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Scene in South Bend: Render Kitchen & Bar

| Friday, January 27, 2017

Render_Web1 (1)DOMINIQUE DeMOE | The Observer

My friend’s mom is a veterinarian. When I told her that I had reserved our group — me, my two college-aged friends and our moms — a table at a new South Bend restaurant named “Render,” her first instinct was to laugh out loud. “‘Render’ is what you do to cows to melt down the fat,” she explained, chuckling. “Why on Earth would you name a restaurant that?”

Once we walked in the doors of the upscale casual Render Kitchen & Bar later that night, its name started to make a bit more sense. Interpreted more leniently, the name fits the pared down and modern aesthetics of the space. As the name suggests, the walls are stripped of excess decoration and sport a clean, white interior design, complemented by original exposed brick. The floor plan is pleasantly open, and when the weather is nice accordion doors in the front of the restaurant open onto the street, overlooking a view of the green slopes of Howard Park across the road. This December night, our group of six sat comfortable and warm at a table right in front of the large glass windows, and from my vantage point I had a beautiful view of South Bend cityscape, with the inky-blue curve of the Saint Joseph River glistening under streetlights.

All of these environmental details filtered in as I took stock of my surroundings — but at the moment I sat down, starving after a long day, all I could really focus on was the upcoming meal ahead of me. I was not disappointed: In mid-December, Render’s menu tasted like a burst of spring, both satisfying and surprising.

Render serves small plates of contemporary American cuisine and prides itself on “fresh,” “modern” and “different” arrangements, both in terms of palette and aesthetic — like the deconstructed roasted beet salad, served in a beautiful ring of purple beet slices with watercress, pistachios and goat cheese placed artfully around. With the help of six enthusiastic and hungry eaters, my friends and I were able to taste-test nearly everything the Kitchen had to offer. My personal favorite was the Berkshire pork medallions, paired with an apple-based sauce, apple cubes and mustard seed. Salty-sweet combinations are my weakness, and this pairing hit that particular taste profile out of the park. Every plate that came out of the kitchen was exciting to look at and even better to taste.

Render Kitchen & Bar, a relatively new introduction to the South Bend food scene, opened in July of 2016. Its co-owners, Bryan Robertson, Hilary Maich and head chef Eamonn McParland, worked together at Café Navarre before starting Render, now located in the flourishing East Bank Village. East Bank is quickly becoming an exciting and eclectic foodie destination — just down the street from Render, the General Deli and Cafe opened in July and Purple Porch Co-Op is only a few blocks away.

In the spirit of some of its neighboring establishments, Render sources much of its product from local vendors, including Purple Porch, Zen Café and Michiana Greens. Every dish at Render is prepared from scratch, and the distinguished quality of the ingredients and preparation manifests in every dish.

Even though my group made a reservation for an ordinary Tuesday at 7 p.m., every seat was filled by the time we got to the restaurant, so I would suggest making a reservation ahead of time if possible, especially for a larger group. More importantly, build enough time into your schedule so that you can truly savor each dish: caught up in conversation and lost in the various delicious options, our group took almost three hours to wander our way through our meal, finishing it off with pear panna cotta, a dark chocolate-tasting plate, and locally-roasted French press coffee. Not all experiences at Render would necessarily take that long — but it’s a nice opportunity, once in a while, to truly decompress in an extended and genuine way over the shared experience of food and conversation.

My dinner at Render Kitchen & Bar over Christmas break stands out in my memory as a shining, colorful spot in an otherwise monotone month. The exciting fresh food, the youthful environment and the cheerful company reminded me that the sunlit days are in fact getting longer and that spring, believe it or not, is actually right around the corner. So, my suggestion for cheering up on a dismal day is this: take a person — or persons! — you love to Render and sit back and relax. Make an evening out of it.

Render Kitchen & Bar is located at 517 E. Jefferson Blvd, across from Howard Park. For more information visit their website at www.rendersouthbend.com or call the restaurant (574) 239-7777. Small plates range from $8 to $30. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m. and Friday through Saturday, 4 to 11 p.m. Reservations are accepted — not always necessary but nevertheless encouraged.

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About Nora McGreevy

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