Dining Days generating business, charity in Elkhart

Elkhart Dining Days has been popular so far.
Posted on Oct. 1, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

Marshall V. King

Dining A La King

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Elkhart Dining Days, at least in its first several days, picking up speed.

It's a first-time event. It's bringing customers to locally owned, independent restaurants and supporting Church Community Services in the process.

Starting last Monday, 18 Elkhart restaurants started offering either three courses for $25 or two meals for $25. Two dollars from every deal sold goes to Church Community Services. The event continues through Saturday.

Michele Scherpenberg, known as Ms. Foodie in South Bend, is putting together the event to promote dining in local restaurants and support a cause.

Local advertising and an iPhone app that includes the menus helped get the word out. So has news coverage. I want to see the event succeed.

So far, it's working. “We're seeing and hearing a lot of positive comments on it,” said Carol Willis, director of development for Church Community Services, which has become one of Elkhart County's largest agencies to support those needing financial or food help.

Staff, board members and supporters of the agency are eating out and hearing from other customers who are as well.

Cam Snyder, owner of Chubby Trout, Lakeshore Grill and Fat Tomato, said one customer ordered something not on the special menu, but wanted to make a donation to CCS. I saw a collection container for the agency at ModMex.

“It's been a receptive audience to it thus far,” Snyder said. His restaurants were busier than usual the weeknights of last week. His staff heard why this is happening and are showing their excitement and urging customers to participate by ordering the special menu food, he said.

I don't think every restaurant is doing that. Not all of them are using drink specials with Tiedemann Wines and New Amsterdam spirits, both of which are sponsors. Not all of them are shoving the Dining Days menus in customers' hands or promoting it at lunch when the specials aren't being served. That's up to the restaurant to do and I hope it happens.

This is a new event for Elkhart. The restaurants that will benefit the most from it are the ones that are best at taking advantage of the promotion and engaging their regular or potential customers.

Sports Time Family Sports Family Pub & Grill had the best business day in its history Thursday, according to owner Cristy Eldridge. Groups of Purdue alumni and Young Republicans were there, as well as a waiting list for the dining room. About 30 percent of the people ordered from the Dining Days menu she said. She and her staff have been telling their customers for weeks that the event was coming. “They've all been supporting us,” she said. Last week was their biggest week of business ever, she said.

After Dining Days is over, she plans to have a live trivia show on Oct. 27. Every dollar raised from the $10 entry fees will go to CCS.

Paul Cataldo at Antonio's said Thursday was busy, though earlier in the week wasn't as much. But he's trying to take advantage of the promotion he's getting from the event's advertising. Restaurants paid either $350 or $500 to participate and be promoted as participants. “It's an investment,” he said. “You better get something out of it.”

I have but one stomach to give to the cause, but I ate with friends two nights and alone two others last week, ordering from the special menus. Here's what I liked:

Ÿ The structure of Iechyd Da Brewing Co.'s meal of two beers, a choice of two entrees and a choice of a dessert was nice. I like that they used pork from Blue Heron Farms south of Goshen. The pigs at that farm eat the grain from the brewing process. I ate the pork. The sticky toffee pudding with its caramel sauce was also a winner.

Ÿ ModMex's guacamole with fresh crab was amazing. The roasted vegetable quesadillas had a nice flavor too and the new blackberry sangria is sweet and dry. The pineapple cake was OK, but wasn't bad.

Ÿ The dark chocolate cake at Lucchese's was lovely, as was the caramel apple panna cotta. The beet and apple soup served in half an acorn squash had bright flavors and was almost a meal in itself. But other parts of the meal were disappointing. The filet was overseasoned. My pork belly was overcooked and the mushroom risotto it sat on was underseasoned. It was the first night of Dining Days, but I expected better.

Ÿ I didn't know 523 Tap & Grill could do a braised Korean short rib that was tender and yet rich. I do now. It's a solid dish, with a sweet and spicy sauce and rice. And Chef Jamie Amador's pineapple habanero ice cream was amazing. I just wish 523 would have offered a Tiedemann Wine or New Amsterdam cocktail with the meal.

The event, in its infancy, is going well. I'll be curious to see how this week goes. It should be even better because of how these things build, Scherpenberg said. I think she's probably right. That's good for the restaurants, for their 400 or so employees and for CCS.

On a final note, last week the menus for Lucchese's and Sauk Trail on 17 weren't in the round-up. Here they are:

Sauk Trail on 17, 56039 Parkway Ave.: Appetizer of soup of the day, smoked deviled eggs or two pork wings. Entree of ribs, sausage, pulled pork, pulled chicken, rib tips, chicken wings or beef brisket served with black-eyed peas, cornbread and jalapenos. Third course of dessert will vary with evening specials.

Lucchese's, 655 C.R. 17: Choose two soups, salads or desserts and one an entree of free-range chicken, pork belly with wild mushroom risotto, lobster arancini, sausage and mushroom penne or brown-sugar crusted filet mignon.

I'm hungry. Let's eat.

Marshall V. King is news/multimedia editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth/eTruth.com. You can reach him at mking@etruth.com, 574-296-5805, on Twitter @hungrymarshall or via Facebook.

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