I found myself in South Bend, IN a few weeks back staying near the campus of Notre Dame. I was trying to figure out where to go for dinner and nothing was sounding good to me. I went to the front desk to inquire with the young lady what options where in the area. She gave me a sheet on some restaurants and I saw a place called Between the Buns that was a sports bar. I wanted to watch some basketball that evening, so I decided to head over there for some basketball, beer and food.
The Between the Buns in South Bend is located on S. Bend Ave. east of the Notre Dame campus. (See map) This was the second location of what were five total locations for Between the Buns at one point in Northern Indiana. (There are three Between the Buns locations in the South Bend/Elkhart area.)
The first Between the Buns was established in 1985 when the sports bar concept was still in its infancy. Partners Tom Wilson, Sr. and Phil Schreiber opened the sports bar in Osceola, a suburb of South Bend and it was the first sports bar in the area. It wasn't big compared to some sports bars today - it only seated 85 people. Schreiber ran the day-to-day operations at Between the Buns.
In 2000, Tom Wilson's son, Tommy, joined the company and the group opened the South Bend location. In 2006, Between the Buns merged with an Elkhart restaurant/ banquet facility The Matterhorn to open the Elkhart location of the sports bar. The Matterhorn's ownership team of Bruce Tassell and Kurt Janowsky had been approached years earlier by Tom Wilson, Sr. (who was a business partner of Tassell's in the 70's) and Schreiber to put in a Between the Buns location in what was then The Matterhorn's under utilized dining area. The group initially determined that the kitchen would be too small to have both Between the Buns and The Matterhorn sharing the facility. But an expansion of the kitchen allowed for Between the Buns to take over the restaurant part of The Matterhorn while the other part of the building continued to hosts banquets and receptions. (Between the Buns locations in Mishawaka and in Granger opened and closed over the past few years.)
In 2012, Phil Schreiber gave up the management of day-to-day operations of Between the Buns and bought the Chicory Cafe in South Bend, a small New Orleans-style coffee shop. Schreiber - who is a co-owner of the Chicory Cafe with his wife, Julie, and Jeff Morauski - is still a partner in Between the Buns with Tom and Tommy Wilson.
The South Bend location of Between the Buns is located in a strip mall. As I waked in, I noticed a sign where ESPN designated Between the Buns as one of the Top 8 sports bars in North America. (I found out later on that it was designated by a voting process - I'm sure the bar got their patrons to "stuff" the ballot box. But still, it had to be a pretty good marketing effort for the bar to pull it off.)
(Update - I got a very nice e-mail from Dave from Between the Buns thanking me for the honest review of the place and explaining the run-up to getting named as one of ESPN's Top 8 Sports Bars in North America.
"Just wanted to clue you in on the ESPN thing. We were nominated with a description of our place, ESPN selected us as one of the Top 8, then after that, it became a voting thing amongst the top 8 finalists (of which we were one) for the #1 spot. The contest started as "in the US", but then they changed it to "in North America" so that they could name a Canadian bar as #1. They would not tell us, even after many requests, the ranking of the remaining 7. The Canadian bar just happens to be in the same city as Canada's ESPN sister company. But enough about rigging and conspiracies.")
So, there you go!
(And it was also at this point that I realized that all the pictures that I had taken during my visit to Between the Buns had mysteriously vanished from my computer. I ended up lifting some pictures from Between the Buns' Facebook page.)
There are two parts of Between the Buns - there's a dining room to the left as you come in, and a bar area with booths and tables to the right. I was greeted by a young girl who asked me if I wanted to sit in the bar or in the dining room. I opted for a booth in the bar area.
Between the Buns was similar to a number of sports bars I've been to in the past. Both parts of the place had a number of flat screen televisions, sports memorabilia including jerseys and pictures, and a very lively atmosphere. I was looking through the menu when my server for the evening, Holly, came over to greet me. They had a pretty good beer menu at Between the Buns, but that evening they had a $2.00 special on Budweiser products. I couldn't pass that up even though they had Kona, Bell's and 3 Floyd's products available.
Most of the items on the menu are your typical sports bar fare - a number of appetizers, soups and salads, burgers, and sandwiches on the menu. Many of the sandwiches and burgers were named for sports stars or sports teams.
I wasn't really fired up for a burger, but I didn't really see anything on the sandwich menu that really tripped my trigger. I looked through the burgers and while they had some interesting selections - The Angry Knight (named after former Indiana University head basketball coach Bob Knight) starts out with Cajun seasoning on the burger, topped with Ken's Boom-Boom Sauce, bacon, frizzled onions, jalapeno peppers and pepperjack cheese - I ended up just getting the Razorback burger that had bacon and Swiss cheese. I asked Holly if I could get some sauteed mushrooms with the burger and she said it was no problem.
She asked me what kind of bun that I wanted with the burger. Holly said, "We have plain, whole wheat, onion..." I stopped her there and told her onion was fine. "....or pretzel." I immediately changed my mind. She sort of laughed and said, "See? You jumped the gun!"
For a side, I had a choice of steak fries, onion chips, baked beans, cole slaw and a couple three other sides. For a $1.00 upcharge I could choose a 1/2 order of onion rings, steamed veggies, a bowl of chili or sweet potato fries. I took the onion rings. "Our onion rings are good," Holly said as she grabbed my menu from me.
Now, I'm really upset that I lost the pictures of the burger and the onion rings that I had. This burger is pulled from their Facebook page, but it is nowhere close to how good my burger looked - both in thickness and it presentation. Between the Buns features a 6 ounce, fresh ground, hand-pattied chargrilled burger.
And I had to take a step back when she brought the 1/2 basket of onion rings. The rings were big, thick and heavily battered. There were seven or eight of them in the basket and they were all huge. I incredulously said to Holly, "This is a half order?" She confirmed that it was. I took one out of the basket, placed it on a plate and put a fork next to it to establish the size as I took a picture. I'm upset that I lost the pictures. Crap...
Holly was off getting me another $2.00 bottle of beer and I started to look around at the cheese and bacon on my burger. I realized that they forgot to put sauteed mushrooms on my burger. When she came back, I told her that I didn't have any mushrooms on my burger. "Really," she asked with a hint of exasperation in her voice. "I'll go get some for you." A moment later, she reappeared with a small 4 ounce cup filled to the brim with sauteed mushrooms. "I got you a few more just because they forgot," she told me. Holly was doing a great job.
The pretzel bun was sort of dry. No, it was really dry. And there was too much of it. I was taking bites of the burger and having to pull pieces of the crown of the pretzel bun away from the burger. It was not a good bun, probably one of the worst pretzel buns I've ever had.
The burger, on its own, was fine. It was juicy and had a pretty good flavor to it for a chargrilled burger. The Swiss cheese, bacon and mushroom were a splendid taste combination with the burger. I ended up just taking the pretzel bun off the top and finished up by eating it with a fork. I thought through the meal that I wish I would have gone with the onion bun.
The onion rings were very greasy. They were fine - not the best I've had - but the onions inside the batter were sweet and tasty. The batter was thick and greasy and had a somewhat oily taste. They were good, but not great. I could only eat three of the behemoth onion rings.
While the burger patty was good, the overall taste of the burger at Between the Buns was dampened by the pretzel bun. It was dry and not fresh at all. The huge onion rings - a half order is enough for two people - were all right. I couldn't beat the price on the beer special and Holly's service was impeccable. They had a great selection of games to watch - if a game is on, Between the Buns has it. My experience was fine, but nothing special. It was a typical sports bar with typical sports bar food.
(UPDATE - After over 30 years in business, Between the Buns closed their doors at the end of 2015. It appears the same owners are going to be taking the restaurant in a different direction with a more upscale restaurant tentatively called Taphouse on the Edge. Reportedly the new restaurant will be featuring micro brews, craft cocktails, and a new menu featuring organic, locally grown ingredients, grass-fed beef and non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) food items on the menu. Sounds like a place I may have to try at some point. Thanks to Dave formerly of Between the Buns for contacting me to let me know.)