Scene in South Bend: Uptown Kitchen
Lesley Stevenson | Thursday, April 21, 2016
Let’s suppose, for a second, that Goldilocks never found the porridge that was “just right.” Let’s imagine she, with her wandering ways and insatiable hunger, found Little Bear’s porridge to be “alright,” “fine” or even “0 out of 10 would not recommend.” Her quest for superior starch would have forced her to look beyond the cottage — and if she had the very good fortune to come across Uptown Kitchen, Goldilocks would find a dish to delight even the snobbiest of oatmeal connoisseurs.
Founded, owned and operated by Jonathan Lutz, this Granger restaurant serves breakfast and brunch in addition to a dinner menu on Friday and Saturday nights. It sits in a shopping plaza just seven minutes northeast of campus by car when traffic is minimal, as it was when two friends and I piled into a car and set out on our own quest Thursday morning.
Even at 9 a.m., the place is already buzzing. Nearby eateries, shops and grocery stores lie still as their neighbor opens its doors to a cavernous interior alive with the chatter and chewing of breakfast aficionados.
Patrons sit at tables spread through three main spaces — two dining rooms and a bar area — and, weather permitting, fill the outside tables, too. On a Thursday morning, the crowd is mostly middle-aged women and grannies, sometimes with their families, and their sounds ricochet off the spacious walls and ceilings (similar to the deafening cacophony in The Mark, one of Lutz’s other South Bend restaurants).
Everything about Uptown goes uphill from there. In spite of its somewhat strange interior layout and acoustic environment, the place delivers on its promise of top-notch breakfast creations, and the windows and wall openings between dining spaces encourages patrons to feel as though they are truly sharing a meal together. Certainly, ogling other people’s food is a core part of my Uptown experience.
Uptown Kitchen’s menu is large, and recently Lutz revised it, adding some features, taking away others and reorganizing the dishes in a much more aesthetically pleasing layout (the previous book-like menu felt cumbersome). Sections include their omelets, pancakes and waffles, fruits and, of course, oatmeal. The menu also includes sandwiches, soups, salads, pizzas and a quiche of the day, though I cannot say I have ever seen anyone order them.
Uptown is a ritual for me and my friends. The waitress comes by our table to ask for our drink order: We’ll take water and three coffees, two with cream. We pretend to look at the menu and briefly entertain the idea of trying blueberry or raspberry baked oatmeal. When the smooth, soul-comforting coffee arrives, we’re ready to order — one Jonathan’s healthy hash (add avocado and chicken, sub sweet potatoes for regular potatoes, no toast) and two baked oatmeals (cinnamon raisin, skim milk and brown sugar on the side). We go through probably three rounds of coffee refills, always encouraging the waitress to come back frequently, and when we’re ready to leave, we ask for coffee to go — if we forget our travel mugs, the coffee comes in recyclable cups.
In short, Uptown knows how to make a gal feel welcome.
My tip-top recommendation to Goldilocks (and anyone else seeking some home-baked perfection) is and will always be that cinnamon raisin baked oatmeal. In a deep-dish bowl, the square of cake-like oatmeal sits unassumingly unadorned, with a mini pitcher of warm milk (skim or two percent) and a small bowl of brown sugar at the ready off to the side. The concoction reaches perfection when the milk, poured over the cake, seeps into the oats and creates a texture much more resembling that of regular oatmeal. Brown sugar sweetens the mix to taste, adding an additional richness to the spices and subtle, yet distinctive, crunch of the cake.
I have strayed from this thoroughly spiritual experience four times: for a spinach-basil-feta omelet, carrot cake pancakes, banana pancakes and the also-renowned stuffed French toast. All deserve hearty praise — the stuffed French toast, in particular, is the restaurant’s most well known dish. Patrons choose the bread (challah, cinnamon raisin, etc.), and two ingredients from the selection of toppings, which includes fruits, sauces and spreads like chocolate drizzle, Nutella and peanut butter. But cravings always pull me to the oatmeal.
Picky eaters and patrons with allergies or dietary restrictions encounter no trouble at Uptown. My healthy-hash-ordering friend follows a strictly paleo diet, necessitated in part from a serious gluten allergy. She can find dishes of eggs, vegetables and fruits cooked with gluten-free prep, though she, like me, sticks to the healthy hash, her favorite order. A kids section on the menu has less complicated dishes, an added benefit for families that visit Uptown for weekend brunches.
The Mark was not immune to menu changes, either. Perhaps the changes reflect the stability of Uptown and its niche market of brunch-lovers — while The Mark’s condensed, revised list of offerings looks almost like an entirely new menu, with only a few items remaining from the former lineup of dishes, Uptown’s content stays nearly the same. More important, there’s still baked oatmeal.
The reasonably priced offerings are enough to lure hungry college students (and especially their visitors) to enjoy delicious contemporary takes on classic breakfast recipes. Give the place a visit and the menu a try, and I guarantee you, too, will find the dish that makes you feel “just right.”