I was staying at a hotel off Interstate 80 in the Elkhart area one night as I was going to be seeing a local dealer in the morning. I really didn't want to eat at the hotel, and there was a restaurant that was walking distance from the hotel that didn't really appeal to me. I started to do some on-line searches for places in the immediate area and I found a place with an interesting name just up the road from the hotel - the Flippin' Cow. It sounded fun and I thought I go give it a shot.
Cam Snyder is a local restaurateur who bought the Lakeshore Grill in 2002. From there, he opened the Chubby Trout, a steak and seafood joint, in February of 2006. In March of 2011, Snyder took over what was the second location of a restaurant by the name of Michael's Italian Restaurant and renamed it Fat Tomato. Snyder ran Fat Tomato for a year and a half before he sold it to his chef Bill O'Brien. (Fat Tomato closed in November of 2014 after business suffered due to road construction in front of the building.)
Meanwhile, Snyder and his son, Ryan, came up with a new concept for the Lakeshore Grill - a hand-crafted burger place. They closed the Lakeshore Grill after Thanksgiving weekend in 2012, then reopened the Flippin' Cow in December of that year.
(Last summer, Snyder closed the original Chubby Trout restaurant and moved it to what was an old barn on the north side of Elkhart that originally housed D'Antini Italian Restaurant, then it was a breakfast place by the name of Golden Egg Pancake House. It turned out the Chubby Trout was the restaurant within walking distance from my hotel that I wasn't interested in trying that evening.)
The Flippin' Cow is located on the west end of Simonton Lake on State Road 19 about a half-mile south of the Indiana/Michigan state line. (see map) The parking lot was not that large and there were a lot of cars in the lot. Thanks to someone who was leaving when I pulled in I was able to find a single spot. (I'm guessing that in the summer time they have a large dock that accommodates boaters on the lake.)
In front of the door going into the building is a life-size statue of a Holstein cow. I rubbed its nose, then I walked into a place that seemed sort of cozy, but had a summertime vibe to it. A mural of a blue sky, a beach, palm trees and water was painted across the ceiling. It had a sort of a cabin-type decor along the walls. I first found a high metal table, but it was wobbly. The people who had just left were seated in a booth and once they cleaned off the tabletop, I moved over there.
There's a four-seasons room between the main dining area and the lake just off the building. It featured picnic table-type seating in a room that was surrounded by windows. A small deck for outside seating was off to the side of this dining room. I took a mental note to come back sometime when the weather was nicer to see what this place looked like.
The place was packed with people playing "Opinion". From listening to the M.C., from what I gathered is that groups of people were polled and their answers were the basis of questions like "What's the all-time Best Movie Sequel?" or "What's the Most Recognized Hotel Chain?" And then teams of players would submit their answers to match up against the top 3 answers of the opinion groups. I believe the top answer would get the players 5 points, the second top opinion answer would get 3 points if you picked that one, and the third one would get a team 1 point. (For the record, the top movie sequel was Godfather II, a no-brainer in my book. But the most recognized hotel chain? I guessed Holiday Inn, but the M.C. told the crowd that the opinion group said it was Hilton. Now, I almost exclusively stay in Hilton properties, but I probably would have even picked Super 8 over Hilton.)
While all this was going one, my server had come over to greet me and to drop off a menu. Her name was Kristen, a friendly young lady who was effervescent and outgoing. She was telling me of a couple house beers they had on tap - Cam Snyder is also somewhat of a brewer who has his beers brewed at the Mountain Town Brewing Co. in Mt. Pleasant, MI. I ended up getting a Bell's Two Hearted Ale in a 25 ounce glass.
The menu at the Flippin' Cow is, of course, burger-centric with a number of signature burgers including the Stella Moo - a double-patties burger topped with smoked brisket, jalapeño bacon, onion straws, pepper jack cheese and BBQ sauce on a toasted wheat brioche bun. They also had the Maui Wowie - two steak patties cooked in teriyaki glaze, then topped with Swiss cheese and a grilled pineapple slice and served on a toasted sweet pretzel bun. The one that I immediately said "NO!" to was the Hunka Hunka Love burger - two patties topped with peanut butter, jalapeño jelly, melted pepper jack cheese and smoked bacon, served on a toasted pretzel bun. Actually, that burger sounded good without the peanut butter.
In addition to burgers, the Flippin' Cow featured a number of sandwiches including a smoked brisket sandwich; a "grown-up" grilled cheese sandwich with three different types of cheese, bacon and a tomato slice; and an open-faced strip steak sandwich smothered in grilled onions and sautéed mushrooms. Appetizers included pretzel sticks, deep-fried pickles, and mojos - sliced deep-fried potatoes with a dusting of some spices. Evidently mojos were big in Elkhart back when Shakey's Pizza Parlors were proliferating the restaurant landscape across America.
And for the people who can't handle burgers or deep-fried foods, the Flippin' Cow also has salads and wraps. But the most sinful thing on the menu was the "Not yo Mama's" Mac & Cheese. It featured a mixture of three cheeses baked with macaroni noodles and topped with cheddar cheese. You could add Buffalo chicken and a blue cheese topping or get the Bacon-Cheeseburger mac & cheese that was topped with crumbled bacon and ground steak beef.
Most of the crowd had filtered out by the time Kristen brought my burger out to me - which was fine with me. I ordered up the "Build-Your-Own" burger with two ground steak patties and had it topped with pepper jack cheese, sautéed mushrooms and a couple slices of bacon on a potato bun. The presentation wasn't fancy - the burger was served in a basket with wax paper underneath. But I wasn't thinking anything was going to be too fancy at the Flippin' Cow.
I'm glad I got the double burger as the patties start out as 5 ounce ground steak and are cooked on a flat-top grill. The patties were thin, but still juicy. The pepper jack cheese was slathered on the burger patties and it gave the burger a bit of a spicy taste. The sliced mushrooms appeared to be fresh and along with the bacon gave the overall taste of the burger a very enjoyable flavor.
For my side that evening, Kristen sold me on the loaded tater tots. The tots were topped with a cheddar cheese sauce, chopped jalapeños and real bacon bits. The loaded tots were just outstanding. I usually don't eat potatoes all that much when I'm out at restaurants, but these were simply wonderful. I complemented Kristen for her recommendation.
It was a very good burger at the Flippin' Cow. The double ground steak patty topped with the pepper jack cheese, sautéed mushrooms and bacon on a potato bun was definitely well above average for a burger. But the loaded tater tots were simply outstanding. It was a nice, laid-back atmosphere that probably only gets better during the summer months when boaters are hooked up to the docks for burgers and brews at the Flippin' Cow. Winter or summer, the Flippin' Cow is a good place to stop for a good burger and a good choice of beers. (Photo courtesy Flippin' Cow Facebook page.)