BY CHRISTINE BARBOUR
Not everyone finds inspiration wrapped up in fragrant masa dough and cornhusks, but though Erika Yochum’s Feast Bakery Cafe at the corner of South Henderson Street and East Hillside Drive on Bloomington’s south side has many wonderful things on its menu, a rotating selection of luscious tamales is the heart of her business.
Depending on the day, those tamales might be stuffed with green chilies and cheese, roasted vegetables, black beans and goat cheese, beef mole, cheddar and buffalo chorizo, mango chicken, slow-roasted duck and sweet potatoes, or any of a dozen possibilities. Feast sells the tamales to eat on the spot with their fabulous homemade salsas, or frozen for home consumption, and it’s not a bad idea to keep your freezer stocked for unexpected cravings.
But as soon as you walk into Feast you realize that, tamale hot spot or no, there is a lot more on offer here. Yochum’s aunt and business partner, Pat Sellers, is an extraordinary baker, and glass cases show off her creations—muffins; flaky pastries (do not miss the pain au chocolat!); fresh pies and cheesecakes; cookies and bars like the Vermont chews, rich in maple and coconut; and the salted caramel shortbread.
And tamales aren’t the only savory items—meat pies; soups; salads; and sandwiches, like the BLT with avocado and goat cheese; the homemade meatloaf; and the tempeh burger please the palates of meat-eaters and vegetarians alike. The Sunday brunch menu varies but often includes eggs benedict, corn cakes with scrambled eggs, and blintzes.
One reason that the food at Feast is so delicious is that Yochum and Sellers are committed to sustainable practices and seek out fresh, local, seasonal ingredients whenever possible from area producers such as Fiedler Family Farms (pork and beef), Gunthorp Farms (chicken and duck), Traders Point Creamery and Capriole Farmstead (cheese and dairy), and the Brown County Coffee Company. With a newly acquired alcohol license they are now offering ten beers (many local) and hard cider in a pomegranate blueberry mimosa.
Niece and aunt hail from a food-obsessed family. With its assistance, Yochum ran her own restaurant outside Ann Arbor, Michigan, before they all pulled up stakes and bought a Brown County farm in 1998. Once here, she cooked at the Runcible Spoon, Roots on the Square, and elsewhere, but it was a move to California in 1999 that set her on the road to tamales. When she returned to Bloomington in 2001 she began selling the steamy packets of cornmeal and spiced fillings at the Saturday morning Farmers’ Market. Before long she was catering tamale weddings and in the winter meeting addicted customers in parking lots so they could get their fix.
As she began thinking about a permanent venue, the whole family once again got involved, helping to design the restaurant, build its furniture, and grow and cook its food. “The thing that makes this work,” says Yochum, “is that it’s our whole family. We love being together and we would never let each other down.” After a meal at Feast, full of tamales and homemade fruit pie, the only real question my husband and I have is, will they adopt us?