gallon bucket we could take home and reheat later.
I regret not having more of an appetite for McCarthy’s, as other items on their menu sounded just as worthy of exploration. Next time we’re in northern Indiana, it remains on my to-do list.
For the main event, we saved the closest and most tangential to our interests. The B Spot is a small, fancy burger chain with six Ohio locations and one in Michigan (so far). Their eighth B Spot opened on the Indianapolis north side in July 2015, in an industrial-chic complex called the IronWorks.
The concept sprang from the mind of chef Michael Symon, who hosts the Food Network series Burgers, Brew & ‘Que and first came to our attention when he appeared in two episodes of a Chopped Tournament, in which he put up some valiant dishes until he made the rookie mistake of forgetting a basket ingredient in one heartbreaking round. Longtime MCC readers can imagine our ears perked up when a joint attached to his name showed up in our town.
Their long drink menu included an extensive collection of beers for discerning drinkers. We don’t drink, so we skipped that part. But they have a wall of BEEr cans! See, they’re all cans of BEEr and they make a letter BEE!
We arrived shortly after 6 p.m. and were astonished that we didn’t have to wait for a table. The lead photo was my burger of choice, the New Jack City — topped with chorizo sausage, avocado, salsa verde, roasted red peppers, red onion and pepper jack cheese. I wouldn’t call it flavorless.
If those aren’t enough toppings for you, they keep six different sauces at the table. I was pleased with their ShaSha sauce, a combo of mustard, vinegar, garlic, and banana peppers. Their onion rings were competent, but the coffee BBQ sauce took them next-level.
Still not enough? Visit their pepper bar, stocked with various pickled vegetables. I grabbed a few of each and liked everything I tried. Kimchi isn’t something you see every day here in Indy.
Alas, the B Spot has no dessert menu. Diners with a sweet tooth are steered toward their selection of shakes. I instinctively went for the option with the most troubling name: the Vanilla Bean Apple Pie & Bacon shake. After the proper mixing of the dairy elements in the back, our waitress assembled the rest of it at our table, adding in fragments of smashed-up apple pie and bacon freshly cooked and crumbled. She filled my tall glass and left the metal mixing cup with us, half-full with still more shake.
Remember Vincent Vega’s snide comments about the five-dollar shake at Jack Rabbit Slim’s back in 1994? This one’s seven bucks, but you end up with material for two full shakes, garnished with fruit and pork. For another three bucks they’ll add bourbon. As I said, not my thing, even if there weren’t already plenty of basket ingredients coming at me.
As for taste: weird. Sugar plus more sugar plus bacon plus hints of pastry, citrus, and grease. It’s the popular salty/sweet team-up that’s all the rage with the older kids these days, albeit with the sugar double-teaming the sodium and dominating the match. The B Spot provides extra-wide drinking straws for the occasion, or you can settle for scooping chunks into your maw with a standard spoon.
I surrendered with half a cup left that I had to take home. Anne refused to take more than a sip because it was too far beyond her boundaries, and because her own meal vanquished her appetite before this meal-in-a-glass concoction arrived. Her burger of choice was the Fat Doug, topped with coleslaw, pastrami, stadium mustard and Swiss cheese. She was game to take a chance on that much, and gave the results a thumbs-up. The picnic-salad toppings reminded me of the deli stylings of Primanti Bros. in Pittsburgh, a stop on our 2010 road trip.
And then we went home and died. The End.
One important lesson: the next day, that shake did not keep well in the fridge overnight. If you order one, bring a friend to help you finish it and absorb the brunt of all those delicious, confusing calories.