The first Saturday of the college football season kicks off today and at 3:30 I’ll be hunkered down with a beer in my hand watching the kickoff of another season of Notre Dame football. Now, about the only reason you would ever come to South Bend is to see Notre Dame, and, while this would fit perfectly into the Campus Tour section of the blog, I don’t have any followers from Notre Dame who wanted to write a piece. This isn’t really a problem though, since I spent the first 18 years of my life living in the area and know all the local spots and things to do better than most of the students.
If for no other reason, come to South Bend to attend a Notre Dame football game on a crisp autumn afternoon. It’s one of the most storied schools in college football and is akin to trips to Wrigley Field or Fenway Park. Fans may eschew OCBD’s, ties and khakis for jeans and jerseys, but you’ll find plenty of good tailgating prior to the game. You can tour the campus while you’re in town and take in Touchdown Jesus, the Grotto and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
Your gameday experience isn’t really complete without visiting the College Football Hall of Fame, located only a few miles from campus. Having worked there for three summers, I know the place inside and out. There’s pretty much something for everyone. For kids there’s an interactive area where you can kick field goals and throw passes to receivers. There are exhibits chronicling the evolution of the game from its humble beginnings in the 19th century until today. There are trivia games, a video in the Stadium Theater and, of course, the plaques for all of the enshrinees. While I have never worked there during a Notre Dame weekend, I have heard that there is usually a block party on Friday night and the visiting teams tend to tour the Hall of Fame on Friday as well. You’ll want to visit while you still can as the Hall is set to move to Atlanta within the next few years.
Lake Michigan is less than an hour drive from the city and Amish country is less than an hour to the east. If you do head into Amish country, I’d recommend the Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury for their family style meals and delicious baked goods. There’s also a popular flea market in Shipshewana where you can find a lot of handmade Amish goods.
If you’re looking for a bite to eat, you’ll find plenty of chain restaurants but I’d recommend exploring the local culture and trying some of these places. Fiddler’s Hearth is an Irish pub in downtown South Bend where you’ll find a perfect pint of Guinness, excellent house salad dressing and a wide variety of traditional Irish dishes. My two favorite items are the fish and chips and the steakhouse boxtie (a savory pancake). On most weekend nights you’ll also get live music. If you’re craving wings, head to Wings Etc. Wings Etc. started in nearby Mishawaka and now has locations throughout Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. Their jumbo wings dwarf BW3’s and they liberally apply a wide variety of sauces. If you’re looking for a challenge, try eating 16 of their Wall-sauced wings without the aid of any other food or beverages. If you succeed you get your picture up on the Wall of Flame (You can find mine at the Mishawaka, Elkhart and Indianapolis locations). Other restaurants I’d recommend are Grandma’s House of Pancakes in Elkhart and Bruno’s Pizza in South Bend. I would avoid Tippecanoe Place as the service and food have both seemed to go downhill over the last few years and while Hacienda may be a popular local chain, it doesn’t have much going for it other than a good atmosphere.