Winona Lake, Warsaw, Indiana

Warsaw and neighboring community Winona Lake are only a couple hours from Chicago, which is a town we loved. It’s a little in the middle of nowhere, and known mainly for the research and development and manufacture of orthopedics—companies like DePuy, Zimmer, and Biomet are headquartered here. That said, there’s also a beautiful lake, a local-centric economy, farm stands and markets, and a great community feeling. There’s even a large Mexican population, which raises the palatability of the cuisine considerably.

Cerulean Restaurant is a sushi and tapas place on Winona Lake with a quickly rotating beer selection—according to our hosts, the 6 taps were completely different two weeks ago. My pear cider was crisp and lively, similar to some Rieslings I’ve had, and my companions assured me their beers were great too—not that I would know from personal experience, since beer is packed with all kinds of gluten and I am not supposed to have that, moan, whine, moan again. In any case I had some great homemade beef jerky there as well as some incredible tapas.

The Bak Efe (just say Bay Café), also right on the lake, has great coffee and cookies which tasted like hot fudge went outside and laid in the sun. Also: blueberry scones, almond cream cheese Danish, and the best pizza this side of the Mississippi. Ok, one of the best pizzas this side of the Mississippi.

Get your ice cream next door at Kelainey’s, a very cute “shoppe” and perfect for an ice cream fix.

Eagle Creek Farm’s market has local, raw milk, local cheese, meat, and produce, and a very sweet proprietress. Stop by for an authentic, undoctored taste of rural Indiana.

On the other side of town, you cannot miss Los Gordos. Of the dozens of Mexican places in town, this was my favorite, a delicate mixture of old diner, corner tex-mex place, lounge, bar, and family restaurant.

The food is great though, with all the Mexican staples—cheesy enchiladas, cheesy burritos, cheesy fajitas, nachos with cheese, agua de horchata (or hibiscus or tamarind), Negra Modelo, more rice and beans than anyone could ever eat, ever, etc. El Gordo himself runs the place, and he’s gentleman. To be honest I don’t know if the place is named after him but whatever. This is my favorite place in town.

By: Ben Britz

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Sunny Meadows Flower Farm – Organic Flowers in Columbus

Not a stone’s throw from bustling downtown Columbus there lies a lush and verdant patch of pastoral idyll, where flowers bloom in rainbowed rows and spotted fawns leap about capriciously. Bluebirds sing merrily while baby bunnies roll around in puddles of honey, giggling with delight. Welcome to Sunny Meadows  Flower Farm!

Sunny Meadows is an “all natural” farm specializing in flowers and dabbling in some foods—“all natural” because while they are not certified organic, they grow using organic practices. Located just outside of Columbus, a town loaded with locavores, they provide organically-grown seasonal flowers for events, especially weddings. Why organic flowers? As it turns out, “many of the flowers sold by florists and supermarket floral departments have been imported from countries where the pesticide regulations are not as stringent as they are in the United States and Canada. As a result, many imported cut flowers have been sprayed with toxic chemicals to keep them cosmetically perfect, and those chemical residues are still on the flowers when they reach this country” (from The Flower Farmer: An Organic Grower’s Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers by Lynn Byczynski).

Not only is your mother’s day present loaded with potentially dangerous chemicals, they are often grown in less fortunate places where workers are paid unfairly and conditions are poor. Sunny Meadows hopes to educate the public, generally wise about organic and locally-grown produce, on the importance of organic and locally-grown flowers.

Neither Steve nor Gretel Adams, the owners and operators of Sunny Meadows, grew up on a farm. For Steve, gardening was a labor of love he only found when moving into his own place for the first time. Gretel was fortunate enough recently to inherit a 10 acre lot in Columbus, and they’ve since filled it with ethically-grown flowers, vegetables, and fruits. Gretel has even taken up soap-making using the ingredients they grow at Sunny Meadows. Both in their late 20’s, they are part of a burgeoning movement of young people concerned with local affairs, seeking to improve their community rather than be content to depend on foreign corporate conglomerates who standardize and commodify everything they can, whose bottom line is profit, and who suck communities dry of variety, quality, and anything resembling a local economy. Just the fact that small, organic farms can turn a profit and sustain themselves shows that there is a sizable market for high quality goods that don’t taste like that hydroponic greenhouse shit from the Sysco truck.

This is a beautiful thing. I have a dream; what if we lived in a world who didn’t act as if Walmart and Target were their umbilical cord? What if food was actually grown outside? In dirt? What if it actually tasted good, and was healthy, and was grown nearby? And was fresh, and only recently harvested? What if our produce wasn’t covered in poisonous chemicals? Why are these novel concepts?

By: Ben Britz

Midwestern Microdistillery Magic – Middle West Spirits

Middle West Spirits, the name of the microdistillery brainchild of Brady Konya and Ryan Lang, is housed in a formerly nondescript city building with an industrial feel. Now of course it is a building with an edgy and understated design, and within, the owners/operators perform miracles.

A labor of love and longevity, Middle West Spirits has been in the making for over three years. After moving to Columbus from the West Coast, where microdistilleries have been in vogue for a few years, Brady and Ryan decided to bring artisanal small-batch liquor to the Midwest. It is a fraught business. Draconian liquor production and distribution laws have been in place for years and it is difficult to brave the system’s red tape—fortunately for us, Ryan’s forefathers made a living out of Prohibition-era moonshine and so he is predisposed to do battle when it comes to Alcohol Rights.

It was only May of 2010 when they sold their first bottle of OYO Vodka (pronounced oh-WHY-oh), a long time in the making. The vodka is made from a soft, red winter wheat grown in Northern Ohio and milled locally, and they are working hard at developing a supply chain of local farmers who will produce seasonal products that highlight local agriculture. It takes seven days for the distilling process to finish, and they produce batches of about 600 liters at a time. Extra care is taken throughout the entire process to retain the subtle flavors vodka has.

Mass produced vodkas, even top shelf brands, are made with the idea that vodka is supposed to be a odorless, colorless, and tasteless liquor meant to be mixed. “We’d beg to differ,” says Brady. “There’s an ongoing revival in vodkas, and people who know artisan spirits know that there’s a complexity to the spirit that is under-appreciated. Essentially, there’s a standard filtration process that strips a lot of that flavor out, but you can still make amazing vodkas without filtering out those flavors. Some can be very simple and some can have a lot of character.”

This was when they brought out two bottles of vodka, Grey Goose and their own OYO. This seemed ballsy, I thought at the time, thinking back to college and those vodka-fueled bouts of nighttime mania. Grey Goose was the desirable, the unattainable, at least with my financial aid package. The plastic gallon jug of Popov was the taste I remembered, and an easy one to beat by basically anything you’d ever willingly pour into your mouth. Better a sure win than a close race when trying to impress.

I took a sip of Grey Goose, swished it around in my mouth, played with it, even enjoyed it—more reminiscent of Manhattan clubs and bottle service than college. But the OYO, from the first sniff to the last gasp, was a completely different experience. It was actually quite smooth, slightly sweet, and much more complex than any vodka I had ever tasted, but it was a subtle complexity. The finish was all heat but no burn, and so, so pleasant. I finagled another pouring out of Brady before sipping the Grey Goose again for comparison—and never again! Such acridity and tongue-curling bitterness is fine for cutting grease, but not fit for human consumption. I might give my dog Grey Goose, but please, save the OYO for me.

At the moment, they are focusing on producing a first-class vodka (and they have) though they are working on a gin recipe, and have plans to produce whiskey in the future. I can’t wait.

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Middle West Spirits, the name of the microdistillery brainchild of Brady Konya and Ryan Lang, is housed in a formerly nondescript city building with an industrial feel. Now of course it is a building with an edgy and understated design, and within, the owners/operators perform miracles.

A labor of love and longevity, Middle West Spirits has been in the making for over three years. After moving to Columbus from the West Coast, where microdistilleries have been in vogue for a few years, Brady and Ryan decided to bring artisanal small-batch liquor to the Midwest. It is a fraught business. Draconian liquor production and distribution laws have been in place for years and it is difficult to brave the system’s red tape—fortunately for us, Ryan’s forefathers made a living out of Prohibition-era moonshine and so he is predisposed to do battle when it comes to Alcohol Rights.

It was only May of 2010 when they sold their first bottle of OYO Vodka (pronounced oh-WHY-oh), a long time in the making. The vodka is made from a soft, red winter wheat grown in Northern Ohio and milled locally, and they are working hard at developing a supply chain of local farmers who will produce seasonal products that highlight local agriculture. It takes seven days for the distilling process to finish, and they produce batches of about 600 liters at a time. Extra care is taken throughout the entire process to retain the subtle flavors vodka has. Mass produced vodkas, even top shelf brands, are made with the idea that vodka is supposed to be a odorless, colorless, and tasteless liquor meant to be mixed. “We’d beg to differ,” says Brady. “There’s an ongoing revival in vodkas, and people who know artisan spirits know that there’s a complexity to the spirit that is under-appreciated. Essentially, there’s a standard filtration process that strips a lot of that flavor out, but you can still make amazing vodkas without filtering out those flavors. Some can be very simple and some can have a lot of character.”

This was when they brought out two bottles of vodka, Grey Goose and their own OYO. This seemed ballsy, I thought at the time, thinking back to college and those vodka-fueled bouts of nighttime mania. Grey Goose was the desirable, the unattainable, at least with my financial aid package. The plastic gallon jug of Popov was the taste I remembered, and an easy one to beat by basically anything you’d ever willingly pour into your mouth. Better a sure win than a close race when trying to impress.

I took a sip of Grey Goose, swished it around in my mouth, played with it, even enjoyed it—more reminiscent of Manhattan clubs and bottle service than college. But the OYO, from the first sniff to the last gasp, was a completely different experience. It was actually quite smooth, slightly sweet, and much more complex than any vodka I had ever tasted, but it was a subtle complexity. The finish was all heat but no burn, and so, so pleasant. I finagled another pouring out of Brady before sipping the Grey Goose again for comparison—and never again! Such acridity and tongue-curling bitterness is fine for cutting grease, but not fit for human consumption. I might give my dog Grey Goose, but please, save the OYO for me.

At the moment, they are focusing on producing a first-class vodka (and they have) though they are working on a gin recipe, and have plans to produce whiskey in the future. I can’t wait.

By: Ben Britz