A very bueno breakfast

From what I can tell, Biscuits flies somewhat under the local dining radar, tucked away as it is at the end of the Broad Ripple Station strip mall behind the much larger, much flashier Thr3e Wise Men. After an inaugural breakfast visit with the hubby, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’ve been overlooking this little gem for way too long.

Biscuits in Broad Ripple

The name is something of a misnomer; you wouldn’t expect an authentic Mexican eatery to disguise itself under a name like “Biscuits.” At least, I wouldn’t. Don’t be fooled. This is some yummy, rustic south-of-the-border food.

The décor isn’t anything fancy, just blue booths and tables and a couple televisions. Wasn’t very busy mid-morning on a Wednesday, but the customers we did see were a pleasantly diverse group — business folks, Broad Ripple youngsters, an older couple. The gang’s all here.

I was a little intimidated when I got a peek at the size of the plates. Normally, I’m not a big breakfast eater. A bowl of cereal or a muffin and some coffee usually does me just fine for the a.m. These breakfasts are not messing around. This is a seriously gut-busting amount of food for a morning meal.

Choices include a range of standard short-order fare along the lines of eggs, bacon, toast, B&G (natch) and the like, but I figure you can get that stuff anywhere. Instead, we set our sights on the Mexican offerings – huevos rancheros, quesadillas, chilaquiles, and such. Hubby ordered a breakfast burrito and I opted for the chorizo scramble.

Biscuits massive breakfast burrito

The food was cooked fresh at the grill, and arrived on piping-hot plates. Hubby’s burrito was stuffed with sausage, eggs, cheese and potatoes, served with refried beans (not sure how smart this is first thing in the morning), rice and some shredded lettuce. Not an onion in sight, thank God. He also got a small dish of what I thought was salsa, but was actually more like a spicy blended sauce accompaniment served hot.

Biscuits chorizo scramble

Likewise, my chorizo scramble was darn tasty — a skillet of eggs scrambled with copious amounts of chorizo sausage, potatoes and tons of cheese. I also got a couple of warm very fresh tortillas, a welcome alternative to boring old buttered toast. For garnish, I received a little plastic cup of some sort of chili sauce, but it had obviously come straight from the fridge and concealed into a strange Jell-o consistency. I skipped it and went for a few splashes of Cholula instead.

Our server wasn’t terribly chipper, and the coffee was your basic drip variety served with those terrifying little non-dairy creamers that don’t require refrigeration (my biggest pet peeve when dining out for breakfast), but all in all, Biscuits is a great discovery I was happy to make. Our total bill was $19 for two pre-tip. Not exactly cheap, but certainly a fair price for this amount of food.

Adios for now, amigos. We’ll be back.

Biscuits Cafe on Urbanspoon

All hands on deck

When the sun re-emerges after the long dark days of winter and the temperatures start to soar, there’s one place on Indy’s west side that begs for a visit. Rick’s Cafe Boatyard features perhaps the best deck scene in the city with gorgeous views of Eagle Creek Reservoir. However, since Rick’s is on the polar opposite end of town from where I live, I don’t get there very often. Maybe a couple of times a season, usually alongside hubby as he wines and dines with fellow racing cohorts. Last night, I grabbed my girlfriend Laura and we descended for drinks and some dinner.

Rick’s Boatyard Cafe pre-summer deck scene

The weather in central Indiana has been unseasonably beautiful this month, so Rick’s has busted opened the deck for action earlier than usual this year. And the deck is where you want to be here. The old thermometer was hovering right around 80 degrees yesterday, and the place was jammed when we arrived around 6:45 p.m. The crowd here can best be described as Ike and Jonesy’s West. Everywhere I looked, there were cougars on the prowl, and lots of men hoping to become their prey.

We worried about a wait and contemplated indoor seating, but luck was on our side and Laura was able to quickly snag us an outdoor perch next to the railing. We settled into our spot and waited. And waited. And waited… As I mentioned, the place was slammed, and so was our server. She finally arrived to clear the beer bottles left by the former occupants, and seemed to take her time bringing us our drinks and food, although some kind gentlemen a few tables over seemed to think we were getting much speedier service than they were. This was ok; we weren’t in a hurry and were plenty content to just enjoy a leisurely hang in the warm evening air. Just be forewarned, if you’re really hungry or thirsty and don’t like to wait, an indoor table might be a better idea.

Rick’s claim to fame is its seafood. I recall eating some kind of insanely good dish there a few years ago that included deep-fried lobster, but didn’t see whatever it was on the menu this time around. Dang. We ordered an appetizer of crab-stuffed mushrooms and turned out attention to the mains. The mushrooms took awhile to make their appearance (shocker), and the waitress told us that their preparation takes longer than some of the other starters. Not sure why, but ok. Whatever. They finally showed up — a half dozen or so mushroom caps brimming with crab filling with mornay sauce and melted cheese on top. Didn’t blow me away with flavor, but they were fine.

crab-stuffed ‘shroom

Laura was in the mood for shrimp, and the server told her she could add on “huge” jumbo shrimp to any salad for $4. Per shrimp. Um, hello!? For $4 a pop, those shrimp had better be the size of my foot!

Mahi mahi sandwich with chili fried onions

In the end, Laura changed gears and ordered the Islamorada Mahi-Mahi sandwich. I went with a blackened catfish sandwich, and wasn’t overly impressed with either choice. For supposedly having been coated with spices, my fish was really bland and nearly got lost amid two vast slabs of bread. This sandwich needed a more substantial piece of fish or a much smaller bun, and the whole thing could have used a hearty dose of Tabasco or sriracha (Laura’s Bloody Mary also needed a wake-up call, come to think of it).

blackened catfish sandwich

The fries I seem to remember ordering were conspicuously absent from the plate; instead, I got a little ramekin of cole slaw and another of tartar sauce. Laura fared somewhat better. Her Mahi-Mahi was much meatier with more flavor thanks to the addition of some crunchy chili fried onions.

sunset over Eagle Creek Reservoir

All in all, it was great hanging out on the deck and watching the lovely sunset while sipping a few beers, but I won’t be rushing back to Rick’s anytime soon for the food.

For more information, visit www.rickscafeboatyard.

Rick's Café Boatyard on Urbanspoon

Hit this Bonge

Another day, another outstanding dinner. I’m not trying to brag or anything, but I’m really on a roll when it comes to great meals. Last night, two girlfriends and I enjoyed a fabulous supper at Bonge’s Tavern in Perkinsville.

Located essentially in the middle of nowhere just west of Anderson, we feared we might have gotten lost in the dark on the way up. It takes awhile to make the drive from Indy, but as it turned out, the food and ambiance were WELL worth the 40-minute or so trip.

Bonge’s Tavern on a quiet weeknight

Bonge’s (pronounced with a hard “e” – like BONG-ee) makes its home in an old barn building amid a scattering of residential houses. Festooned as it is with a huge sign and Christmas lights, you can’t miss it.

Customers come from miles around to eat here. Since the dining room isn’t large and they only take reservations for parties of 10 or more, people often find themselves cooling their heels in the gravel parking lots. During the summer months, tailgating makes the wait much more interesting.

As it was, our visit took place on a chilly winter Tuesday night, so there was no one hanging around playing cornhole outside. We didn’t have to wait for a table, but the place was still fairly busy. The décor is cozy, borderline country-kitschy, the kind of place you might expect to receive a good solid serving of barbecue or fried chicken. But no. While still familiar and accessible to most central Indiana palates, this food is upscale and top-shelf when it comes to quality. Think fine dining food without the stuffy, fine dining atmosphere.

Bonge’s Tavern menu on the night of our visit

We settled in and warmed up with a spicy, fruity bottle of Australian Shiraz as we considered our options. There are no hard copy menus; the give-or-take half dozen entree choices are simply scrawled on a chalkboard above the bar — a short list of meat, poultry and fish. No vegetarian options to speak of, although you could easily make a meal out of soup, salad, bread and dessert and be quite happy about it.

Our server ran down the menu with us and described the preparations of each item, which made decision-making even more difficult because everything sounded wonderful. Finally, I went for the Perkinsville pork, and my friends ordered the Harger duck and the scallops. The beer-braised brisket also sounded tempting, as did the NY strip with whiskey peppercorn sauce. So did the chicken breast topped with crab. Heck, it all made my mouth water!

All dinners start with a cup of Bonge’s famous creamy tomato soup or a wedge salad with housemade blue cheese or raspberry vinaigrette dressing. I’m a blue cheese junkie, so I got the salad and my like-minded friends both followed suit. We regretted not at least tasting the soup, though, so Laura asked our server if we could just have a little sample to try. Lo and behold, they brought us each a tiny ramekin, and it was delicious. Topped with croutons, it tasted like a great homemade chunky but creamy tomato soup with a little bit of chili seasoning.

Bonge’s wedge salad

Our salads arrived — massive wedges of iceberg lettuce drenched in awesome blue cheese dressing. I gnawed my way through half or so, trying to save room for the entrée still to come.

the Perkinsville pork

So on to the meat… excuse me. I must take a moment as I remember this food. It was that good. My Perkinsville pork was a tender and flavorful pounded-thin cutlet topped with a lemon slice to squeeze over, on par with the authentic schnitzels I’ve enjoyed in Germany.

the Hargar duck

Laura’s Harger duck was unlike anything I’ve ever seen or tasted. The breast was rolled and stuffed with a jalapeno-laced cream cheese filling; then wrapped with bacon, cooked and topped with a spicy plum barbecue sauce. It sounds strange on paper, but oh. So. Good.

scallops with caper butter

Michelle’s plump scallops were delectably fresh, perfectly cooked and topped with her choice of flavored butter. She went for the caper butter, a perfect complement to the meaty shellfish.

All our entrees were served with a few roasted potatoes and a couple of asparagus spears, which were all fine and dandy, but really took a back seat to the proteins. And you can forget the boring old baguette, the breadbasket here contains squares of super-moist and yummy jalapeno cornbread.

As we were finishing up, a couple of obvious regulars leaving from the next table had seen me taking photos and stopped by to rave about this place. Not that I needed any convincing. Hand on heart, everything we ate was spectacular. The only downside was that we were too stuffed to order a dessert. I can’t wait to come back again.

Bonge’s Tavern is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, and admittance is 21 and up only, so plan your visit accordingly.

For more information, www.bongestavern.com.

Bonge's Tavern Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Pop stars

For months, my friend Laura has been raving about the “best caramel corn EVER,” and urging me to try some. I finally got around to it, and turns out, she’s right. Inga’s Popcorn is pretty damn tasty, and hard to keep your hands out of.

a little Inga's Chocolate Delight

Using family recipes, Inga has created some really delicious caramel corn variations, not to mention cheesy varieties (try the jalapeno cheddar!). A Chicago Combo Mix of caramel and cheddar offers the best of both salty and sweet worlds if you just can’t get off the fence. Or if you have PMS. I sampled the Chicago mix and the new Chocolate Lover’s Delight – a wickedly yummy caramel corn drizzled with ribbons of dark chocolate. Both were so delectably light, they very nearly melt in your mouth.

Inga's cheddar/caramel Chicago Mix

Inga’s secret ingredient? The popcorn itself. For her concoctions, Inga uses only a special kind of organic popcorn grown by Mozingo’s Farms in nearby Brownsburg. This particular strain of corn somehow pops up incredibly fluffy with very little hull to wind up stuck in your teeth.

Inga’s is based in Zionsville, and you can find her various flavored popcorns in stores scattered throughout the village and at the Zionsville farmer’s market. The company just opened a shop in Bloomington to boot, and you can also order popcorn online via her web site.

For more information about how to get your hands on this addictive stuff (and trust me, you want to), visit www.ingaspopcorn.com.

On a side note, a few weeks ago, Laura gifted me a bag of ground cornmeal from Mozingo Farms that’s been sitting in my freezer begging to be used. This week, I busted it out to make some chili-accompanying bacon cheddar corn muffins. However, I think my ratio of cornmeal to flour was off and they turned out way too doughy. I also used a tiny bit of the cornmeal to dust the pan beneath a homemade pizza last night, and it added a fantastic hint of toasty crunch.

Tonight’s experiment – polenta. And a really great one, as it turned out. I’m not well-versed in polenta, so this was an experiment. One I’d eagerly undertake again. I’m also wondering what the difference is between polenta and grits. Anyone? Please feel free to chime in here, readers. From what I can tell, they’re basically the exact same thing, but I’m all ears if you know the difference and want to set me straight.

Polenta, as it turns out, is easy peasy to make, requiring a list of ingredients you can count on one hand and a wee bit of patience. All you do is bring some water and salt (or if you’re me, half water and half chicken stock) to a boil, stir in the cornmeal and then keep on stirring until it loses its grit and becomes soft and velvety, about 20 minutes or so. If it’s too thick you just add a little more liquid to keep things rolling. Also, if you’ve got a splatterguard in your possession, you’ll want to put it to use here. The consistency of this stuff is like molten lava and you do NOT want it splashing up onto your skin. Definitely not a cook-while-naked dish.

When the polenta has reached a silky texture, not unlike mashed potatoes, throw in as much butter as you dare and maybe some cheese. Spoon it onto your plate or into your bowl and top it however you like – standard spaghetti sauce, sautéed veggies, chili… go crazy. I whipped up a quick marinara of sorts with mushroom and onions and it was fab.

polenta with mushroom ragout

If you prefer, you can spread the polenta out into a baking dish while it’s still warm, let it set up, then cut it into squares and eat it that way. Heck, you can even fry the squares lightly in a little olive oil if you really want to kick things up. This is also a surefire way to entice the kids to eat it if yours, like mine did, turn up their noses and refuse to take a taste of the more porridgey version.

A great, easy recipe to have in your bag of tricks. Try in as an alternative to pasta or mashed potatoes sometime and report back.

Cups of Christmas cheer

Forget about the wine – local microbreweries are turning out some fabulous flavored beers perfect for seasonal sipping and pairing with special holiday meals.

Here’s what’s on tap:

Bier Brewery – Brewmaster Darren Conner is cranking through a whole bunch of enticing seasonal quaffs including a pumpkin ale — or as Darren calls it, “liquid pumpkin pie” — brewing now through December; a chocolate stout; and a winter porter spiced with star anise, juniper berries and sweet orange. Check out his web site for availability and get ‘em while you can. This nanobrewery only concocts small batches and when they run out, so does your luck.

Triton Brewing Company – Seek out the new Gingerbread Brown, redolent with all the spice of this classic holiday treat and tapping this Wednesday just in time for Thanksgiving. Also noteworthy, Mike DeWeese says Triton’s Magnificent Amber and Deadeye Stout are both aged in bourbon barrels and spiced with the season-appropriate flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Sun King Brewing Company — Dave Colt and Clay Robinson are cooking up Malus Pi, a tart and tangy wheat beer infused with crabapple juice. Late frost is making it difficult to pin down a definite release date, but the beer should be out sometime during the holiday season.

Das Bier Big Dawg Brew Haus — Richmond’s newest brewing operation has plans for a delicious-sounding dark chocolate peppermint stout to release on or around December 10. With beer this scrumptious, who needs dessert?

Flat 12 Bierwerks — Last year, these porter hounds introduced a glazed ham variation that I’m hoping will make a return engagement this season. Yes, I said glazed ham. Flat 12’s drinkable incarnation conjures hints of allspice, coriander and brown sugar. Keep your eyes peeled…

Upland Brewing Company — This SoBro tasting room is pouring some interesting brews, including Winter Warmer barleywine, a dark and malty English quaff perfect for chasing the chill out of cold snowy nights. Upland has also aged a little bit of last year’s Winter Warmer in three-year-old barrels from Kentucky’s Buffalo Trace Distillery to re-release as Bourbon Barrel Warmer. There’s also Teddy Bear Kisses to consider, a soon-to-be-released velvety Imperial Russian stout with roasty bittersweet chocolate notes.

I’m sure there are plenty more local seasonal beers out there worthy of a holiday dinner. Feel free to add a comment with additional suggestions. This Thanksgiving, I’m toasting to you, fair readers!

Local anesthetic

Nothing around these parts really holds a candle to the authentic Irish pub. Americanized wannabe versions? Forget it. The closest thing I’ve found to the real deal here in Indianapolis would probably have to be the Broad Ripple Brew Pub, but the owner there is English, not Irish, and the two nationalities tend to get a little bent out of shape when you mistake one for the other.

In Ireland, stopping by the pub is the next best thing to parking your butt in your favorite recliner with a nice cold beer at the end of a long day. Maybe even better. The goal of the pub, short for “public house” FYI, is to provide a comfortable, cozy atmosphere not unlike an extension of your own living room where patrons can swing in for a pint, some food, and a chat with friends and neighbors. My Irish in-laws often speak of their “locals” with pride and affection, but it’s hard to find establishments that serve the same purpose stateside in the land of nameless, faceless fast food and soulless chain restaurants. Places where everybody knows your name are few and far between.

After countless visits, meals and drinks, I think hubby and I have established our own local here in Indy. It actually used to be the Broad Ripple Brew Pub; we had our first date there years ago and congregated with friends nearly every Sunday night (and usually at least one additional night each week). Proximity and fondness have since led us to Sahm’s Place, just east of Broad Ripple and within quick walking distance from our home.

Can’t remember exactly when we started to hang out at Sahm’s Place on a regular basis, but it had to have been several years ago when I was pregnant with our son. I was on bed rest for a good three months, and hubby started frequenting the joint. This arrangement worked well — hubby could get out for a break, still be right around the corner if needed, and grab a take-out for me on the way home. Once I was finally mobile again, I recall walking to Sahm’s when the weather broke in April. Heavily pregnant and trying desperately to kick-start my labor, I sat at the bar panting, trying to catch my breath and jealously watching hubby enjoy a beer.

Since those days, one or the other of us has visited Sahm’s probably once a week. It’s become hubby’s regular Wednesday night hang with the guys, we often take our three-year-old in for meals, and I have been known to stop in solo on occasion for dinner. It’s our go-to. They know us there. Heck, they seem to know everybody there. Last night, hardly a soul came in without receiving a personal greeting and hearty handshake. The servers are impressed by the toddler’s ordering abilities. How many little boys do you know can stop in somewhere and ask for “the usual,” knowing he’ll promptly receive a glass of sparkling water with a slice of cucumber? I love that.

Sahm’s Place is one of a handful of Sahm’s locations scattered around town. My cousin Jenny, who lives in Fishers, first turned me on to the franchise way back when. We would stop in the eatery at Allisonville and 116th, and it quickly became “our place.” She even ordered chicken salad sandwiches from there for my baby shower buffet. Sahm’s is cool like that. There’s something about it that feels very homey — definitely the food, but also the fact that it’s family-owned. It’s just the kind of all-around place you can hang out in to watch the game, bring your family for dinner, or meet a girlfriend for lunch or a glass of wine.

Sited in a small strip just in front of Kroger at 65th and Keystone, I almost feel like Sahm’s Place flies a little under the radar, although maybe that’s not accurate to say because it’s usually quite busy whenever we stop in. When you say Sahm’s, most Indy folks probably think of the original flagship Fishers location or the downtown spot, but Sahm’s Place more than holds its own.

view from the end of the bar at Sahm's Place

There is a full-service restaurant section, but we always sit on the bar side. The bar itself is partitioned off by half-walls, so we can still bring the little guy in with us to sit at one of the tables along the far wall. Although there are plenty of good old familiar domestic beer options, I like that Sahm’s puts an emphasis on local and regional craft beers as well. It’s one of the few places that hubby goes in and just asks for whatever they think he’ll like.

Foodwise, the wide-ranging Sahm’s menu covers all the bases for lunch and dinner. If you can’t find something to eat here, you’re just not trying. There’s a good selection of salads, each served with a slice of Sahm’s signature coffeecake for a little sweet treat bonus on the side. I often order the Southwest chicken salad, a huge bowl of fresh lettuce, tomato, cheese, olives and tortilla strips with a spicy grilled chicken breast atop. The double whammy of salsa ranch and creamy lime dressings on the side really make it, though. I could drink both of these out of the ramekins.

buffalo chicken sandwich with carrot curls and a Sun King Wee Mac

The hefty sandwich selections are more than filling, and that’s what we went for last night. I particularly like the buffalo chicken, the breaded tenderloin (this is Indiana, after all), and the spinach melt. On the side? Skip the fries and go for the carrot curls. Think potato chips made from carrot. Yum. Yum. Yum.

the ubiquitous Indiana pork tenderloin

There’s also pasta, stir fry and a handful of entrée items to consider. Sahm’s does a very respectable steak dinner at a good price — ask for your New York strip served Pittsburgh-style on a sizzling platter, and watch the heads turn as the meat wafts its way through the dining room to your table.

Sahm’s offers a number of specials and a Tuesday night pub quiz that’s worth checking out, best to show up early to grab a seat. Hold the phone — Sahm’s serves breakfast, too??? This is definitely something I need to explore…

For more information: 

Sahm’s Place

http://www.sahms.com/index.php?cID=71

Sahm’s Place on Urbanspoon

Life, Libertine, and the pursuit of happiness

I wonder if Neal Brown’s mom ever admonished him to stop playing with his food when he was a kid. If she did, she must be eating her words right about now. As chef-owner of L’Explorateur (closed. boo.), Pizzology and now the Libertine, creative doesn’t even begin to describe the things this guy can do with food and drink.

 

Brown’s Indy fans have been anxiously awaiting the opening of his new speakeasy-ish downtown cocktail bar for what seems like ages. And finally, the wait is over. The Libertine opened about a month ago in a little storefront on Washington Street and has been racking up the raves ever since. I went last night with a small group of girlfriends to test the waters. I must admit to being a little nervous, because I’d been looking forward to it so much. My hopes were high and I reeeeeeaally didn’t want to be disappointed. Happily, I wasn’t. The Libertine more than lived up to my expectations, and I can personally attest that all the accolades are well deserved.

We arrived around 9:30 p.m. on a Saturday night. It was busy, but not absolutely crammed as I’d feared it might be. The Libertine doesn’t take reservations, and we were told the wait for a table would be around 45 minutes. Fortunately, the restaurant provides cocktail service at a couple of tall standing-room-only tables near the front where you can wait. As it turned out, we were seated within 15 minutes, before the first round of drinks even arrived.

The Libertine isn’t large; basically, it’s just one long narrow dining room. The bar runs the length of the space, fronting a wall of cubbyholes that’s been partially filled with bottles, food products, cookbooks and bric-a-brac. A row of four-top tables fills the other side separated from the bar by a long aisle. The décor is dark, sleek and sophisticated, heavy on IKEA-style touches like groovy hanging light fixtures over the tables and what looks like white tree branches growing through the wall at the back by the restrooms.

The menu isn’t big, either, but it requires some serious consideration just because everything sounds so unusual. I mean this in the best possible way. At the Libertine, cocktails deserve equal (if not greater) billing to the food, commandeering more than the top half of the one-page bill of fare. And what cocktails they are… Brown has taken the same innovative approach he uses with food and applied it to alcohol to turn out some really distinctive combinations. Even the names are clever. “Yes, I’d like a Dirty Little Whirlwind, please.” Or, “Could you bring me another Truth and Reconciliation when you get a minute?” You can get beer and wine here as well, but you’re really doing yourself a disservice if you don’t try at least one mixed drink.

the Seelbach Cocktail

I’m trying to train for an upcoming bourbon-tasting media tour in Kentucky, so I ordered a little number called the Seelbach Cocktail, named for the fancy historic hotel in Louisville. Served in a sexy curvy stemmed glass, the drink consists of vintage bourbon with orange juice, lemon juice, a splash of fizzy Prosecco and a strip of orange peel. I enjoyed it so much, I ordered a second. Icy cold, sweet but not too sweet, and much more palatable than the Manhattans I’ve been drinking elsewhere lately.

Other beverage choices around the table included a Dark and Stormy made with rum, ginger beer and lime; a lovely floral St. Germain cocktail; and the Paloma Smash — a crush of La Cava Blanco, grapefruit and mint. I thought the Dark and Stormy tasted like a Coke with a bit of ginger after-kick.

My friend Gillian insists I mention the ice. The Dark and Stormy and the later Pimm’s Cup she ordered (a fresh punch of sorts comprised of gin, cucumber, lemon and ginger beer) held big oversized cubes that kept the drinks cold but melted slowly enough that they didn’t dilute the flavors. A small detail that makes a big difference.

If you like absinthe, you can find it here, although the stuff scares the crap out of me. The real-deal French variety is hallucinogenic and causes some really trippy reactions from what I’ve heard. Our waitress assured us the version they serve at the Libertine is toned down and “as legal as it can be in the U.S.” She said you really have to love the flavor of black licorice to enjoy it, and I don’t. No one at our table ordered any, but I would have liked to see someone at another table ask for some just so we could see the elaborate preparation process.

I’m curious which concept came first at the Libertine, the cocktails or the food. The small selection of a dozen and a half small plates is ideally suited to complement the drinks. You can certainly make a dinner out of the choices, but don’t expect full meal plates of oversized portions here. Each offering is a perfectly sized and packed-with-flavor appetizer. For our repast, we picked two items to share amongst the group and then each ordered another individual small plate or two of our own choosing.

The first thing I sought out on the menu was the bacon flight, something I’d caught prior wind of in a review I’d read. Not just an urban legend, there it was. We agreed to share that, along with the Manchego crostini. (I lobbied for the daily selection of deviled eggs, am putting that front and center for my next visit.)

Libertine’s bacon flight

But back to the bacon… this is NOT your grandpa’s greasy Jimmy Dean breakfast special. The Libertine bacon commands immediate respect, arriving in a silver goblet. The five or six strips come with a series of three garnish accompaniments — a pesto, tiny cubes of brunoised pickled carrot, and a spicy goat cheese spread. I can’t remember exactly what kind of bacon we got. I do recall the server saying something about a lamb variation and a double-smoked strip, but after that, it all blends into a deliciously salty haze. (There’s a very real possibility that my Seelbach Cocktail could have been kicking in here.) The crunchy carrots were my favorite adornment; the acidity was a great flavor component to balance out some of the fatty richness of the meat. One gal in our group who hates goat cheese kept going back for more of it on this dish, if that tells you anything about how good it was.

The crostini were ok, little toasts topped with artichoke and pine nuts buried under an avalanche of shredded Manchego cheese, but didn’t stand out as much as some of the other stuff we ate.

chicken pate and waffles

For my solo plate, I opted for the Gunthorp Farms chicken liver pate over waffles – Brown’s whimsical spin on the more traditional chicken and waffles you find at soul food eateries like my beloved Roscoe’s in Los Angeles. This was another dish I’d read about online and was intrigued by. The presentation was pretty awesome: two disks of pate on top of two small stacked waffles with a little bit of hot sauce on the bottom of the plate and a drizzle of bourbon syrup poured over tableside. Did I mention there was a little piece of crispy fried chicken skin on top? Oh yes, there was. I’ll fess up — I don’t have much experience with pate, and I can’t say in all honesty that this dish made me a fan. It was interesting to be sure, and I have no doubt the pate was top-notch, but I guess my palate just isn’t accustomed to the texture.

What else was there? Let’s see… the roasted mushroom salad with cauliflower puree and chickpeas looked and tasted delish.

duck meatballs over gnocchi

One member of our group ordered a duck meatballs over crispy potato gnocchi dish that she was very happy with, saying it was something meat-and-potato lovers would definitely like.

The beef tataki dish was sort of a seared carpaccio over arugula with fennel. It looked a lot like tuna, but was a little too rare for my taste. I wussed out and just nibbled an edge of the meat to taste it. The Proper Ham and Cheese sandwich was one of the more fairly straightforward choices. Gruyere and mornay sauce took the whole thing over the top into the realm of decadence, and the Smoking Goose Meatery-sourced ham was melt-in-your-mouth tender.

the one-eyed Jack

One of the biggest hits at the table was something called “One-Eyed Jack,” a toad-in-the-hole kind of thing with a egg nestled into a thick slice of grilled bread. It was served with fig butter and garlic confit, which sounds a little weird on paper, but was a fantastic combination when all put together. You’ve gotta really like garlic to enjoy this one, though. I only had one bite and the first thing hubby said to me when I got home was, “Wow. Garlic, huh?”

Small plate prices run anywhere from $6 for the radish plate to $15 for the oyster selection du jour. Many items hover in the $8 or $9 range, which seems totally fair for the quality and creativity involved.

The Libertine doesn’t offer any desserts, which is too bad. I would love to see what Brown would do here in this capacity. But whatever. I can’t wait to go back.

living it up at Libertine with the gals

For more information, visit:

http://www.libertineindy.com/

Libertine on Urbanspoon

Cake walk

For me, one of the most memorable scenes in “Bridesmaids” was not the infamously disgusting bridal shop debacle, although that one is pretty hard to forget. It was the scene where Kristen Wiig, portraying a pastry chef, goes into her home kitchen and proceeds to bang out one of the most drop-dead gorgeous single-serving cupcakes I’ve ever seen.

I enjoy cupcakes and prefer them to ice cream if I’m going out for a sweet treat, but they’re not something I seek out on a regular basis. In fact, I have a great basic cupcake recipe that I like playing around with at home as the mood strikes me. However, my recent trip to Parcha Sweets, in conjunction with the past few episodes of Top Chef Just Desserts, has been a stark reminder me that I am indeed a mere amateur when it comes to cranking out culinary creations of the pastry variety.

Parcha Sweets exterior

When I saw Parcha Sweets open last fall in the old Domino’s Pizza building on 62nd Street just east of Broad Ripple, I thought… huh? Now, after finally making a visit nearly a year later, I get it. If you look close, you can figure out what the repainted building used to be without much trouble, but inside, you’d never guess high school hacks used to sling pies here. It’s really warm, cute and cozy. Parcha encourages customers to take a load off and relax by providing organic coffee, magazines, free Wifi, and even a small table and chairs for the kiddos, a smart move if you want to appeal to the mom crowd.

In case you’re wondering about the name, “parcha” means passion fruit in the chef’s Puerto Rican homeland. Here in Indy, she offers cookies, pies, bread pudding, old-fashioned coconut macaroons and other baked goods, but the cupcakes the real rock stars, displayed in a countertop cluster of glass cake stands. And they are gorgeous. There are about a dozen flavors to choose from daily. Some of the stands had already been depleted by the time I stopped by mid-afternoon; thankfully, there were still plenty of mouthwatering choices.

I used my book club meeting as an excuse to visit, looking for a dessert to contribute to the evening’s group. I’d read online somewhere that Parcha Sweets offered mini-cupcakes, which I thought would be a great way for us to sample several flavors each. Alas, the nice young gal who waited on me said they’d stopped making the minis because they were too difficult to package without falling over. Hmph. Well, no matter, I figured we’d just cut the full-size cupcakes into fourths. Additionally, one of the ladies in my book club has a son who’s dealing with a list of food allergies that would make your head spin. As a show of solidarity, she’s following the same restrictive diet he’s on. So with her in mind, I asked about gluten-free, vegan cupcakes (I’d also read in another online review that Parcha did these as well). Found out they’re not regularly available, either. Just for special orders, apparently.

I had trouble making selections when so many of the cupcakes looked so tempting and finally just asked the server to pick eight and box them up for me. Packaging is thoughtfully designed to preserve the integrity of the cupcakes – sturdy cardboard boxes with molded holders inside to keep those little beauties from sliding around if you take a sharp turn. And a little ribbon and sticker on the top. Pretty.

Parcha Sweets cupcakes to go

Let’s get on to the main event… here’s what we sampled and our impressions of each:

the Red Velvet

Red Velvet – the hands-down favorite of the bunch. Rich, luscious claret cake topped with a mountain of creamy cream cheese frosting. Delectable. Everyone who tasted this one loved it.

Lemon – ricotta lemon cake filled with a lemon cream and topped with lemon buttercream. Another crowd pleaser.

Peanut Salty Caramel – tasted sort of like a Snickers bar. Chocolate cake with a caramel filling, peanut butter frosting and a few chopped nuts on top for garnish. I could have eaten the peanut butter frosting with a spoon, but the cake was a little dry, and the caramel filling was a little too liquid.

Carrot – a big hit with the gals who like carrot cake. Moist and delicious with more of that yummy cream cheese frosting on top.

the Chocolate Passion

Chocolate Passion – chocolate cake with a big pile of chocolate ganache topping. Almost overkill on the chocolate, if there is such a thing. The ganache was firm on top, not soft like frosting, which kinda threw us a little bit. However, I’m positive my son would LOVE this.

Wedding Cake – got mixed reviews, but I really liked it. Creamy vanilla cake topped with what tasted like amaretto buttercream frosting. The sweet almond flavor really comes through.

the S’mores

S’mores – chocolate cake with chocolate ganache, marshmallow filling (toasted on top) and graham cracker crumbs. Good, but not great. It looked really intriguing, but we found the marshmallow a bit chewy.

Caribbean Coconut – one gal in the group really liked this one, the rest thought it was ok. The cake was a wee bit dry, but there was tons of good coconut flavor.

Parcha Sweets prices are a little steep – $2.99 for a beautiful cupcake of average size, which is a few cents higher than what you’d pay at Flying Cupcake and Holy Cow. Although you do get a 10 percent discount if you order more than six. Just make sure you don’t eat all six by yourself in one sitting. It could happen…

For more information:

http://www.parchasweets.com/

Parcha Sweets on Urbanspoon

Don't dodge this draft

I realize it seems I’m writing about nothing but beer lately, but hey, that’s what’s going on here in Indianapolis at the moment! Our fair city seems to be in the midst of a microbrewery boom, so I figure it’s only prudent for me as a freelance food writer to keep on top of the trends, n’est pas?

Last night, hubby and I checked out the brand spanking new Triton Brewing Company on the grounds of Fort Benjamin Harrison, a former military post on the northeast side of town. Named for the Greek god of water and housed in a renovated circa-1920s mule barn, Triton’s got it going on when it comes to curb appeal.

Triton Brewing Company from the approach

Although technically it makes its home in an old barn, the inside is uber modern, sophisticated and sparkling clean with high beamed ceilings, dark wood and shiny brewing apparatus visible through the windows into the room where all the magic happens. This is perhaps the nicest tasting room I’ve seen in town, and easily passes as a full-fledged bar. One small complaint, though — with a few televisions mounted around the room, a decent crowd of people and fairly loud music playing, it’s a little on the noisy side in here.

Inside the Triton tasting room

Triton doesn’t do the traditional beer tastings I’ve seen elsewhere where you stand in line at pouring counters to get a little swig in a plastic cup. Here, you get actual table service. If you want a taste of something, they’ll bring it to you in a small honest-to-God glass tumbler. This process takes a little longer, of course, but that’s ok.

This snazzy microbrewery has only been open for a couple of weeks, so there were only three Triton beers available for tasting last night. Inventory will increase as time goes on, of course. In the meantime, the menu also offers a handful of guest taps to round out the mix, as well as samples from New Day Meadery in Fountain Square.

You can get pints of anything on the menu for $5 – $6 a pop, but we decided to do a beer flight – six 5-oz. pours of the various brews for $9. The flights are served in those same glass tumblers on slotted wooden cutting boards. Top marks for presentation.

Beer flight at Triton

Of the Triton beers we sampled, I enjoyed the mellow, toasty, caramel-y Four Barrel Brown the best, with the Fieldhouse Wheat coming in a close second. Through trial and error over the past year or so, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not really an amber fan, nor do I care much for IPAs. Browns, wheats and the occasional stouts are much more my speed.

In addition to the three Triton offerings, we filled out our flight with pours of Rivertown Helles Lager from Cincinnati and Oktoberfest from Sun King — both light, refreshing and highly drinkable. The Triton root beer was the only sample of the six that we didn’t really care for. The flavor was a little bland and it wasn’t fizzy at all. More carbonation definitely would have helped.

Although Triton isn’t personally cooking up the vittles, there are a couple food options available including Taste of Philly soft pretzels (if this isn’t a match made in heaven, I don’t know what is). Hoosier Fat Daddy food truck was parked right outside the front door and open for business during our visit; visitors can order up and bring their food indoors to enjoy along with their beverage of choice.

All in all, we were impressed with Triton. Very nice facility in an unusual historic setting, good local beers, interesting food options. What’s not to like? Triton even offers tours of the brewery for a behind-the-scenes look at the whole process. Sweet.

For more information:

http://tritonbrewing.com/

Don’t dodge this draft

I realize it seems I’m writing about nothing but beer lately, but hey, that’s what’s going on here in Indianapolis at the moment! Our fair city seems to be in the midst of a microbrewery boom, so I figure it’s only prudent for me as a freelance food writer to keep on top of the trends, n’est pas?

Last night, hubby and I checked out the brand spanking new Triton Brewing Company on the grounds of Fort Benjamin Harrison, a former military post on the northeast side of town. Named for the Greek god of water and housed in a renovated circa-1920s mule barn, Triton’s got it going on when it comes to curb appeal.

Triton Brewing Company from the approach

Although technically it makes its home in an old barn, the inside is uber modern, sophisticated and sparkling clean with high beamed ceilings, dark wood and shiny brewing apparatus visible through the windows into the room where all the magic happens. This is perhaps the nicest tasting room I’ve seen in town, and easily passes as a full-fledged bar. One small complaint, though — with a few televisions mounted around the room, a decent crowd of people and fairly loud music playing, it’s a little on the noisy side in here.

Inside the Triton tasting room

Triton doesn’t do the traditional beer tastings I’ve seen elsewhere where you stand in line at pouring counters to get a little swig in a plastic cup. Here, you get actual table service. If you want a taste of something, they’ll bring it to you in a small honest-to-God glass tumbler. This process takes a little longer, of course, but that’s ok.

This snazzy microbrewery has only been open for a couple of weeks, so there were only three Triton beers available for tasting last night. Inventory will increase as time goes on, of course. In the meantime, the menu also offers a handful of guest taps to round out the mix, as well as samples from New Day Meadery in Fountain Square.

You can get pints of anything on the menu for $5 – $6 a pop, but we decided to do a beer flight – six 5-oz. pours of the various brews for $9. The flights are served in those same glass tumblers on slotted wooden cutting boards. Top marks for presentation.

Beer flight at Triton

Of the Triton beers we sampled, I enjoyed the mellow, toasty, caramel-y Four Barrel Brown the best, with the Fieldhouse Wheat coming in a close second. Through trial and error over the past year or so, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not really an amber fan, nor do I care much for IPAs. Browns, wheats and the occasional stouts are much more my speed.

In addition to the three Triton offerings, we filled out our flight with pours of Rivertown Helles Lager from Cincinnati and Oktoberfest from Sun King — both light, refreshing and highly drinkable. The Triton root beer was the only sample of the six that we didn’t really care for. The flavor was a little bland and it wasn’t fizzy at all. More carbonation definitely would have helped.

Although Triton isn’t personally cooking up the vittles, there are a couple food options available including Taste of Philly soft pretzels (if this isn’t a match made in heaven, I don’t know what is). Hoosier Fat Daddy food truck was parked right outside the front door and open for business during our visit; visitors can order up and bring their food indoors to enjoy along with their beverage of choice.

All in all, we were impressed with Triton. Very nice facility in an unusual historic setting, good local beers, interesting food options. What’s not to like? Triton even offers tours of the brewery for a behind-the-scenes look at the whole process. Sweet.

For more information:

http://tritonbrewing.com/