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It's a risk to close an established restaurant and flip it into something else.
But Cam Snyder chose to close Lakeshore Grill and make it Flippin' Cow. Lakeshore had been around for 10 years. People knew it and some loved it.
But Snyder wanted his new concept more than he wanted a lakeside bar, so he and his family turned it into something new.
He closed it in late November and it took less than a month of renovation to get Flippin' Cow open. And about a month into its new life, Flippin' Cow is busy.
The menus inside old LP album covers are disappearing — 16 so far, according to Snyder.
On Saturdays and Sundays, the most popular burger is one called The Hangover. “It's funny how many people come through and have those for breakfast,” he said.
Flippin' Cow is a burger bar. You can get one of eight specialty burgers or make your own. You can get tater tots, salads or macaroni and cheese. The Cheesy Uncle, one of the eight burgers, has macaroni and cheese that's been seared on the flattop grill.
The burgers can be beef, bison or black bean. There's a nice array of toppings and the “fancy flippin' burgers” have some great combinations. The Hangover ($8.99) has a fried egg. The Stella Moo, the best seller so far overall, has smoked brisket, jalapeno bacon, onion straws, pepperjack cheese and a barbecue sauce made with a bit of ale that I really like ($9.99).
There are a couple different buns to choose from and the buttered potato bun is nice.
The interior of the bar has come funky tabletops and a long hand-shuffleboard game. Recycled wood is on the walls. It's doesn't feel as much like a bar and it's not. The biggest misconception about Flippin' Cow may be that children aren't allowed. They are and there's even a children's section on the menu. “We've had a lot of families in here already,” Snyder said.
You could say that some of the fixtures changed, but Dave Slayton being the bartender is one that didn't. And be warned that if you call him “Mr. Slayton” he'll probably laugh at you. He did at me.
Much of the staff is the same as Lakeshore, though Snyder has added eight new employees, he said.
Even with much of the same staff, a new restaurant means a new menu and that means new challenges. Right now, the french fries are the biggest one for them, Snyder said.
They cut and fry potatoes. There's no coating on them like many french fries have. So the time has to be just right or they don't stay hot. That messes with the timing of sandwiches.
At lunch on Friday, Flippin' Cow was busy and a table of us waited a while for our food. When it came, my bison burger, dubbed The Angry Buffalo, was the moistest of the bunch. I don't know if french fries caused a few dry burgers, but something happened.
Without knowing what happened at our meal, Snyder said, “Our biggest challenge has been the timing and the kitchen.”
Don't get me wrong, the food was good and it was pleasant to sit along a lake (inside) on a sunny day.
And Flippin' Cow is a young heifer in the restaurant world. It's still getting its feet underneath it.
Changes are still happening. A tweak of the menu will be unveiled today, Snyder said. Milkshakes will be offered soon.
Here's my unsolicited advice:
Ÿ Make the burgers fill the bun. Though it's a five-ounce patty of good meat and you can get up to three of them in a bun, eaters don't want to eat bites of bun that don't have a burger. The patties are somehow too small.
Ÿ Take a look at the prices. The burger combinations are interesting and, as Snyder is good at, named with some flair. But $9.49 is a lot to pay for a burger, even with good toppings, particularly when fries, house-made chips or tater tots add an upcharge.
Ÿ If the menu says something is “angry” or has “a little heat,” make sure it does. The restaurant's pickles are made with Snyder's grandmother's recipe. They're great but I didn't get any heat that the menu said they had. The Angry Buffalo, a bison burger with pepperjack cheese, pickled jalapenos, Grandma Wa Wa's sweet heat relish and chipotle, wasn't even perturbed, much less angry on the spice scale.
Ÿ Keep up the good changes. Snyder said, “We're learning something new every day.” And this is a cool restaurant that he's dialing in. He's adjusting menu items and what's offered. He's listening to feedback. The restaurant is a month old and off to a good start.
Snyder has three distinct restaurants in Elkhart. People enjoy going to them. He's willing to take chances and that usually results in good food choices for us.
Oh, and for the fans of Lakeshore's Turkey California sandwich, which had smoked turkey and avocado, among other things. Snyder said he plans to put it on the menu at Fat Tomato, one of his other restaurants, where it fits the concept better.
I'm hungry. Let's eat.
If you go
What: Flippin' Cow
Where: 51330 S.R. 19, Elkhart
Fare: Burgers and bar food with a flair
Kitchen Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday, noon to 8 Sunday. The bar stays open later.
Details: Credit cards accepted, no smoking, children welcome, ADA accessible, carry-out available, full bar available and craft beers on tap, acoustical music in dining room from 8 to 11 p.m. Fridays
On the web: Facebook
Marshall V. King is news/multimedia editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth/eTruth.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 574-296-5805, on Twitter @hungrymarshall or via Facebook. His blog can be found here.