Mike Miles finally has his restaurant.
He took over Bulldog Crossing Restaurant & Lounge on Nov. 1 and reopened it as Miles Lab on Nov. 20.
And while the historic spot along East Jackson Boulevard has a new look and new menu, it still feels like a neighborhood place.
Miles worked in the restaurant business since finishing a degree in restaurant/hotel management at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. He's been at The Emporium, Matterhorn and T.G.I. Friday's since the early 1990s as an owner or manager. In April 2009 he left Friday's and started working on his own place.
He wanted Casey's on Main Street in Elkhart after it closed, but didn't get it following an auction.
He talked seriously about another downtown location.
But he ended up with Bulldog, the first place he considered.
In less than three weeks, he orchestrated adding beer taps to bring the total to 18, getting rid of paneling and adding tile. The look of the restaurant changed dramatically from an old sports bar to a bright, white place with funky bar stools.
The Packers memorabilia has been replaced by historic photos of Miles Lab, the business that started in Elkhart and gained acclaim worldwide for Alka-Seltzer.
And in case you're wondering, Mike Miles' claim to the name, and therefore the restaurant theme, is legitimate. Dr. Franklin Miles was his great-great grandfather.
Though the fixtures in the restaurant are different than the Bulldog, you see some of the same regulars there. I even saw Bulldog owner Bill Lamb there one day talking to Miles. And the menu has a few of Bulldog's items.
Miles has the tricky job of updating a restaurant without alienating faithful customers of a restaurant someone else owned for 36 years. I can't imagine him doing a better job.
The menu is hipper and fresher, but the kitchen will make Bulldog food as it can when someone asks. Though Miles Lab ran out of Bud Light on a recent Saturday night, you can generally get it along with 17 other brews on tap, including a number of microbrews.
Miles is calling his restaurant a burger bar, and the patties are made with Wagyu beef from Decuis Farm in Roanoke. Wagyu cattle are used to produce Japan's famous Kobe beef. You can have your Angus. I'll go with Wagyu. Its meat tends to be rich and wonderfully flavorful. And at Miles Lab, the burgers are just that.
This meat from happy cows comes with a range of toppings, or between two grilled cheese sandwiches. The Grilled Cheese & Burger ($8) will make you woozy, but the oozing cheese and great burger patty are worth it.
The fried pork tenderloin exceeds the bun and fulfills what you hope for in the good old Hoosier sandwich. It's tender and the breading is light. The open-face steak sandwich ($15) is really a 12-ounce ribeye on a piece of Texas toast.
That steak isn't Allen Brothers beef, but the filet and ribeye available for $34.95 at dinner are. Dave Cormican, former owner of Casey's, may even cook one for you. He's working in the kitchen. He's a new employee at the restaurant, though there aren't many. Fifteen of the 18 Bulldog employees stayed on, Miles said.
The salads have greens, not iceberg. Side dishes can be added for a buck or two. The fries, chips, sweet potato fries and onion rings are made from scratch at the restaurant and are all good.
Chicken wings are available in ambrosia sauce (a version of teriyaki Miles' family used to make Grandma happy), Thai chili or classic Buffalo style.
I haven't had anything that didn't taste good if not great. The only thing that left me wanting was the fish and chips and only because I didn't feel the portion was worth $8.
The restaurant has had its bobbles with service and food temperature. Any new restaurant makes mistakes. Mike Miles apologizes when they mess up and because of his demeanor and experience, they won't be issues for long. He knows how to run a restaurant and will do well.
"It's further along faster than I would have imagined," he said of his new place.
The menu isn't vast. It's pretty short and simple. But what I've had tasted very good and it adds another place to Elkhart County where you can get good food and a beverage.
Miles Lab is back in a very different way than the first one. This one may not provide as many jobs or gain world acclaim, but it offers much more deliciousness.
IF YOU GO
What: Miles Lab
Where: 3763 E. Jackson Blvd., Elkhart
Fare: Burgers, steaks and other upscale casual food
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Saturday, 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday
Details: Credit cards accepted; no smoking; carry-out available on alcohol and food; handicapped accessible, though bathrooms are a bit small. Phone: 294-6000
* Several readers pointed out that Popeye's appears to be leaving Elkhart. People have been loading a rental truck there and some customers were told the restaurant is closing. The location along Benham Avenue in Elkhart was a favorite because it had spicier options than KFC.
* Perfect Pizza in Parkmor Plaza, Elkhart, also appears to be closed. The restaurant was dark last week and has been for a while. And its phone number is disconnected.
* Reader Christine B. asked recently about local dining places with a fireplace in the dining room. I know Houlihan's and Ruth's Chris in Mishawaka, b on the River in Elkhart and Fiddler's Hearth in South Bend.
* River Inn in Bristol has new hours, according to co-owner Patti Wojtysiak. The restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 to 9 Friday and Saturday and closed Mondays. The Polish buffet is 11 a.m. to 2 p.m Sundays. The restaurant will be closed Dec. 24-27 but is planning a dinner and dancing event for New Year's Eve for $60 a couple. Information: 848-7438.
Contact Marshall V. King, news/multimedia editor for The Elkhart Truth, at email@example.com, 296-5805 or on Twitter @hungrymarshall.