Southern exposure

Last week marked our sixth anniversary, which of course, called for a nice dinner out to celebrate the occasion. Instead of falling back on old standbys, hubby and I decided to break new ground and try somewhere new. We’d snagged a room at the downtown Marriott, and since it was about a gazillion degrees that day/night, we limited our scope to restaurants within a few blocks walking distance of the hotel. Fortunately, there were plenty to choose from. After some discussion, we decided to give Tavern on South a shot.

We’d recently driven past Tavern on South and thought it looked interesting, plus I’d read a pretty good review of the place in Indianapolis Monthly a few issues ago. We like gourmet gastropub grub and were just coming off a great meal at Black Market, so our hopes and expectations were high going in.

Trying to shave off a little bit of our outdoor walk to the restaurant, we took an indoor shortcut from the hotel through the convention center and only had a block or so to go once we emerged into the 110 degree heat index. Ugh. (By some stroke of sheer insanity, we’d both dressed in black. What were we thinking?) Needless to say, al fresco dining was not an option for the evening.

We arrived around 6 and were seated immediately, thank goodness. Our timing was good, the place steadily filled up while we were there. Decorwise, Tavern on South has a nice long dining room area, a busy bar, and some outdoor terrace seating. Décor is dark and colorful, but I must take exception to the TVs. Sigh. I know this is a gastropub, but hubby and I were both terribly distracted by the televisions mounted in each corner right over each other’s shoulders. We’re not SportsCenter fans, but my eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to the TV again and again. Not exactly the romantic vibe you want on your anniversary.

The menu wasn’t as long as I expected, but covered all the bases; one page detailing a couple of pizzas, sandwiches, salads and a handful of entrees. We ordered the kettle chips starter to nibble with our drinks. I’m totally in a kettle chip phase at the moment. If they’re on the menu, I’ll probably order them. These were good, too, super fresh and satisfyingly crunchy, served with a garlic aioli and a refreshing and unexpected red pepper ketchup for dipping.

(I must apologize for not having photos to include with this post… since this was a special personal occasion, it didn’t seem right to tote the Nikon along. Plus, it didn’t really go with my little black dress.)

We had a couple of issues with the entrees, though. First impression — the presentations were great when the dishes arrived at the table. But the chargrilled 7 oz. filet I ordered arrived WELL done instead of the medium I’d asked for. It was chewy and dry, even the luxurious dollop of lobster butter on top couldn’t save it. The little molded timbale of cold artichoke potato salad underneath the steak caught me off guard, but I really liked it.

On hubby’s side of the table, the grilled chicken consisted of two thin boneless breasts with nice chargrilled marks over an asparagus artichoke corn succotash with balsamic syrup. The chicken was much more competently cooked than the steak, but the kitchen committed the unforgivable sin of including some onion in the succotash. Even after hubby specifically quizzed the server about whether or not it was included in the mix and she assured him it wouldn’t be.

As it turned out, hubby loaded up on the chicken and my steak, while I took care of the succotash and my potato salad. I thought the serving sizes were a little on the small side, given the price. My steak plate set us back $26, not terribly good value for what I received.

We thought about dessert, but decided to hold off. In retrospect, Tavern on South seemed a decent representation of an upscale gastropub, but probably not the best choice for a romantic date night. Hubby seemed more impressed with the place than I was. Given the choice between the two, I’d rush back to Black Market instead.

For more info:

Tavern on South on Urbanspoon

To Market, to Market…

Shhh…. have you heard about this new restaurant called Black Market? Indy’s newest gastropub is sneaking onto the local scene with a whisper and not a roar, but with the kind of buzz it’s generating, this secret won’t be kept hush-hush very long.

After hearing great word of mouth from a couple of people whose food opinions I respect, I mentally put it on my radar. And when last night presented an opportunity to enjoy a nice dinner downtown with hubby, we sought it out.

Situated on the far eastern end of Mass Ave, you would easily miss Black Market if you weren’t looking for it. We WERE looking for it and still almost missed it. There’s no sign or any indication whatsoever that this nondescript brick building is a restaurant except for the glimpse of some folks eating at tables in the window. And there’s a cool old bike parked out front. If they’re going for the speakeasy vibe, they’ve definitely nailed it.

Black Market on Mass Ave

As far as restaurants go, Black Market is definitely trendier than the kinds of places I usually frequent, but still friendly and casual enough to make anyone (i.e. hopelessly untrendy types like myself) feel welcome. Inside, the décor is right in keeping with all that semi-industrial modern stuff that’s so popular right now — dark wood, sleek fixtures, exposed brick, a chalkboard wall when you first walk in.

The lighting over the bar is pretty cool, consisting of one long wood beam suspended from the ceiling with little spotlights drilled in down the length. Black Market isn’t big, just a couple of long communal tables down the middle and a few other small tables scattered around. I’d say it was slightly more than half full during our visit. Not really surprising, considering that it’s only been open a few weeks and hasn’t had any sort of big splashy kickoff. I expect crowds will be picking up steadily as word gets out.

The imaginative menu is cleanly presented on a clipboard, detailing small plates, entrees, a handful of sides and a couple desserts. There’s also a well-chosen beer and wine list, but having just come from Tomlinson Tap for a couple of pints, I stuck to water. Our service throughout the meal was impeccable and unpretentious, and the pacing perfect.

On to the food… lots of things sounded good on paper. The housemade pickle plate appetizer and the Fischer Farms beef tongue cocktail with beets, cottage cheese and horseradish both came highly recommended, but we veered off course to sample some other stuff.

Hubby used to live in Wales years ago, so he immediately perked up to see Welsh rarebit among the small plate offerings. Welsh rarebit sounds fancy, but basically it’s an open-faced grilled cheese. This is a good rustic one, with tangy aged cheddar atop a manly slice of toasted barley bread. Did I detect a hint of béchamel beneath the blanket of melty cheese? There was also a sneaky flash of something blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spicy. We devoured this starter with knives and forks and looked forward to more.

Welsh rarebit

For an entrée, we’d decided to share the pork schnitzel with a side of fries. Now, we’ve spent some time in Germany and are well versed in authentic schnitzels that are so big, they arrive hanging off the plate. This is an updated, yet fairly traditional version. The serving size is smaller (although still plenty large) and the breading is lighter, unlike the classic Hoosier tenderloin where half the attraction is pulling off crunchy fried bits of batter to nibble on their own merits. The pork itself was extremely tender and had great flavor; I’m assuming it was locally sourced. We squeezed the slice of lemon over the top and had at it.

schnitzel and slaw

The slaw that accompanied the schnitzel was a great fresh counterpoint – lacy fronds of red and green cabbage with paper thin green apple slices, all in a light tangy dressing. Yum.

The pomme frites-style fries were good too, thin, hot and crisp. No ketchup here, they’re served with a tart lemony housemade mayo spiked with herbs, almost like a really good fresh tartar sauce.

Fearing we would still be hungry (this was ridiculous, as it turned out), we also put in an order for the Gunthorp Farms-sourced pork belly appetizer, advertised on the menu with a sweet and sour glaze and three-bean salad. Our server let us know that they had changed up the preparation for the evening, instead offering the pork belly as a hash with root veggies, duck cracklings and a fried egg. Still sounded totally ok by me.

pork belly hash

In retrospect, we probably should have nixed the pork belly and ordered a dessert to share instead. The hash was good, but the pork was used more as a flavoring ingredient and didn’t really stand out like I’d hope it would. The egg was nicely cooked with a rich, runny yolk (hubby prefers his eggs hard scrambled and stayed away from that side of the plate after I’d cut into it). Between the pork, the duck and the sautéed veg, the whole dish was the tiniest bit greasy and just way too heavy after we’d already eaten cheese bread, schnitzel and fries. I’m not sure what we were thinking. There was also some broccoli fried into the hash, and after a bite of it, that was all I could taste. I was glad we’d eaten this dish last. (Couldn’t help but think this would be awesome hangover food.)

Alas, we were too full for dessert. Boo. The campfire shortbread with chocolate ganache and bourbon marshmallow sounded like a sexy X-rated  s’more.

All in all, our dinner at Black Market was a good experience. The small crowd seemed to be having a jolly time — it gets a little loud in the narrow dining room — and the other plates we spied coming out of the kitchen looked and smelled delicious. Especially the burger and the lamb sausage Scotch egg. Great googly moogly. The menu also gives shout-outs to lots of local suppliers, which I always like to see. It’s reassuring to know exactly where your dinner is coming from (see previous Slow Food post).

We did think the food was on the heavy side, though, especially considering the season. There are a couple of salads on the menu, so it was probably our own fault for making the selections we did. I’d like to revisit in cold weather; I can already picture myself wearing a sweater and being very happy with these meaty meals, a glass of red wine and snow falling gently outside.

Black Market scores. Go now if you want to catch a rising star.

For more information:

Black Market on Urbanspoon