Plug 24460 Adams Road in South Bend, Indiana into your GPS and you’ll find yourself at an off-the-beaten-path historic Brethren Church amid cornfields secluded by arbor vitae. This destination location is home to the celebrated Carriage House Dining Room and Gardens.
Since opening in 1975, the Carriage House Dining Room and Gardens has earned an impressive reputation as one of the most nationally recognized fine dining restaurants in the state of Indiana, garnering many awards including the coveted AAA Four Diamond Award and the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence—ratings they have received for more than 25 years.
When the original owners of the Carriage House were ready to retire in 2015, Joshua Bishop and Rodney Fields, who both worked at the Carriage House at the time, didn’t want to see the long-standing business leave the community. So they took a chance to run their first business and decided to continue building the legacy of the Carriage House.
The Carriage House Dining Room and Gardens is one of those places where the server begins by asking, “What are we celebrating tonight?” And even if you don’t have an answer, Joshua and Rodney have created a dining experience that certainly provides cause for celebration.
“We made a conscious choice not to change much with the fine dining aspect when we reopened the restaurant in May 2015,” says Rodney. “We wanted to keep up the standards people expected.”
After the first year of owning the Carriage House, Joshua and Rodney came to see the untapped potential of the business and opportunities that weren’t being fully pursued—specifically events. “Putting the Carriage House on the map as an event venue has been a main focus,” says Joshua, “We host garden weddings, private events, and special occasions of all kinds.”
And while these private events fill the calendar each year, there are also plenty of events open to the public in the summer months, including live music on Friday and Saturday in the two-acre gardens.
In 2001, head gardener Mike Spillman began cultivating what is now a postcard-worthy botanical bounty boasting a kaleidoscopic array of colors. The flower calendar starts in late April and is planned meticulously so there are always flowers in bloom. Guests are invited to wander the fairytale-like gardens and dine al fresco alongside the heirloom peonies, hydrangeas, and countless flowering trees and bushes while enjoying craft beer, signature cocktails, and a seasonally changing menu.
The open-air dining area houses a separate kitchen from the one inside, featuring more playful dishes and hand-stretched wood-fired artisan pizzas. “Every year we change the outdoor menu,” says Joshua. “We keep a handful of staples and then we add new things that South Bend might not already have.”
Whether you dine al fresco or reserve a table indoors sheltered by 40-foot ceilings accentuated by hand-hewn poplar beams, you can expected the be handed a menu that artistically blends classic French preparation methods with modern Midwestern influences. Each and every dish is exquisitely crafted and built using the highest quality meat and seafood from premium suppliers as well as the freshest local produce from neighboring farms and herbs from their own garden.
While Joshua and Rodney continue to uphold standards and add their own personal touches to the restaurant here and there, one thing has been subtracted from the equation.
“We wanted to take the pretentiousness out of fine dining and the intimidation that comes with sitting down to a place setting that includes three forks and four knives,” says Joshua.
When you have more utensils than you know what to do with, the highly trained and educated staff is there not only to serve you, but also to convey situations in a straightforward manner. Guests can relax knowing they won’t be judged if a formal dining faux pas is committed and they certainly don’t have to be some elite epicurean to dine at the Carriage House. Joshua, Rodney, and the rest of the staff go above and beyond to create a fine dining experience that provides the VIP treatment to everyone.
“We are old-fashioned traditional dining with a Midwestern friendlessness,” says Rodney. We just want everyone to enjoy their time with us and not worry about things like which fork to use.”