Tapas, bread, pizza, & beer: Goshen is becoming a hotspot for foodies

If you live in Indiana, you might know that Goshen is the county seat of Elkhart County and home to about 32,000 people. But that's not all. The city is also home to an array of great local dining options.

In the last decade or so, there has been an explosion of eateries in Goshen that are committed to serving local, sustainably grown fare and have formed close relationships with area farms.

Bikers and others converge on Goshen Brewing Company on a warm day in Goshen.

These restaurants are contributing to the cultural and economic vitality of the city's downtown, making it a food destination of sorts where visitors from Fort Wayne and South Bend and vacationers to the many nearby lakes come to eat and drink.

 

Within the space of a few blocks in the heart of the Maple City, diners can choose from myriad options, including a place that serves Asian-influenced Spanish tapas, a European-style bakery, a brewery, and a restaurant that specializes in Neapolitan pizza.

Here is a look inside what makes a few of these eateries great.

 

Kelly Jae’s Café

 

Tapa is a Spanish word for “appetizer” or “snack”—in essence, “small plate.” The tapas and other offerings at Kelly Jae’s Café are varied and eclectic, ranging from blackened salmon salad to a Cuban sandwich, pork pad thai, and beef bulgogi.

Inside Kelly Jae’s Café at 133 S. Main St. in Goshen.

 

Kelly Jae’s Café opened its doors 11 years ago when Executive Chef Kelly Graff, who was raised in the Goshen area, decided to start her own restaurant. She grew up in the hospitality industry and was previously a chef at The Checkerberry Inn in Goshen, where she honed her culinary skills.

Looking back, Graff is pleased to see that her concept of bringing a tapas restaurant to Goshen has been successful.

 

“It took a while to get the tapas/small plates idea going in Goshen, but it’s taken off,” she says.

 

Graff believes that Kelly Jae’s has thrived, in part, because it strives to be unpretentious and offer something for everyone.

 

“We wanted to create a place in Goshen for anybody,” she explains. “Whether someone orders a hamburger and fries or a filet, we want to offer good food and a nice dining experience.”

Kelly Jae’s Café opened its doors 11 years ago and small plates have really taken off.

 

Like numerous other Goshen eating establishments, Kelly Jae’s Café sources much of its produce from Clay Bottom Farm in Goshen, which grows specialty crops. It also works with Sustainable Greens in Three Rivers, Michigan, which supplies organic produce. Both farms emphasize the importance of local food production and sustainable growing techniques. Kelly Jae’s procures its duck from Maple Leaf Farms, located in nearby Milford, Ind.

 

Even so, not everything can be sourced locally. Acknowledging this fact, Graff is committed, when possible, to featuring a seasonal menu.

 

“Halibut season is running right now,” she says. This is reflected in the current menu, which features halibut ceviche and Yukon Gold potato encrusted halibut. “Spring is also time for local asparagus and ramps.”

Some of the fresh choices at Kelly Jae's.

 

Regardless of the season, Graff’s favorite thing to eat at her restaurant is the wasabi pea-encrusted salmon.

 

“There are so many different flavors,” she says.  

 

One of Graff’s early obstacles to overcome was her fear of success. Now, she has other problems—namely, parking. This reflects the fact that Kelly Jae’s Café is “consistently busy” and that Goshen has so much to offer. In addition to great food, the restaurant is adorned with art made by Graff’s mother, and patrons can enjoy live music on First Fridays.

 

“It’s good to see the city grow and for Goshen to become a destination,” says Graff, who is contributing to the overall scene by having fun and giving Goshen residents and visitors a great place to gather.

“I try to do my part to make people smile,” she adds.

 

Goshen Brewing Company

 

While the Goshen Brewing Company (part of the Northern Indiana Beer Trail) is firmly planted in the local community, its roots extend west—all the way to Fort Collins, Colorado.

When Jesse Sensenig and his wife, Amanda, lived in Fort Collins, they made it a point to visit breweries in the city that had the most of them, per capita, in the U.S. at the time. Enthralled by the quality and wide varieties of the beer offered, Jesse started to brew his own beer.

Cofounder and head brewer Jesse Sensenig works on a new batch of beer.

 

Amanda is a Goshen native, and both Jesse and Amanda attended Goshen College, so the Indiana city beckoned them as a place to start their own brewery and restaurant. They opened their doors four years ago in a former NIPSCO building. Like New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Goshen Brewing Company is 100 percent wind-powered.

 

To say that Goshen Brewing Company has thrived is an understatement. Four years since its inception, it has more than doubled in growth, tripled its brewing production, and expanded its eating and drinking space.

 

“We were pretty confident, but we could not have dreamed this up any better,” says Jesse Sensenig, who also serves as the Head Brewmaster.

 

One of the unofficial themes of Goshen Brewing Company is community. Patrons eat together at long tables, kids play on an outside lawn, community members gather to watch drive-in movies outside the brewery, and employees share in the profits.

 

Another theme is quality, Sensenig explains.

 

“Profits are not the focus,” he says. “We choose some ingredients that are more expensive.”

Chef Jesse Shoemaker cooks noodles to make pad thai.

 

Yet another theme is creativity. Since the brewery opened, it has featured more than 100 different beers on its menu.

 

“There’s always something on the board that’s a first-time beer,” Sensenig says. “We really try to keep a diverse board.”

 

The brewery uses local hops when possible, too, but limited varieties are available in the region. Fifty percent of its malt, however, does come from Indiana. This is a number that Sensenig expects will grow.

 

“We try to get what we can from around here,” he says.

Patrons eat and drink inside Goshen Brewing Company.

 

One of Sensenig’s favorite beers served by the brewery is a Brett Chardonnay Saison, a wild yeast Saison beer that is aged in Chardonnay barrels.

 

Food plays just as big a role at Goshen Brewing Company—just ask Culinary Team Lead Jesse Shoemaker, who went to Goshen College and worked at Rachel’s Bread (now Anna’s Bread) as a student. After graduating, he moved to Chicago, served as chef at Pizzeria Venturi and Constant Spring. Now, he's found a home alongside the other Jesse (Sensenig).

 

Shoemaker is committed to as much local and sustainable sourcing as possible, as well as relationships with farmers. In his mind, the two go together.

 

“We want to know where the food is coming from,” Shoemaker says. “We want to build relationships and support local people in the community.”

 

Goshen Brewing Company’s menu changes seasonally, and Shoemaker is proud that he doesn’t serve anything that is premade, making "as much from scratch as we possibly can.”

 

His favorite selection on the Goshen Brewing Company menu? The kale Caesar salad.

 

“I crave it all the time,” he says.

 

 

Pizzeria Venturi

 

In 2012, Esquire magazine counted Pizzeria Venturi in its top 15 of an online poll that tried to identify “the most life-changing pizzeria in the country.” Also, the Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN), an organization based in Naples, Italy, that certifies pizzerias that adhere to the requirements of traditional Neapolitan pizza (San Marzano or Roma tomatoes and mozzarella cheese), awarded the coveted certification to Pizzeria Venturi. Only 93 pizzerias in the United States have such a certification.

Servers hold pizza and beer at Pizzeria Venturi.

 

Justin Venturi, along with Goshen entrepreneurs Eric Kanagy and Troy Pippenger, started Pizzeria Venturi in 2009. Venturi, who is originally from New Jersey, trained at the Culinary Institute of America in New York after he graduated from Rutgers University.

 

His passion for baking was born during a stint at Felidia in New York City. This led him to farm in New Jersey that used a wood-fired stove where he also met a contact who led him to the Midwest. Justin Venturi, along with Goshen entrepreneurs Eric Kanagy and Troy Pippenger, started Pizzeria Venturi in 2009.

Before opening Pizzeria Venturi, Venturi ran a restaurant in Shipshewana, Ind., and he made Neapolitan pizza on Monday nights at the former Il Forno in Goshen.

 

Now, 10 years after Pizzeria Venturi opened its doors, he looks back on his path with a mixture of satisfaction and awe.

 

“About the Esquire poll, I was flabbergasted,” Venturi says. He was even more shocked because news about Pizzeria Venturi’s recognition from a national publication came as a complete surprise.

 

And the certification from VPN?

 

“That’s important because it maintains tradition,” he explains.

 

Like other chefs in the area, Venturi heavily relies on Clay Bottom Farm and Sustainable Greens. He can often be found baking pizzas himself. But his core philosophy on food is unique in that he relies on studies the market researcher Howard Moskowitz did in the 1970s about finding the “perfect” recipe for mass appeal, in his case for products like Pepsi and Prego pasta sauce. Moskowitz’s answer? There is no perfect Pepsi—just perfect Pepsis. And there is no perfect pasta sauce—just perfect pasta sauces.

 

In this same vein, Venturi eschews the science behind the “perfect” Neapolitan pizza and embraces the art of making perfect Neapolitan pizzas—each one unique and different, as well as excellent. This philosophy respects variables, such as humidity and weather, that impact pizza yeast, he explains.

Owner and chef Justin Venturi cooks a pizza at Pizzeria Venturi.

 

To complement the Neapolitan pizzas served at Pizzeria Venturi, wine at the restaurant comes from the Campania region, home to Naples. Venturi likes to serve Gragnano wines, which he says pair extremely well with pizza and pasta and can be difficult to find.

 

“I jump through hoops to get this wine; Eataly does not even have it,” he says. “Wine is really important to me.”

Venturi likes to serve Gragnano wines, which he says pair extremely well with pizza and pasta.

 

Venturi’s favorite pizza on the menu is the Margherita pizza, and his favorite aspect of the job is seeing the delight on customers' faces upon receiving their food.

 

“I love watching when a server brings food to the table," he muses. "That brings a smile to my face.”

 

 

Anna’s Bread

 

Before Anna’s Bread was Anna’s Bread, it was Rachel’s Bread, owned and run by Rachel Shenk. It was a Goshen bakery and restaurant next to the Goshen Farmer’s Market that had found its niche.

 

In 2004, Anna Mast was in her first year at Goshen College and began working part-time at Rachel’s Bread. She ended up working there for the duration of her college career, and although she moved away after graduation, Shenk told her that she was always welcome to come back.

 

After Mast had spent some time in Pennsylvania, she and Shenk communicated about the possibility of her returning to work at Rachel’s Bread. As it turned out, Shenk was ready to retire, and Mast had the opportunity to take over the business.

 

“Rachel was more sure about it than I was," Mast reflects. "She extended a lot of grace to me. It was the right timing and the right people.”

The interior of Anna’s Bread is light, room, and airy, perfect for getting together with friends.

 

So in 2017, Mast assumed the duties of running the bakery/restaurant, and Rachel’s Bread became Anna’s Bread. Her new role of owning and operating Anna’s Bread was a culmination of a lifelong love affair with good food.

 

This love was instilled in her by her mother and grandmother, the former of whom had the goal of cooking her way through the Extending the Table, a cookbook containing recipes from all over the world.

 

“That really made me an adventurous eater,” Mast says, laughing.

A colorful galette is served at Anna’s Bread.

 

When she was in elementary school, both of her parents were full-time seminary students, so she and her sisters were responsible for putting food on the table if they wanted to eat before their parents arrived home from their evening classes.

 

“That was a really great experience as children, to be thrown into that,” Mast says. “But it was nothing compared to what Rachel exposed us to. I had no idea what European-style baking was. I had not had sourdough bread before. It really opened up my mind and my palate.”

 

Today, Mast’s palate (and, by extension, that of her customers) is dictated by what’s in season.

 

“Every Saturday, I go to the Goshen Farmer’s Market, and I plan the menu on what produce I find,” Mast says. “The menu is not often repeated.”

A full selection of freshly baked bread at Anna's.

 

In addition to procuring produce from Clay Bottom Farm and Sustainable Greens, she sources meat from Vintage Meadows and Creekside Farm, both in Goshen. She gets vegetables from White Yarrow Farm in Marcellus, Michigan, too.

 

“We have all these amazing farms in the area,” Mast says.

 

For her, preparing and serving great food relies on one special ingredient: Love.

 

“Food is definitely my love language,” she says. “We cook for people to show love. Food should nourish your soul as well as your physical needs.”

 

When asked what food at Anna’s Bread she loves the most, she is quick to respond.

“I love our spinach croissants so much,” she says. “I have fallen in love with so many dishes.”

 

As for the future, she plans on continuing the legacy that Shenk built.

 

“We serve food that we love, with an emphasis on local food that we can get in this great area,” she says.

Read more articles by AJ Hughes.

AJ Hughes, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Goshen but considers herself a citizen of Michiana (yes, this includes Fort Wayne). She is an aficionado of all things local, especially local food and agriculture. When she wants to get away from Michiana, Chicago beckons.

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