The folks at Café Navarre in downtown South Bend have a lot to celebrate. They kicked off the year being named one of the top 25 new restaurants in the Midwest by Midwest Living magazine, and more recently, their resident chef – Chef Matt – was named the best in our community in an annual area competition. Not to mention the constant onslaught of positive reviews from diners on sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. All things considered, Café Navarre is faring quite well, and with very good reason.
Kurt Janowsky, owner of Café Navarre, has been in the local restaurant business for many years. He previously owned the Emporium in downtown South Bend, and the Ice House in The 100 Center in Mishawaka. Along with Café Navarre, Kurt also owns the Matterhorn and Crystal Ballroom Catering in Elkhart, and has recently opened a very chic, speakeasy-style whiskey bar known as The Exchange in downtown South Bend. However, when Café Navarre came about, Janowsky hadn’t been looking to open any businesses in downtown South Bend. He says the building, which used to be a bank, chose him and the rest is history. The ornate architecture in the space is showcased with strategically placed lighting and artwork, and the creativity of converting the space from a bank to a restaurant is nothing short of extraordinary.
I sat down for a chat with Janowsky recently, and his passion for the industry, and what sets his establishments apart from so many others, is truly tangible. Many of the ingredients found in the Café Navarre kitchen are sourced locally, with the exception of needing a food item in its local “off-season.” All spices used come from a business right here in town, and Janowsky says they are really focusing on getting even more locally-sourced ingredients integrated into the dishes.
The menu at Café Navarre is full of flavor and creativity. The offerings change seasonally, with the Steak Frites being the only item to have continually stayed on the menu since the restaurant’s opening in early 2012. While this blog post is more about the business of the restaurant, as opposed to focusing strongly on the menu offerings, I can personally tell you there is no going wrong with these options:
- French Onion Gratinee – Honestly, the BEST French Onion Soup in town! The flavors are so richly developed, the onions seem endless, and there is nothing wrong with an extra helping of Gruyere from time to time – DIVINE!
- Navarre Salad – Made up of yummy greens, thin slices of apple, blue cheese, walnuts and a delicious balsamic dressing! Add a little chicken or salmon on top for an even more flavor-packed and healthy lunch.
- Any of the ever-changing seafood dishes on the dinner menu. They offer what’s fresh – which cannot always be said for restaurants in land-locked areas of the country – and they cook it to perfection.
- Crème Brulee – Mmmmm! This dessert is super decadent and packed with vanilla beans. Plus, breaking the top layer of crunchy caramelized sugar is always so much fun!
- The wine selection at Café Navarre is also nothing to scoff at, featuring more than 100 variations from all over the world.
Now, make your reservation, and head to downtown South Bend to experience some delicious food and great ambience.