After spending his childhood absorbing the finer points of pie forging from his father, Darren "DC" Cornell ventured forth on his own to build a reputation preparing pizzas with homemade sauces, never-frozen pepperoni, and fresh, top-shelf ingredients. The pizza baron and his crew melt a signature four-cheese blend over hand-tossed, thin-crust, and Chicago-style pies, christening each discus with patriotic names that celebrate institutions of the United States and laws that allow setting off fireworks indoors. Toppings such as real italian sausage, smoked meats, imported capicola ham, and fresh veggies join with a mélange of sauces and creamy cheeses to grace savory pies and calzones. Hearty sub sandwiches, light wraps, crispy salads, and classic Italian favorites leave diners as satisfied as a snowman swimming in the Arctic.
Samuel Mancino's Italianate empire extends throughout the Midwest, each outpost stocked with a menu of fresh-baked grinders and pizzas loaded with hearty ingredients. A troika of ham, hard salami, and spicy italian sausage powers the signature italian grinder ($6.49 for an 8"), spurred on to its task of filling bellies by green pepper, onion, and melted mozzarella. Mancino's chefs toss dough by hand to give it a fluffy texture and one bittersweet taste of freedom before it meets its fate as a foundation for pizzas laden with fresh, gourmet toppings such as chicken and garlic, or ham, bacon, and pineapple ($15.99+ for a large). For dessert, piping-hot breadsticks return in sugary eveningwear as sweet Cinna-Stix ($5.99).
The hardwood lanes of Country Club Lanes invite amateurs and pros alike to wreak havoc on unsuspecting pins seven nights a week. The alley features bumpers for younger athletes and hosts special glow bowling for those looking to mix up their game or discover new T-shirt lint constellations under the shine of black lights. Strike after strike, spare after spare, players can refuel at the onsite snack stand, which distributes ice-cold refreshments and lighter handheld fare.
The culinary gurus at Charlie's Butcher Block satisfy protein-seeking palates with full meals of fresh-cut meats. The barbecue chicken or beef meal topples scales with five pounds of certified Miller Amish chicken or Hereford beef, complete with 12 buns to feed the hearty hungers of tailgaters, families, or the Wu-Tang Clan. Buckets of fried chicken delight poultry lovers with four oven-fried chicken breasts and four crispy chicken legs or thighs.
Whenever an adult purchases an entree at select restaurants, a child younger than age 12 dines free thanks to The Kids Club Card—an innovative pass that helps families save money when eating out. Participating eateries, such as Applebee’s, Dairy Queen, and T.G.I. Friday's, offer a variety of tastes for patrons who might have otherwise avoided restaurant prices by staying home and eating porridge. Local charities also benefit from the pass, receiving a cut of its proceeds when it's sold in their communities.
The terms “coward” and “brave” are neither insults nor compliments at Bangkok Place Thai Restaurant; rather, they signify the level of spiciness a customer can handle. Chef Keo Phannavong and his wife Ann helm the casual eatery, where Keo brings 20 years of experience—and a slew of his mother’s recipes—to the kitchen. Using fresh ingredients, such as basil leaves, lemon grass, coconut milk, and chili, the master chef concocts a wide range of authentic Thai dishes that pack as little or as much spice as the patron desires or can trick his date into eating. The restaurant offers familiar Thai favorites, such as pad thai and tom yum soup, as well as some more obscure entrees, such as pla jien—a steamed fish topped with ginger and baby corn.
Rulli’s culinarians dish up pasta, pizzas, and seafood dishes born from recipes central to southern Italy, serving patrons in their 25-year-old dining area at their Middlebury location or at their newest spot in Elkhart. A range of appetizers, such as 12 broaster-style chicken wings accompanied by dunk tanks of barbecue, ranch, or vidalia onion sauce, pave the way for heartier main courses or Stooge-level food fights. Velvety ricotta, parmigiana, romano, and provonello cheeses comprise the lasagna’s melty strata, which trundle italian sausage toward forks on fragrant avalanches of marinara and signature sauce. Rulli’s pizza, which has been served at the Elkhart County Fair for two decades, bristle with inventive toppings such as spaghetti and meatballs.
Vivid Italian artwork and murals from local artist Rocky Weaver pepper the dining room, a delightful prelude to the neighboring Rulli's Bella Luna sports bar’s fun neon signage, clacking pool balls, flickering high-definition TVs, and live music. Foam-flecked taps line the full-service bar boasting a selection of robust wines, which nicely complement rowdy bands wailing or grape stomping live atop a well-appointed stage.