It was wise to open a local brewpub in Mishawaka in the busy commercial corridor.
It may have been brilliant to use the building that was one of the state’s first brewpubs.
Evil Czech Brewery expanded by opening its Public House at 3703 N. Main St. in March. That’s where Mishawaka Brewing Co. operated and was the state’s second oldest brewpub when it closed in late 2008.
George and Tammy Pesek have already made their mark on how we eat in northern Indiana. Corndance Cafe in Culver and Corndance Tavern in Mishawaka have turned a lot of diners into their fans. The brewing company in Culver needed more room, and they looked to Mishawaka.
Was it a good move?
“Business is booming,” said Shawn Erickson, general manager of the brewpub. The place has been slammed nonstop since it opened, he said. There’s often a wait for dinner, though with 240 seats in the restaurant and bar, it doesn’t usually take long to get seated, he said.
They expected to brew and sell about 300 gallons per week, but it’s been closer to 550, he said.
It’s possible the reason Evil Czech is so busy is it takes a couple of times to get comfortable. It’s just so overwhelming the first time you go.
Because it’s a big place, there’s plenty to take in. But it’s the menu that’s tough to get your hands around.
There are appetizers, pizzas, salads, burgers, other sandwiches, soups, macaroni and cheese, and entrees. The design is funky, and so are the combinations.
You can get a salad, but you can also order it in a bowl of bread made in the pizza oven.
The burgers come with beef, chicken or bison as the patty. The range of toppings is huge. Carmelized onions are among the most boring options. Truffle mayonnaise, peanut butter and Journeyman’s bourbon bacon jam are on the list (though not all on the same burger).
The restaurant makes its own pastrami using George Pesek’s recipe — an option on the burgers too — as well as appearing in other dishes.
There’s so much on the menu I still want to try.
The PBBJ burger didn’t wow me. I wanted a burger with peanut butter, as well as the smoked gouda, bourbon bacon jam and pickled jalapenos. The combination wasn’t too odd — it just didn’t have the wallop of flavor I wanted. And the burger could have been juicier than it was. But it was a good burger, and my expectations may have gotten in the way more than the execution of the burger itself.
The corn dogs with pork belly in them are stellar. They came with plain yellow mustard rather than some funky-flavored mustard that parallels the bacon jam. It should have a funky mustard.
Tacos are the best sellers, Erickson said. There’s good reason for that. A crispy and flour shell are packed with shrimp, rotisserie chicken, braised beef or Korean pork belly. On Tuesdays, they’re $2 to $4 each and can be ordered individually. I shouldn’t have eaten the third pork belly taco, but it was so full of flavor and goodness.
It’s fun to try the wild combinations on the menu. A crust of Cheetos on macaroni and cheese actually worked better than the pastrami did in another version. It’ll be fascinating to see how the combinations evolve over time and what comes next. The vast menu can actually challenge even a competent server to nail an order or recommend something to a new customer. And with this menu and brewpub, you need the level of service the Peseks have established in other restaurants.
The Sunday brunch gives the chefs a chance to play, Erickson said. For $15.95, you get to grab as many small plates as you want. It’s a buffet, but there are no pans of wilting vegetables. Just small plates of a variety of dishes.
“It’s ever changing. That’s the beauty of it,” Erickson said.
I haven’t gotten to try it yet but am excited to do so.
A beer garden on the back side of the building will open later; a banquet room on the front side will as well, Erickson said. The interior and atmosphere are different than Mishawaka Brewing Co. after a total remodel. And the building that was 9,000 square feet and got a 1,200-square-foot addition now feels massive.
Lighter beers are selling well, which tells me that it isn’t just craft beer geeks heading to Evil Czech. It’s families and folks who are finding their way into new flavors. That’s cool. And it bodes well for business and the new brewmaster Scott Ciampas.
The Peseks and Ericskson have a hit on their hands - with good reason. It’ll just take a lot of visits for someone wanting to work through the menu.
You can’t taste everything on one visit. Here’s how to make the most of it though.
• Go with friends, if possible. Order a variety of dishes, including an appetizer such as the corn dogs with pork belly inside the fried batter.
• Get a beer sampler. Evil Czech has a range of styles and the selection varies. Some are amazing. Some aren’t. I didn’t think Gypsy, a chamomile wheat, worked, but it may for you. I have loved Rasta’s Smokey Express, a smoked coffee stout. Ordering a sampler will help you figure that out.
• Figure out a category and then pick the item that calls to you. Narrow it down to a burger or mac and cheese and then figure out which one. It’s a process. And there’s always next time.
I’m hungry. Let’s eat.
Marshall V. King is managing editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.