Elkhart and Northern Indiana
Once we sold our house and left Nashville, we spent a few weeks in Southern Illinois with Jeremy's family. Those weeks were spent seriously moving in to the Viper, as when we were still in Nashville, Velma was parked on the street we couldn't put our slides out. While we moved in and tinkered around, a few things got added to a "we should probably leave this to some professionals" list which lined us up for another trip to Elkhart, IN. (One of the fun items on this list was installing our Nature's Head compost toilet! We love this thing so much we're going to have an entire post dedicated just to our hippie toilet. You're excited aren't you?)
This being our third stay in Elkhart - and our longest as we arrived just as the NeXus crew was finishing up their fleet headed to the Hershey RV Show - we actually spent quite a fair amount of time out and about in Elkhart and the surrounding towns.
This post is a wrap-up of our highlights from our 5 night stay in August. If you want to see even *more* pictures, make sure you "like" our Facebook Page as I'll be sharing an album of photos there, too.
One of the first things we saw, back on our maiden voyage to Elkhart, were statues of elks and hearts placed all around the county. We decided that a perfect way to kill a day kicked out of our RV and with the dogs in tow would be to go on a scavenger hunt! I couldn't find a current resource listing where all the statues were placed, so we really did end up having to search hard for a number of the statues. It was a fun way to explore the area a little, especially since our dogs are thankfully decent car riders.
A few of our favorite statues are found below.
I quite liked this dapper elk, dressed to the nines and with tickets for a performance at the theatre it was standing near, tucked in its waistband.
Some of downtown Elkhart's buildings can be seen behind this floral elk.
This one was my hands-down favorite, in front of the newspaper's office. But I'm a sucker for black + white and anything typeface.
We noticed some urban art throughout downtown Elkhart, too. A trend that I first noticed, generally speaking, in Boise when we visited over a year ago. I think it's a great way to highlight art and local creators while at the same time maybe covering some rather mundane or unsightly fixtures around the city.
A surprise snap Jeremy took of Rosey and I on his return from a successful elk hunt. (Har, har.)
Another day was spent moseying with the dogs along a small portion of Elkhart's riverwalk. One of our goals while living nomadically and spending much of our time outdoors is to socialize our pups while also training them (well, let's be honest here, I really mean Ramble) to walk somewhat sanely on a leash. What more perfect a location than quiet downtown Elkhart, with paved walkways and a pleasant view.
Ever on the hunt for a bargain, and still building up our stash of "random, tiny, obscure things that we may one day really, really need for the motorhome", we scoured the aisles of a few RV supply stores on our stay in Elkhart.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that there are dozens of these stores in the area, given that Elkhart is one of few true centers of RV manufacturers in the country. If you wanted to build your own RV from the chassis up, I'm pretty certain you could find anything and everything you'd need without ever having to leave Elkhart.
Now, it wouldn't really be a post from me if I didn't weave in at least something about food. So brace yourself. A few food features are following!
First up is Flippin' Cow. Found on a total whim on a late night return to the RV and pups this burger joint ended up satisfying our craving for warm, cheesy, salty and comforty goodness.
We shared a plate of loaded tots that were perfectly as described - crispy fried, topped with gooey cheese, and dipped in cold and tangy sour cream (at least for me, the condiment lover of the family). I was trying to be healthy when I, at the last minute, ordered The Shore Wrap (a fried fish sandwich wrap - yeah, "healthy") instead of building my own burger with a veggie patty. Thumbs down. The wrap was meh and when I saw Jeremy's burger land on the table, I instantly regretted my decision - before my first bite. So remember, folks, when at a greasy dive, ORDER THE GREASY DIVE FOOD.
The menus were printed inside old LP covers. Fun! And reminiscent of a favorite local joint in our old neighborhood back in Nashville, the Pied Piper Eatery.
See? The burger was the way to go. Jeremy built his own burger and it arrived cooked and topped exactly as ordered.
Coffee hounds we are, we had to spend at least *one* morning venturing out from the all-too-convenient Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts close to NeXus and explore a local coffee shop. The morning we hunted for elk statues, we fueled up at the Electric Brew in downtown Elkhart. My test drink when I'm exploring new joints is always a dirty (shot or two of espresso) soy or almond milk chai latte. The Electric Brew delivered with the steaming hot mug that accompanied my breakfast burrito. I'd definitely go back. (In fact, we did get to go back - sort of - when a few days later we met a new friend at the original Electric Brew, in downtown Goshen! More about that in our next blog post.)
The Electric Brew in Goshen is a coffee join slash music venue. This is the bright + colorful doorway to the music venue portion of the space.
Post-coffee we squeezed in lunch with this new friend at Venturi - a pizza restaurant recently named in Esquire as one of the top 15 life changing pizzas in the nation. I wouldn't argue with that honor.
I ordered the Truffle which came with fior de latte, cremini mushrooms, grana padano and a healthy drizzle of truffle oil. I threw all shame out the window, even in front of this new friend, and devoured my certified authentic Napoleon pizza crust to crust, and finished first at the table.
On our first visit to Elkhart I saw a bumper sticker that essentially sums up our initial impression of northern Indiana. It said "Support Indiana" and had a silhouette of an Amish horse and buggy on the left, and a silhouette of a motorhome on the right.
We'd covered the RV portion of northern Indiana from top to bottom and if we wanted to do as the bumper sticker said, we'd have to go explore Amish country, too. And I guess, when in Amish country... go load up on the jams and cheese and baked goods while you can!
One day we spent a few hours just in Shipshewana, browsing general stores and picking out meat (for Jeremy) and cheese for dinner.
At any of the Amish general stores, you could definitely find your typical jams and jellies, like strawberry and peach above.
Or you could branch out and try something new and a little more obscure, like dandelion jelly. I didn't think stocking the RV pantry with dandelion jelly was the smartest decision (does it even go with peanut butter?) so we passed.
I would have absolutely gone to town on some pickled eggs, though, if I weren't the only one eating them. That's a lot of pickled eggs.
One can never go wrong with cheese, though. One of each, please.
I don't know if I should pat myself on the back or sob with regret that I managed to pass up this family-sized bag of JUST the marshmallows (the whole reason, amiright?) from Lucky Charms.
In all seriousness, though, shopping at an Amish grocery or market really would be smart for those living full time on the road, like us. Much of what was offered was shelf stable and used as the base for other dishes. Powdered boullion, spice mixes, dried soups, bread or cake mix, etc. Stuff easily squirreled away in some corner of a tiny RV cabinet.
The Amish love their baked goods, and apparently plain and modest is not the name of the game when it comes to their cakes, unlike their apparel. Jimmies (the East coast way to say sprinkles) and sparkling sugar and dragées galore.
One of the last things we did during our stay in Elkhart was drive a trail that took us through most of the Amish communities in the area. I really enjoyed passing the beautiful, old farmhouses with meticulously tended gardens of wildflowers in the front, chickens and/or goats around back, clean laundry flapping on the line and a vegetable patch that would easily feed dozens every season. A simple (but hard) life.
The one last specific mentions I want to leave you with is found in the bustling town of Wakarusa, IN. A panoramic shot that pretty much highlights all of the downtown can be found below.
In this little town is a little unassuming store front with the unassuming name of Wakarusa Dime Store. But open the doors, step inside and the heavens will sing out with joy.
It's a candy store that also happens to be the home of the Jumbo Jelly Bean. You'll have to take my word for it that these gargantuan beans are easily 5 times the size of their average counterparts. (They were so tasty I devoured the beans we selected as photo models before we could document their largesse for posterity. Whoops.)
I'll let these colorful, sweet photos speak (mostly) for themselves.
Growing up spending many summers in elementary and middle school on the Jersey shore (the literal shore, not the abominable excuse for a TV show), I was surrounded by taffy and really wasn't a fan. The flavors available at the Dime Store, though, intrigued me. They were SO GOOD. Nothing like the muddy flavored, way-too-sticky saltwater taffy out east. These actually tasted like their flavors, and somehow very fresh, not artificial at all!
The pumpkin was delicous but the huckleberry was my favorite. When I see something huckleberry I have to get it as it always reminds me of our road trip we took through Oregon one spring, from Bend to Cannon Beach and up to Portland.
I'll leave you here with a shot of Nashville's favorite candy, the Goo Goo Cluster, spotted in the wild. If you haven't yet, you have "gotta get a Goo Goo"!