Imagine the chance to sample the latest, greatest local foods in one place – without worrying about the consequences on your time, or budget.
That's how Chef Bela Szalay sees the Taste of Michiana, whether you're a longtime visitor, or – better yet – someone who hasn't taken the opportunity to find out what South Bend has to offer.
“You may not get a chance to check out Sergei's Pub, or Jim's Smokin' Cafe – or you've heard about Indiana Whiskey, and don't want to buy that big bottle till you try it,” said Szalay, the event's organizer-coordinator. “This is the place to try it. You're going to be able to taste this stuff, and that's what it's about.”
More than 30 food and drink vendors are expected for this year's event, which began in 1990.
As always, Szalay's covered all the bases, from spirits (Lemon Creek), to sweets (South Bend Chocolate Co.), and everything in between – whether it's German (Weiss's Gasthaus), Italian (Four Horseman Pizza), or a blend of American and Puerto Rican (Javier's Bistro), it's available for a $25 ticket.
“You can't beat the price. You're choosing foods – 100 different types of food are in front of you, and you get to choose it.”
This year's new offerings include Whole Foods Market, and Rise 'N' Roll Bakery – which Szalay booked for different reasons, he says.
In Whole Foods's case, offering “America's Healthiest Grocery Store” a spot seemed like a logical addition to the Taste of Michiana philosophy.
“People are always looking for a change in their lifestyle, and I'm gearing toward that,” said Szalay. “I geared for Whole Foods to introduce their things (offerings). A lot of people don't know what Whole Foods is about, so they're going to be able to talk about it.”
Inviting Rise & Roll gives exposure to another type of food – and cooking approach – that people may not have run across, Szalay suggests.
“They don't have just have bakery items, they have a nice sandwich shop there, which is outstanding. Anybody that takes grape jelly and puts it on a sub bun, and puts meat with it – they know what they're doing,” he said.
Chef April Howell, from Martin's Cooking School, is also appearing, “just to show what it's all about – giving out samples, and things like that,” said Szalay.
This year's event will also carry a strong civic component, since all proceeds go to Life Treatment Centers – which treats people with drug and alcohol addictions “who don't have any money,” according to Szalay.
“Instead going to jail or prison, they come here – they get jobs, they have counseling, they have classes, and they go to meetings. It's a really nice program to turn people around,” said Szalay. “This is where my heart's been for 18 years.”
Nearly all the vendors are returning from last year's event – such as Easley Winery, Lemon Creek Winery, and Sugar Shack, who are returning from Indianapolis, Berrien Springs and Plymouth, respectively.
“It's a big variety, you know?” said Szalay. “You can't beat the price. You're choosing foods – 100 different types of food are in front of you, and you get to choose it.”
From Szalay's standpoint, the Taste of Michiana gives South Bend's food and drink a showcase that it simply couldn't get elsewhere – and he's seen the activity to prove it.
“We may not have the famous restaurants, like Chicago, but you've got some nice restaurants (in South Bend),” said Szalay. “I see more restaurants coming in now – there's two brand new hotels going up. So there's room for expansion.”
About 2,200 people turned out for last year's Taste of Michiana. For this year, Szalay hopes to draw 2,600 to 2,700 people – which reflects the event's slow, but steady climb, one made possible by the relationships that he's built with its vendors.
“Angles Bar & Grill, this is their fourth year – they're coming back for round four,” said Szalay. “You got these small mom-and-pop places coming back – this is their Super Bowl commercial. That's what it (the Taste) does.”Live: 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 27, Century Center, 120 S. St. Joseph St., South Bend, IN. Tickets: $25 (adults), $10 (children 6-16). Children 5 and under are free. Available at the door only. (574) 233-5433 (ext. 225). Live music by The Van Dyke Revue. All proceeds benefit Life Treatment Center.