Smitten with Crooked Ewe’s carefully crafted food
We are sitting at the long, impressive bar at Crooked Ewe Brewery & Ale House overlooking the St. Joseph river after dinner when I decided to ask to be introduced to Executive Chef Alain Helfrich, who I had been corresponding with by email, but hadn’t yet met in person. I was halfway through a cup of house-made blood orange sorbet when Alain, all bearded and aproned, appeared to shake my hand and chat about the restaurant. He graciously invited Dan and I to take a look around the kitchen as dinner was winding down.
Wide-eyed and feeling rather special, we surveyed the kitchen. A long string of beautiful house-made sausages on a counter to the left, vacuum-sealed packages of huge brisket behind me and tons of fragrant Terra spices in front of me. Alain encouraged us to taste spices we were most interested in and tells us which dishes contain which spices. He says these premium spices are the foundation of every dish he makes.
We follow Alain through a narrow kitchen hallway and outside to see the large smoker where they smoke brisket for upwards of 12 hours. After smoking all day, this beef, sourced from Davis Creek in Kalamazoo, emerges extra tender and mouthwateringly fragrant. The smoke is piped into the cold smoker where chicken wings and other items are infused with flavor. Its dark outside now, but we can see the river as we chat with Alain and staff.
Alain gives us his undivided attention and makes us feel so welcome in this sacred culinary domain. He answers all our questions and expounds beautifully on his passion for powerful, time-honored flavors.
He doesn’t mind that some of the “weird” food on his menu will scare some away. That’s OK, he says, Crooked Ewe isn’t trying to make everyone happy. Instead he says their goal is to stand apart and offer a special and memorable dining experience. He doesn’t keep secrets about the menu. He’s tickled to share the details of how he creates any dish, and he’s confident his team will always make it better.
I’m inclined to agree.
Before this insider experience, I was already smitten with the carefully crafted food and wholeheartedly invested in spreading the word. Now I feel even more connected to Crooked Ewe and grateful to Alain and Sous Chef Mat Ewing for their handiwork. The brisket and sausage plates are particularly scrumptious as is the Ewe Tso, cauliflower fried tempura style and seasoned like general Tso’s chicken. Ewe Tso is just one example of the delicious vegan options available at Crooked Ewe.
More than once I’ve munched more my fair share of curly fries with surprisingly tasty peppadew ketchup (I hate standard ketchup). Crooked Ewe offers a range of other interesting condiments including bourbon-barrel aged mustard, sweet Thai chili sauce and a green salsa of sorts. I also really like the brisket and IPA beer cheese soup and the sweet potato and charred corn cold soup, which are pleasantly rich and creamy.
And there’s the 1-hour egg, which is cooked using the sous vide method. Eggs are cooked in a sealed bag surrounded by water at a target temperature. Once an egg hits that temperature, it is ready to serve. Supplied by Hebron Farms in Vandalia, these 1-hour eggs have a remarkably consistent texture from white to yolk, which is almost slimy or, more flatteringly, like custard. If you move the cross section of wood that it is served on, the egg jiggles in a rather satisfying manner.
We are Ewe Crew members, Crooked Ewe’s version of a mug club, so we enjoy more beer for our buck, special discounts and get first dibs on new beer and culinary experiments. On one of our early visits we had the “exclusive” opportunity to try brisket jerky with fresh red pepper and shagbark hickory syrup, sourced from Bertsch Farms in Warsaw, a unique and delectable creation of sous chef Mat Ewing.
Another something special you must try if you love coffee is cold-brewed Zen Café bourbon-barrel aged coffee on nitro tap. So deep, dark, creamy and almost dessert-like. Treat it like a slow-sipper beer and embrace the caffeine burst flowing through your veins. NOTE: I’m reading “Grain Brain” by David Perlmutter M.D. He points to compelling research that shows that coffee helps activate gene pathways to both reduce inflammation as well as provide antioxidant protection, all of which encourage good brain function and may actually help prevent dementia.
Then the actual beer. I’m partial to the Recneps oatmeal stout and the Scottish ale. Both are solid, comforting beers, not too heavy, but flavorful. Alain told us in the first week they were open they sold 90 gallons of beer. Early this month they released the dark and delicious Murder by Zen stout. They took the Journeyman Distillery bourbon barrels that had previously been used to age the Murder by Death imperial stout, and gave them to Zen Café to age coffee beans. Then Crooked Ewe basically poured the Recneps oatmeal stout over the split coffee beans for a toasty roasty malty bourbon coffee goodness. It was almost too good. I’m looking forward to more interesting options like Murder by Zen going forward.
Crooked Ewe Brewery has been open just a little over a month, yet I’ve been there probably 7 or 8 times, twice by bike. It’s one of very few local dining establishments on the south side of South Bend and we are so thankful for its arrival. Its proximity to our home is a somewhat dangerous situation, but I’m not complaining. It takes about 15 minutes by bike and less, of course, by car.
There’s definitely a special charm to sitting at the bar and looking out over the river. The other night we enjoyed an impressive display of bright lightning over the water as the sky rained down the excessive humidity we’ve been experiencing. Many of the tables were built by staff from reclaimed wood, and various wood furnishings as well as the fireplace are original to the building when it housed the VFW.
Another virtue that endears me to Crooked Ewe is that the restaurant sources the best ingredients they can from as close as they can. I already mentioned Hebron Farms, Davis Creek, Terra Spice, Journeyman Distillery, Zen Café and Bertsch Farms. Alain gave me a list of 46 suppliers that includes 25 from Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin. Some other super local standouts include J2K Capraio goat cheese of Walkerton and Violet Sky chocolate and Kankakee Wetlands Organic Gardens herbs and vegetables of South Bend.
Crooked Ewe Brewery & Ale House
1047 Lincoln Way E
South Bend, Indiana