One-Two punch

Within the past month or so, I have righted a very serious culinary wrong.

It’s shameful that Tinker Street has been open now for as long as it has, and I’ve only JUST gotten there. If you know anything about dining here in Indy, you’re probably already familiar with the dream team that is Peter George and Tom Main. I’m honored to have recently made their acquaintances myself, although their reputations as creative, warm restaurateurs certainly preceded our introduction.

I visited Tinker Street on a Thursday night with my friend, Eileen, and found myself making pleasant small talk with one of the regulars at the tall communal table on the heated patio as I waited for her to arrive. Once seated, we received small shots of sparkling wine to kick off our meal… and here’s what we ate:

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A delicious plate of beets with Point Reyes blue cheese, paper-thin radish slices and honey. I must admit, I’m a late arrival to the beet party, but now that I’m in the door, I’m not leaving anytime soon.

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Artisan bread slices with herbaceous butter to slather on top. As a young girl, our dinner table ALWAYS included slices of plain white bread and margarine. This is the grown-up, sexy edition.

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Several friends had recommended the shrimp and grits to me, and I can see why. Perfectly tender gulf shrimp, fragrant bisque, creamy grits, green tomato concasse — what’s not to love!?!?

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For dessert, we had what I like to think of as a semi-deconstructed cheesecake. For ages, I’ve been wanting to see someone serve a scoop of cheesecake filling on an ice cream cone or in a sundae glass with hot fudge. The TS “cheesecake” arrives not in a traditional crust, but atop a shortbread cookie round doused with an addictive pineapple jam (can I buy a jar of this to take home, please!?!?!?) and garnished with a few bright citrus segments.

Service was outstanding through our entire meal, by the way…

I was a little quicker on the draw getting to Festiva, Peter and Tom’s most recent project, managing to squeeze in my first visit just a few weeks after it opened! Between my friend Laura and I, we demolished:

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Several (ahem) margaritas. There are three options available, along with some pretty clever and innovative craft cocktails. We sampled the signature Festiva Margarita (with a sugar rim instead of salt, ‘cause that’s how Laura rolls), and the floral, fruity blood orange Margarita Estacional. Both were pretty damn delicious.

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If you put avocado and hot sauce on a shoe, I would eat it, so clearly, an order of guacamole was a given. The presentation here is beautiful, sprinkled with pumpkin and pomegranate seeds, cilantro and serrano peppers. Happily, it tastes every bit as good as it looks.

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It was hard passing up the tacos, but we opted instead to share two entrees. The pozole. Think a deep, rich Mexican chicken soup/stew. If I were feeling under the weather, I’d tuck into a big bowl of this.

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The costillas — pork ribs — were perhaps my favorite thing we ate all night. Super spicy (we’d been warned by our server), meaty and tender. So, so good.

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Laura’s a big flan fan, so that’s what we got for dessert. Again, the presentation was lovely, and the custard was light and silky with sweet caramel syrup poured over and capped off with an edible flower.

Is your appetite is sufficiently whetted? Support our local business scene by checking out these fine establishments for yourself. Just know before you go, both are 21+ crowds only, and neither accept reservations. (P.s. Tinker Street is participating in the Devour Indy promotion going on now through Feb. 5).

http://www.tinkerstreetindy.com
http://www.festivaindy.com

 

Can you dig it?

If you’re a foodie like me, it’s impossible not to dig the scene at Indiana’s biggest and best annual farm-to-fork festival.

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Last weekend, Dig IN made the move from White River State to its new location in Military Park, a set up that seemed to work well. Lots of room to move around in between the six food tents, beverage stations and a couple live music stops. The only thing that seemed like an oversight was the lack of seating. My friends and I took a break from the feeding frenzy to cop a squat in the shade, but the ground was slightly muddy due to all the rain we’ve been having lately. Would have been nice to have some long tables or somewhere to sit and eat.

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And make no mistake about it. There is so, so much to eat here…. Four hours isn’t enough time to really do it justice; it’s logistically impossible to cram in samples from THIS many chefs and food stations. My friends did a much more admirable job than I did, I’m afraid. I tend to fill up quickly, especially after a pint of beer, and cried uncle way too soon.

Still, I feel like I got a good representative sampling. I strategically tried to make a meal of sorts by sampling some veg, soup, salad and meat dishes, and was mostly happy with everything I tasted. Of course… there were some favorites.

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First thing to cross my lips, a watermelon soup with pickled rind relish from the Local Eatery and Pub proved a pretty, and pretty refreshing, way to kick things off.

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Cindy Hawkins of Circle City Sweets splashed out into savory territory this year with a beautiful Dijon-forward tomato tart. Yummy, and a perfect way to highlight spectacular Indiana summer tomatoes at their peak.

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I also enjoyed the blueberry corn salad with cubes of crispy pancetta from Restauration in Lafayette, and really appreciated that the lettuce was served still chilly.

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My friend like the bison tongue misickquatash (a Native American corn succotash-style recipe, best I can tell) and fry bread from Taxman Gastropub more than I did, but I think just knowing it was tongue put me off mentally a bit more than I expected. The meat, however, was super tender…

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Madison’s from Pendleton pulled out some big stops by serving entire legs and thighs for their maple bourbon BBQ duck dish. A lot of meat for one sample, but the bite I enjoyed tasted deliciously smoky, like it had just come straight off a charcoal grill in someone’s backyard. Madison’s also seemed to have the longest lines of the day. Sadly, my friend waited it out to get hers, then accidentally dropped her duck leg in the grass after just a bite or two. #diginfail!

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Cerulean offered a BOLD bacon-wrapped pork belly with a dash of barbecue sauce. Seriously yummy, and seriously ballsy to serve it come-as-you-are. No bread. No garnish. Just in-your-face chunks of meltingly tender porky deliciousness.

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Easily nabbing “most fun station” honors, Revery from Greenwood parsed out samples of liquid nitrogen frozen popcorn. Genius move on a such a hot day, and super fun being able to see your breath when it’s 90 degrees.

There’s so much more of course, and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t even delve into anything sweet! The corn cake with peach, blueberry and corn husk cream from Vida looked beautiful (and how have I not dined here yet?!?!), and the line for coffee sugar cream pie at Bee Coffee Roasters was a mile long. Until next year, Dig IN….

 

 

Say cheese

If you live in central Indiana and you’re all about cheese — and come on, who isn’t? – you’re probably already familiar with Tulip Tree Creamery, owned and operated by local dairy king Fons Smits.

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You can find Fons’ fresh mozzarella, funky Foxglove, herby Nettle, creamy fromage frais, dreamy cultured butter and more at Indy-area farmers markets, on restaurant menus and at select gourmet retail outlets all over town. What you may not know is that Fons and company are generously sharing their knowledge through cheesemaking classes held here in Indy at the Tulip Tree production facility.

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I attended one of these sessions last winter, and was thrilled with the whole experience. Class sizes are kept small — around 12 to 15 — to allow everyone a chance to participate.

Here’s how it all went down. Upon arrival, we were greeted with a festive array of Tulip Tree cheeses and accompaniments like crackers, cherry bomb peppers, baguette slices, dates, nuts and other yummy goodies. Besides TT’s greatest hits, we got the chance to sample the new Tiger Lily tomme offering, an earthy soft cheese with a gorgeous salmon-pink rind. So, so happy to dig in and meet my fellow students while noshing on all the cheese we could eat.

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For me, the whole spread easily stood in for dinner. If you were to order a much smaller cheese platter/plate of this caliber at a local mid-to-upscale restaurant, you’d be shelling out at least $15 or $20 easily.

After filling up, we took our seats to learn about the art and science of cheesemaking. Fons himself greeted us, and then we received a short primer before donning our aprons and hairnets to give it a shot ourselves.

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Cheesemaking is not easy. There’s so much nuance and mad science in the whole process — making sure you achieve the right temperatures, stirring fast or slow enough, monitoring the curds, and a whole bunch of other technical steps along the way.

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Thank goodness our two small groups had excellent coaching, and working as teams, we were able to turn out a tasty queso blanco and stretchy balls of fresh mozzarella. And, everyone got generous samples of both to take home – bonus!!! More than I could eat within a few days, I had to give some away to the neighbors.

A few notes to keep in mind. Classes are BYOB; I brought along a nice Malbec and found my fellow students happily willing to share pours from their bottles as well. The price to attend is $50. At first blush, this may sound a little steep, but when you factor in the amount and quality of cheese you receive and the awesome hands-on experience, it’s well worth the price tag. Also, classes fill up quickly. If you want to attend one, check the web site and sign up as early as you can.

All in all, a super fun — and tasty — way to spend a few hours. I couldn’t help but think this would make a great teambuilding activity, or even an interesting, educational thing to do with kids. I’m excited to see a parent-and-child mozzarella making class on the schedule roster for later in August. My kiddo would LOVE this.

To learn more, tuliptreecreamery.com.

Treat yo self

My son and I are nursing a shared seasonal addiction to Nicey Treat. If you’re not familiar, first of all, shame on you. Secondly, TREAT YO SELF.

For the uninitiated, Nicey Treat = gourmet popsicles made from mostly organic, locally sourced fruit and dairy ingredients. Although they are a little pricey at $3 a pop, I feel they’re healthier than ice cream and therefore worth it.

The flavor roster is always changing, so I’ve made it my summer mission to always try something new on every visit, i.e. never the same order twice. I admit, while I do groove on some flavors more than others, I’ve never been disappointed.

Here’s what we’ve sampled so far this summer:

My son’s go-to is always pink lemonade. On this visit, I tried the mojito… fresh, minty, tart and sweet with lime. We snagged a seat on the popsicle stick bench just outside the store and licked as quickly as we could to stave off drippage. Ideal summer refreshment.

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After a sweaty work out at the Y, I stopped by on my way home for a raspberry buttermilk pop. I figured I’d earned it. Fruity, creamy and delish.

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I spent a recent Saturday holed up working and at the end of the day, decided to break and reward myself with a cookie butter pop dipped in milk chocolate. Sort of like a frozen chocolate chip cookie dough creation. I took a pause to enjoy it behind the building while watching the water in the canal flow by and listening to a cover band tackle “Let My Love Open the Door” wafting up from Flatwater a block away. Total zen moment.

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After slurping down soft pretzels and lemon shake-ups at the Broad Ripple Farmers Market last Saturday, the kiddo and his buddy hit me up for Nicey Treats from the company’s mobile truck. How could I say no to these faces?!!? There were no pink lemonades in stock that day, so the son went with a lime pop instead. His friend got the Not-So-Hot-Chocolate. Both seemed happily satisfied with their selections.M and Nate.jpg

Pro tip: Don’t forget to hold onto your sticks… save 10 and you can redeem them for a free pop of your choice. Nice.

Amy’s Food Flights is now Breakfast, Lynch & Dinner!

I’m back, with a new name!!! Let’s get this party re-started….

Made my weekly pilgrimage to the Broad Ripple Farmers Market yesterday, and here’s what we ate… a soft pretzel with cheese for dipping washed down with a lemon shake-up has become the kiddo’s standard summer Saturday morning breakfast.

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Yesterday, we had a buddy along for the ride. After their breakfast of champions, I was able to shop long enough to purchase a few gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and a slab of Tulip Tree Creamery fresh mozzarella to fix myself a Caprese salad at home. Just look at these beauties… IMG_2194.jpgCan’t say enough good things about the Broad Ripple Farmers Market. Always friendly vendors, great products, tons of cute dogs, and we usually run into people we know. See you there next week!!!

Shades of blue

Indy’s twice-yearly Devour Downtown promotion always provides a great reason to test drive new local eateries, or pay overdue visits to old favorites at reduced prices. For two weeks or so, you can score $30 prix-fixe menus at a couple dozen of the best restaurants in town.

Last night, I grabbed some gal pals and we ventured down from the north side to check out Cerulean. This place has been on my hit list for some time now, and I was eager to get a peek at the Alexander Hotel that houses it.

The hotel itself is sleek and gorgeous. The lobby feels very European (Scandinavian, perhaps?) with modern furniture and lots of clean lines. If we’d had more time, I would have loved to wander for an hour or two and take in all the art, which starts in the parking garage and carries through the common spaces, conference rooms and guest rooms. Pretty neat stuff. If you go, make sure to take a gander at the flying birds installation created from vinyl record cut-outs. And the colorful glass lantern lights that hang throughout the Plat 99 bar on the 2nd level are nothing short of magical.

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Plat 99 on the second level, Alexander Hotel

Our first hiccup was finding the restaurant. The entrance is on the first floor of the hotel. We’d parked on the second floor of the garage, then taken the pedestrian bridge over. We came across Plat 99 first and wondered at first glance if that was it? Nope. It’s not. The guy manning the desk in the hotel lobby (also on the second floor) must have thought we were asking how to get to the restroom, not restaurant, and directed us to the facilities in a quiet corner. Uh uh. Don’t think so. Third time’s the charm, right? We finally managed to take the elevator down a floor and find the rather unassuming Cerulean door in the corner.

Cerulean entrance

Once inside, there’s no mistaking that you’ve definitely arrived at one of the trendiest eateries in town. In keeping with the hotel’s artsy vibe, Cerulean boasts retro-mod light fixtures, tiny bowls of succulent plants on the tables instead of flowers, dark wood and creamy leather seating. The real conversation piece is… what to call this thing?… an igloo structure near the entrance composed of pieces of lumber. If you can imagine, it’s like a giant beaver dam. And if such a thing can be considered trendy, this is. You can even sit at one of a handful of tables inside it. Strange. Yet intriguing. The girls and I occupied a more standard banquette out of the main fray.

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the view from my seat

The wine list here is pretty extensive (in addition to cocktails and craft beer) and required a little time to consider. In the end, I took our server’s suggestion for a sparkling rose, served in a pretty stemless flute. My friends seemed satisfied with their chardonnay and zin.

Foodwise, I’d perused the Devour Downtown menu online and figured that’s what I’d order from, but the regular menu was tempting as well. It’s small enough to be manageable, conveniently divvied into a page each of small, medium and large plates. I’ve heard good things about Cerulean’s bento box-style lunches (note to self, must return to try.) I believe the menu changes seasonally, if not more often, and chef Caleb France gives a nice shout out to all his local food producers and suppliers on the last page of the menu. Although the buffalo chicken skins, chilled corn soup and duck breast with lemon fettuccini all sounded mighty good, I stuck to my original plan and went with the Devour menu. Two of my friends had the same idea, but one ventured out on her own to try the striped bass instead.

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chilled peach soup

The first course on the Devour menu offered a choice of soup or salad. The chilled peach soup was much more savory than I’d expected, topped with a little garnish of diced fruit, several thin slices of cucumber and a drizzle of cream. I loved this. A refreshing starter for a hot summer night, and really delicious.

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Bibb salad

The salad looked good, too, a fresh mound of Bibb lettuce topped with black-eyed peas, tomato and a light buttermilk dressing.

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summer veggies with risotto

The three of us who ordered the Devour offerings all got the same entrée — a flavorful mélange of summer veggies over risotto with a smear each of dandelion and blueberry purees. This, too, was an excellent summer dish. The veggies were nicely cooked, and the risotto was creamy without being heavy. On paper, it didn’t sound like blueberries should work with this, but they did, adding just a touch of sweetness. (The other second course option was a chicken thigh over the same risotto and purees).

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striped bass

My renegade friend loved her fish dish, especially the small tangle of lemon verbena pesto-dressed linguine that came with it.

Last up, the Devour desserts were a choice of chocolate bourbon cream or cherry clafoutis. Tough call. You all know how I feel about bourbon, but I was very curious about the whipped cherry beer on the clafoutis as well. Bourbon won out in the end.

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chocolate bourbon cream

This plate had a lot going on — a luscious quenelle of chocolate bourbon mousse/pudding/ice cream sitting atop a small spoonful of yuzu-poached pears and spiked with a tiny wafer cookie containing, of all things, Pop Rocks. (!) Three tiny dollops of Brie studded with chocolate brioche croutons surrounded the cream (and were basically unnecessary, I thought). The cream was rich and yummy, but I couldn’t really taste any bourbon in it. Overall, good, but won’t go down as one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten.

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cherry clafoutis

My friend who ordered the clafoutis generously let me have a little taste. The cherry cake was beautiful to look at and very moist. The whipped cherry beer foam was interesting, but I’m still trying to decide if I liked it.

Serving sizes throughout the meal were pretty much spot-on. We all cleaned our plates and left feeling full, but not stuffed. Without the Devour deal, prices can get up there when you tack on a drink or two.

We all agreed that we liked the food, but our service left something to be desired. Our waiter was enthusiastic, fun and friendly, but we waited an awfully long time to place our orders, and he dropped the ball when one of my gals ordered a cup of coffee to go with her dessert. Plus, my bill had a major discrepancy — it included an extra $35 charge for an entire bottle of wine I never had. Our guy was apologetic, of course, and fixed the error, but I think we all felt that a little more focused attention would have made a big difference in our overall experience. On the upside, our water glasses never ran low.

Cerulean was cool, maybe a little too trendy for my tastes, but I’m glad I finally got here. Will come back again to sample one of those bento-box lunches, or to have a drink at Plat 99.

For more info: Cerulean.

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