Thursday, February 24, 2011

Surviving on Chubby Trouts and Self Righteous Beers

Chubby Trout
2730B Cassopolis
Elkhart, IN

Beer selection: Best of the best!

Food: Fresh and local Great Lakes seafood.

They say “Boy, you ain’t a poet -- just a drunk with a pen”
All over and over, again and again

Lord they don’t know about the places I’ve been
It gets hard out here

I know I don’t look it
I used to have heart, but the highway took it
-- Hayes Carll from his brand new song, “Hard Out Here”

Whether a poet or just a drunk with a pen, as always, Texas song writer Hayes Carll hits the nail on the head. It is “hard out here”.

But one thing I’ve learned is that surviving on the road is a lot less difficult if you follow a few rules.

Such as, you don’t order seafood when you’re in Indiana.

Common sense stuff like that.

But, of course there are exceptions to all rules. Like if you are within an hour’s drive of Lake Michigan.

Then, you definitely want seafood. Specifically perch, walleye, blue fin or trout – as long as it comes fresh out of the Great Lake, not some aquaculture farm in Thailand.

Living two blocks from the Atlantic Ocean, I get a little spoiled when it comes to good seafood. Shrimp, oysters, crab, grouper, snapper -- all fresh from the ocean.

But maybe that’s why the distinct taste of fresh water fish gets me so excited. It’s something different.

Or maybe it’s the high mercury content.

Whatever it is, it tastes good.

It’s little things like a pile of fried lake perch in the Flats that can make a trip to Cleveland tolerable. Or like how an appetizer of walleye cheeks can warm up a mid-winter trip to Minnesota.

Here in Elkhart, Indiana, in the frigid darkness of winter, the only thing that is going to cheer me up is a visit to the wonderfully named Chubby Trout.

And while you can order any of the aforementioned Great Lakes specialties here, if you are only here one time, you have to get the namesake dish – the Chubby Trout.

A generous filet of fresh caught Lake Michigan trout, lightly fried to a nice crisp flaky exterior and smothered with a lobster basil stuffing and decadent cream sauce, this dish reminded me why they call this fishy’s former home the GREAT lakes.

Trout can be known to be a bit dry and dull in the wrong hands – but not buried under all this goodness.

The Chubby Trout definitely knows how to make a Chubby Trout.

My appetizer of calamari was also delicious – and unique. No chewy rings or squidly tentacles here. This is Grade A squid. Long thick strips of the most tender, succulent seafood, breaded and fried to perfection and served with a distinct spicy thick remoulade that would make any New Orleans chef jealous.

Amid the hell of corporate chain restaurants that is Cassopolis Street in Elkhart, the Chubby Trout is a family-owned oasis of good taste and local specialties done right.

But did I mention the beer?

Oh yeah, I’m saving the best for last.

The Chubby Trout just happens to have the best beer selection in the entire state of Indiana.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like they hand you a six page beer menu when you sit down. Remember, this is Elkhart – not Asheville or Portland.

But the page long list is nothing but solid quality. Like a year end “Best Of” list. Or your “Highest Rated” playlist on your I-Pod.

I chose two twenty ouncers on draft – Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale and Schlafly Winter ESB.

Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale is brewed by the same California folks who make Arrogant Bastard Ale and a kick butt Smoked Porter.

I jumped at the chance to try this black IPA.

I like dark beers and I like hoppy beers. This is the rare beer that is both. And the 8.7% alcohol made me feel like I got my six bucks worth. Bargain!

The Schlafly Winter ESB was a much lighter copper color and thinner in taste and alcohol content. It reflects its Midwest roots. Tasty as it was with mild wintery spices like lemon and vanilla, it was a hard act to follow such a Sublimely Self-Righteous Beer.

The excellent beer selection and quality of the food reflects the good taste of the owner of this place. You can tell that a lot of care goes into the preparation of each dish. And a lot of thought and beer drinking went into the selection of high-quality, hard-to-find beers – especially for Elkhart.

This guy didn’t just say okay to whatever the local beer distributor was pushing, like too many restaurant owners do.

I can just imagine this guy’s home fridge stocked with six-packs from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon, in a constant search for that next cool, unique offering to put on tap at his bar.

That’s a job I want.

And this is the kind of place I want to patronize.

Local trout and good beer. I can survive on that.

Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.
The Chubby Trout on Urbanspoon

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