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

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Beam me up, Scotty's

For the past month or so, hubby has developed a habit of taking the toddler out to the pub for a cold beverage and some daddy-son bonding so I can enjoy some uninterrupted work time. The Broad Ripple Brew Pub and Sahm’s have always been our go-tos, but they’ve lately been usurped by a newcomer on the Broad Ripple scene – Thr3e Wise Men.

Part of the Scotty’s Brewhouse enterprise, Thr3e Wise Men opened earlier this spring. We’d watched it slowly take shape in the old Sunflower Market building for months before that, with huge brewing vats nearly big enough to resemble farm silos. I finally made it to said establishment with my guys just a week or so ago to check it out for myself.

Inside, Thr3e Wise Men looks unfinished – light wood walls, exposed beams, views of the brewing apparatus through windows, beer barrel tabletops, picnic tables and silverware wrapped in hand towels instead of napkins (a detail that strikes me as slightly crass). On the upside, it’s airy, clean and family-friendly, which is great news for parents who enjoy beer.

For my inaugural visit, hubby and I visited alone, having snagged a brief babysitting respite from our generous neighbors. We were seated inside at a table in the corner. The menu isn’t big, mainly just pizzas and a few appetizers. This is, first and foremost, a brewing facility, after all. Food here seems to be treated as something to complement the beer. This isn’t to say the food is bad, quite the contrary.

The beer selection covers a good range of flavors and styles – everything from IPAs to an Irish stout and even a porter made with locally produced Hubbard & Cravens coffee. Interesting. I had my eye on the Naptown Nut Brown, but the server then told me they were out of it, along with a couple of the other offerings. So I narrowed my sights to the Two Lucys blackberry wheat and the Sanctaneous hefeweizen. The server was kind enough to bring me a small taste of each to help me make up my mind. In retrospect, I really should have just ordered a sampler. Maybe next time.

(A quick side note – I want to have a job thinking up names for microbrewed beers. This seems like the next best thing to working for a cosmetics company and coming up with cutesy call signs for nail polish and lipstick colors.)

Snow Bunny Blonde and Two Lucys Blackberry Wheat

I enjoyed my pint of blackberry porter, nicely light and refreshing with a bright tangy fruit flavor. Hubby’s partial to the Snow Bunny Blonde, and has been filling up growlers regularly to bring home ever since he discovered it. A small complaint, though, the pints here aren’t true pints. We have been spoiled in this category by the Brew Pub, which serves full Imperial pints as opposed to the smaller faux-pints you get at Thr3e Wise Men. Obviously, this makes the Thr3e Wise Men beer a little more expensive as well.

Hubby and I were only intending to have a drink, not dinner, but we ended up filling up on the snacky apps and calling it a meal. Every table receives a free bucket of fresh popcorn, for starters. The housemade thick-sliced potato chips are awesome and addictive, tossed in a salty house seasoning mix. And, you get a HUGE baking sheet full of them for a mere $3. If this isn’t one of the best deals in town, I don’t know what is. You can also order them loaded with bacon and blue cheese sauce for $6.

housemade chips and popcorn

By the time hubby and I had chowed our way through the chips, we were already more than halfway there to a full dinner anyway, so we went ahead and ordered a pizza as well. Hubby’s tried some of the flatbread pizzas here and pronounced them quite good, but something called a hummus pizza piqued my interest, described on the menu as a freshly baked pizza crust with roasted red pepper hummus and a cucumber relish. Of course, the cucumber relish contained onions, so we asked for it on the side. Yummy – this was really a full-sized pizza with some innovative toppings, and although hubby wouldn’t touch the cucumber topping, I loved it. Oh, and the whole pizza was only $7.

Other items rounding out the Thr3e Wise Men menu include wings, breadsticks, a tableside tossed chopped salad and fried pickle chips (I still can’t decide whether these sound tasty or horrifying). For dessert, a short list of choices includes carrot cake, German chocolate cake and elephant ears.

All in all, a great first experience. We even ran into our friends Bart and Pete at the bar, an added bonus!

We revisited Thr3e Wise Men yesterday around 4:30 p.m. with the whole family in tow, intending once again to just have a drink. This time, we sat outside watching the traffic go by on busy Broad Ripple Avenue (railings kept the boys safely contained so we could relax). The boys loved the lemonade served in little plastic astronaut cups, and again, by the time we’d all plowed our way through the popcorn and another platterful of chips, we’d filled up enough for dinner.

Thr3e Wise Men seems to have a good thing going here, and is a welcome shot in the arm to a Broad Ripple microbrewery scene that was really in need of a little healthy competition.

For more info:

http://www.thr3ewisemen.com/

Thr3e Wise Men Brewing Co. on Urbanspoon

Beam me up, Scotty’s

For the past month or so, hubby has developed a habit of taking the toddler out to the pub for a cold beverage and some daddy-son bonding so I can enjoy some uninterrupted work time. The Broad Ripple Brew Pub and Sahm’s have always been our go-tos, but they’ve lately been usurped by a newcomer on the Broad Ripple scene – Thr3e Wise Men.

Part of the Scotty’s Brewhouse enterprise, Thr3e Wise Men opened earlier this spring. We’d watched it slowly take shape in the old Sunflower Market building for months before that, with huge brewing vats nearly big enough to resemble farm silos. I finally made it to said establishment with my guys just a week or so ago to check it out for myself.

Inside, Thr3e Wise Men looks unfinished – light wood walls, exposed beams, views of the brewing apparatus through windows, beer barrel tabletops, picnic tables and silverware wrapped in hand towels instead of napkins (a detail that strikes me as slightly crass). On the upside, it’s airy, clean and family-friendly, which is great news for parents who enjoy beer.

For my inaugural visit, hubby and I visited alone, having snagged a brief babysitting respite from our generous neighbors. We were seated inside at a table in the corner. The menu isn’t big, mainly just pizzas and a few appetizers. This is, first and foremost, a brewing facility, after all. Food here seems to be treated as something to complement the beer. This isn’t to say the food is bad, quite the contrary.

The beer selection covers a good range of flavors and styles – everything from IPAs to an Irish stout and even a porter made with locally produced Hubbard & Cravens coffee. Interesting. I had my eye on the Naptown Nut Brown, but the server then told me they were out of it, along with a couple of the other offerings. So I narrowed my sights to the Two Lucys blackberry wheat and the Sanctaneous hefeweizen. The server was kind enough to bring me a small taste of each to help me make up my mind. In retrospect, I really should have just ordered a sampler. Maybe next time.

(A quick side note – I want to have a job thinking up names for microbrewed beers. This seems like the next best thing to working for a cosmetics company and coming up with cutesy call signs for nail polish and lipstick colors.)

Snow Bunny Blonde and Two Lucys Blackberry Wheat

I enjoyed my pint of blackberry porter, nicely light and refreshing with a bright tangy fruit flavor. Hubby’s partial to the Snow Bunny Blonde, and has been filling up growlers regularly to bring home ever since he discovered it. A small complaint, though, the pints here aren’t true pints. We have been spoiled in this category by the Brew Pub, which serves full Imperial pints as opposed to the smaller faux-pints you get at Thr3e Wise Men. Obviously, this makes the Thr3e Wise Men beer a little more expensive as well.

Hubby and I were only intending to have a drink, not dinner, but we ended up filling up on the snacky apps and calling it a meal. Every table receives a free bucket of fresh popcorn, for starters. The housemade thick-sliced potato chips are awesome and addictive, tossed in a salty house seasoning mix. And, you get a HUGE baking sheet full of them for a mere $3. If this isn’t one of the best deals in town, I don’t know what is. You can also order them loaded with bacon and blue cheese sauce for $6.

housemade chips and popcorn

By the time hubby and I had chowed our way through the chips, we were already more than halfway there to a full dinner anyway, so we went ahead and ordered a pizza as well. Hubby’s tried some of the flatbread pizzas here and pronounced them quite good, but something called a hummus pizza piqued my interest, described on the menu as a freshly baked pizza crust with roasted red pepper hummus and a cucumber relish. Of course, the cucumber relish contained onions, so we asked for it on the side. Yummy – this was really a full-sized pizza with some innovative toppings, and although hubby wouldn’t touch the cucumber topping, I loved it. Oh, and the whole pizza was only $7.

Other items rounding out the Thr3e Wise Men menu include wings, breadsticks, a tableside tossed chopped salad and fried pickle chips (I still can’t decide whether these sound tasty or horrifying). For dessert, a short list of choices includes carrot cake, German chocolate cake and elephant ears.

All in all, a great first experience. We even ran into our friends Bart and Pete at the bar, an added bonus!

We revisited Thr3e Wise Men yesterday around 4:30 p.m. with the whole family in tow, intending once again to just have a drink. This time, we sat outside watching the traffic go by on busy Broad Ripple Avenue (railings kept the boys safely contained so we could relax). The boys loved the lemonade served in little plastic astronaut cups, and again, by the time we’d all plowed our way through the popcorn and another platterful of chips, we’d filled up enough for dinner.

Thr3e Wise Men seems to have a good thing going here, and is a welcome shot in the arm to a Broad Ripple microbrewery scene that was really in need of a little healthy competition.

For more info:

http://www.thr3ewisemen.com/

Thr3e Wise Men Brewing Co. on Urbanspoon

Baby steps

It appears, much to my chagrin, that I am raising a picky eater.

As a self-professed gourmet cook, I’ve always harbored visions of raising appreciative little diners who would boast great palates from an early age and happily slurp up whatever I put down on the plate in front of them. I pledged I would never be one of those moms who make two separate dinners a night – one for the grown-ups and one for the kids. Then I had a baby and realized that, as with every other facet of life after you have a child, I am no longer the one calling the shots.

I read an article in (the sadly, now defunct) Gourmet magazine awhile back about the dumbing down of children’s cuisine and how it’s up to the parents not to always cop-out with a Happy Meal. The writer referenced a young boy who loved Chinese food and got upset when, assuming he was finished, a waitress once took his plate away before he could enjoy his duck tongues or some such delicacy. Like most two-year-olds, I’m afraid mine seems destined for a life of mac and cheese.

My two eldest nieces in Ireland are championship eaters, the kind I hope my own child will one day become. When they came to visit us about two months after my son was born (ages 5 and 7 at the time, if memory holds), they scarfed down mussels marinara at the Broad Ripple Brew Pub, and Bazbeaux pizza topped with shrimp and snow peas. During a more recent visit in Ireland, I noted that they partook of a cheese platter with the same gusto as the adults did, preferring the pungent blue to the milder Brie. I’m telling ya, these girls know good food. I pity the poor guys who are going to come calling in about ten years – they’d better pick their dinner date destinations carefully if they hope to impress.

This side of the pond, we are stuck in something of a culinary rut. Every day, I find myself preparing the same menus for Michael with only the slightest variations. Breakfast – Dora the Explorer yogurt (and ONLY the pink Dora yogurt will do), milk and perhaps a few bites of a muffin or a pancake. For lunch, he eats fruit, crackers or pretzels, and maybe some peanut butter. Snacks consist of animal crackers, a Nutri-grain bar or Gummi-bearish juice treats. Dinner is whatever I can get down his little gullet. Veggies and dip, pizza, French fries, a cheese stick, toast, maybe a scrambled egg if he’s feeling really edgy. Surely, Michael’s getting as bored with these meals as I am. I suppose he figures if it isn’t broken, then why taste it?

I don’t pretend to understand what goes on with a toddler’s taste buds during these formative years. How can Michael love kalamata olives, for God’s sake, but soundly refuse to put even a sliver of roast chicken in his mouth? Are we raising a vegetarian? The only meat he will deign to ingest is the occasional tiniest bit of crispy bacon. Cheeseburgers? Nope. Chicken nuggets? Uh uh. He even turned down peppermint stick ice cream the other night — what kid DOES that?

Even more mind-boggling, how can the little guy be sooooo into something one week, and then completely shun it the next? I really thought we were onto something with the pasta. Over the holidays, both he and his stepbrother made short work of my homemade angel hair pasta pomodoro like nobody’s business, but last week when I dished up a serving of fettuccine alfredo? No dice. Not even a taste. Just a sniff of the nose and a resoundingly whiny “No, mommy, I don’t WIKE that!”

I know I’m probably expecting too much too soon. After all, I seem to recall my own Cocoa Krispies breakfast habit that lasted well into junior high, and I didn’t really start digging fresh vegetables until college. Heck, I still sometimes eat a sleeve of Pop Tarts with a spoonful or two of peanut butter and call it dinner.

And things have improved some since the dark stretch last year that I refer to as the Ritz-cracker-and-Cheerio period. My son is perfectly healthy. He eats fruit like a champ. He gets enough protein and plenty of whole grains. He only receives fast food once in a great while. I’ll just have to persevere, giving him tastes of entrees, sides and sauces from my plate before resorting to the old standbys. With luck, one day a sense of dining diversity will catch on. He has recently started requesting “sparkling water with orange juice and a slice of lemon, please,” so maybe there’s still hope for him yet.

Strange daze…

I had the strangest evening tonight at the Broad Ripple Brew Pub.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, for hubby and I, the Brew Pub is sort of our place. (Well, really, it’s his place, I guess I just married into it.) It’s the closest thing hubby has to a “local,” a traditional Irish public house near your own home that you frequent so much they know you by name and drink preference. Hubby and I met for the first time at the Brew Pub, in fact, on our auspicious first blind date. I was both impressed and slightly alarmed that the staff all greeted him by name. Three pints of strong microbrewed ale followed and the rest, as they say, is history.

But I digress… Hubby’s been on yet another business trip, so baby and I decided we would venture out tonight to the BP for dinner and some (for mommy, much-needed) social interaction. We always see someone we know there, and I was hoping some of our regular circle would be in attendance. When the weather’s nice, as it was today, the gang usually congregates just outside the entrance to chat and partake of the lovely house beverages.

On the approach, I saw several folks I recognized, but more of hubby’s acquaintances than mine. The few friends I had texted about coming out were not able to join us, but I decided to make the best of it. After all, baby and I were already out and that was half the battle won.

Baby started squawking for his dinner, and I was getting hungry myself, so I put my name in for an outdoor table. The hostess seemed a little surprised to learn it was just me and the bambino, but as I’ve written about before, I have no problem dining out on my own, and I knew the baby would certainly keep me busy enough.

We were seated toward the back of the outdoor tables on the nonsmoking side. I pulled baby’s stroller up next to me and fed him his strained vegetables and cheese puffs, stealing sips of my chardonnay in between bites. In typical fashion, he ended up immediately throwing every item I gave him in an attempt at appeasement onto the floor, which I retrieved as quickly as possible to keep the wait staff from stepping on said items.

As I was trying to keep baby amused and waiting for my pesto chicken sandwich to arrive, a 50-ish couple entered, stage left. You know how when you’re on a plane and the seat next to you is empty… You sit there waiting nervously, watching every passenger come on board, silently praying that you don’t get stuck sitting next to some annoying chatty Cathy or some weirdo who falls asleep and drools on your shoulder? That’s exactly how I felt tonight.

I heard them before I saw them; a wispy woman dressed in a bright yellow flowered dress, wafting perfume, with a blond updo and lots of makeup, trailed by a graying, mustached average Joe wearing glasses, shorts and a polo shirt. If I’ve ever seen a woman who screamed “high maintenance” without ever opening her mouth, she was it. The woman was complaining, none too quietly, to the hostess that she wasn’t getting precisely the table she wanted because it was too hot for her to sit in the sun. I saw that the hostess was intending to herd them into the seats at the table next to me, which was shaded, so I wasn’t sure exactly what she was bitching about. For some reason, she suddenly changed her tune and said the table was fine.

The poor waiter, I could nearly see his shoulders rise as he approached their table. First, she insisted on making a big deal about asking if the pub still had the “Lawnmower” ale, apparently trying to impress her date by letting him know she was really in the inner circle here. (Which, of course, they do, it’s one of their signature items.) Then she tried to order for her date, quizzing the waiter about the other brews, even though each is detailed in fairly good length within the menu itself, as he so politely pointed out.

“But YOU’RE the waiter,” she said. “YOU should be able to tell us…”

I could actually see the waiter bristle at that. Finally, she insisted on having the waiter bring her date a sample of her choice so he could make sure he really liked it before committing to a pint. Now come on. I got the feeling at this point that this was her date and average Joe was really just along for the ride.

I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation; this unlikely duo was obviously on a first Match.com or some such date. It was all “so, what do you exactly” and “how did you get interested in that” chit chat, mostly her asking the questions and then proceeding to go right ahead and keep on talking instead of waiting for an answer. The woman also mentioned her ex-husband several times in rapid succession, and she had the most insincere fake laugh I’ve ever heard. She had sort of a new-age hippie vibe going on as well and talked a lot about living in California. No surprise there, really.

Amid all this enlightening banter, I was trying to keep baby amused with flagging success. At one point, he let loose with two or three ear-splitting squeals, as babies are sometimes apt to do. Not angry squeals, just “hey, I have a voice now and I’m going to use it for fun” squeals.

I uttered blanket apologies and quickly leaned over to hush the baby as a few other diners around us looked our way and smiled nonchalantly. Except for High Maintenance.

“Excuse me, is that your child?”

Uh, no, I just enjoy taking random babies out to dinner. Of course it’s my child, bimbo!

“Yes. Sorry, he just likes to squeal sometimes,” I think was my reply.

“Well,” she said pointedly, “WE like to talk.”

I was so flabbergasted, I couldn’t even respond. Did this bitch REALLY just all but tell me to keep my baby quiet so she could carry on a conversation about God knows what kind of superficial insanity? Yes, yes, she did. She and Joe went back to their scintillating exchange as I silently seethed.

Now, I totally respect the fact that not everyone is automatically enraptured with my baby, and I don’t expect them to be. However, he is only one year old! Cut him, and me, some slack if he wants to screech a little! He wasn’t wailing or throwing a temper tantrum. He is a well-behaved little guy for the most part, and I expect the people around me to weather his few-and-far-between outbursts with a certain level of tolerance. I felt this woman was totally out of line. After all, we were outside at a family-friendly dining establishment, not to mention the fact that every few minutes, a Harley roared by on the street not 20 feet away from where we were sitting.

My meal arrived and I proceeded to eat as fast as I could while wrestling the baby on my lap, both of us getting angrier by the minute. I was halfway tempted to pinch him and make him squeal again on purpose, just to provoke High Maintenance to say something else and give me a valid reason to go off. But alas, she kept her many opinions to herself, and Joe.

Baby was getting pretty hot and restless at this point, so I paid my tab, loaded him back into the stroller and prepared to leave. We had to pass the table of doom on the way out, and as I wheeled by, High Maintenance nearly leapt out of her chair, all smiles. Which creeped me out.

“I just wanted to tell you, you have the most precious baby! What’s his name?”

Uh, what??? I figured maybe she felt bad about jumping all up in my grill, so I went along with it.

“How ever did he make that adorable sound with the straw?”

I explained as patiently as I could that while he was chewing on a straw earlier for sheer entertainment value, the squealing noises he made were just him. She looked dumbfounded, convinced that he’d discovered some miraculously clever party trick.

“Does he like hockey? I could get him season tickets… Larry Bird was my neighbor.”

For real, lady??? This was getting weirder by the second. I couldn’t get away fast enough, although now I’m dying to know how the date wound up in the end… I gave a wave to the regulars as I passed through the parking lot heading toward the car, and thus ends my long, strange Brew Pub evening.

Za Za Zing!

Yesterday marked the auspicious occasion of what I’m calling the first of my 39th birthdays. (I refuse to accept that next year, I will be hitting the four-decade mark and have decided just to stay at 39.) Such an occasion, of course, merits due respect.

Some people prefer their birthdays to go unheeded and unnoticed. I am not one of those people. I love for my birthday to be remembered and my existence to be celebrated once a year. Expensive gifts are not necessary, just a phone call or an email to say “Happy Birthday, glad you were born!” is more than enough to make me happy. So imagine my delight when my birthday-related events took in not just one day, but an entire long weekend!

It all started on Friday night. Last summer when junior was about three months old, hubby had the grand good fortune to go to France on business to attend the annual 24 hours of LeMans race (24 heures de LeMans, for those of you playing the Francophile version…) While he was calling to tell me about the gorgeous hotel rooms he was staying in, the glitterati-strewn parties he was crashing, and the famous elbows he was rubbing, I was aching for a solid uninterrupted stretch of sleep and attending to the demanding needs of our new baby. When hubby got back from his weeklong trip and saw how frazzled I was, he packed me up and sent me off for a night on my own at a local hotel. The room turned out to be something of a disappointment, but the night of sleep and solitude was greatly appreciated. I wrote the hotel manager an email to let her know my displeasure about the state of the room and she graciously credited my preferred guest account with enough points for another night’s stay on the house. Well, what better time to take advantage than my birthday, I ask you!

As much as hubby travels for work, staying in a hotel is second nature to him at this point, but it’s still a big deal to me. There’s just something naughty and indulgent about being able to use as many towels as you want without having to throw them into the laundry afterward. Hubby and I had hoped to find an overnight babysitter and make the stay an adults-only evening for two, but alas, our sitter options were not jiving with the time and date, so I flew solo. The manager must have put a note or something on my account, because when I checked in Friday night, I was upgraded to a suite. Ninth floor, spacious, clean, nice view, two rooms and movie channels all to myself. What more could a girl want? I only left to walk across the parking lot to enjoy a beer while I waited for a Friday’s takeout burger and fries. The rest of the evening (and much of the next morning) was spent watching tv from the king bed in blissful quietude.

Saturday, I returned to the casa. Hubby, junior, stepson and my dad took the boys to the zoo for the afternoon. Good fun was had by all.

Sunday evening was the friend-gathering birthday celebration. The Broad Ripple Brew Pub is sort of “our place.” Well, really, it’s hubby’s place and become my place only through our association. It’s the site of our very first blind date meeting many moons ago, and many, MANY evenings after. It’s a great spot in the summer when the warm weather allows al fresco drinking and dining, and it’s even better in the winter when you can hole up in the dark and cozy Snug to enjoy some darn fine pub grub along with a hearty pint. And, the establishment is smoke-free and kid-friendly. Double bonus.

The weather Sunday was warm enough for us to enjoy a drink on the patio with friends as they arrived, then we all moved inside for dinner. My go-to order at the BP is the spinach melt, and it never disappoints. A surprisingly rich plate for a vegetarian option, the savory spinach mixture is sandwiched thickly between two slices of sourdough, along with tomato slices and cheese, then the whole thing is grilled until toasty. I always order it with the colorful fried veggie chips instead of the boring old potato variety.

Our friend Alison and her daughter Aine offered up babysitting duty on Monday night for my actual birthday so hubby and I could enjoy a fancy-dress dinner out together. I wore my favorite fabulous beaded black dress, which in retrospect might have been a little overkill for a Monday night in downtown Indianapolis. I didn’t care. Hubby looked dashing as always in that classy European way as only he can.

I spent some time looking at some menus online to decide where we should go, and finally settled on tapas at Zing, a relatively new eatery on Indiana Avenue just west of the canal by about a block. I had been there once before over the holidays for our friend Theresa’s surprise 40th birthday party, but only for a glass of wine. I regretted not eating anything then, but I had just catered a baby shower lunch that afternoon and was too full and exhausted to really enjoy the food that night. I pledged to come back when I could really partake, and last night was it.

Zing wasn’t very crowded when we arrived at 6:45, but a small and steady stream of customers trickled in and out the entire time we were there, which I was happy to see. Zing is a little bit trendier than I usually go in for, decorated in bold colors with interesting touches like a beaded curtain up the stairs and rather loud fake-glass low light fixtures, but I like it. Our table next to the window offered a view toward IUPUI to the west, and the rather unfortunate sight of the recently fire-ravaged luxury condos to the east.

I’m not terribly sold on the whole idea of tapas, although I know it has gained a huge amount of popularity in recent years. As I said before in my all-you-can-eat post, I’d still rather order one decently portioned plate of something I know I like rather than have one or two bites of a dozen different things. In my mind, however, tapas is different because it’s all made to order and of higher quality ingredients. I’m still not sure about the concept of “sharing” with a dozen or so different people, though. If I order a small plate of something that I turn out to love, I don’t want to feel bad about polishing the rest of it off. I don’t want to have to feel guilty about someone else getting shafted! Between the two of us, it was a perfect sharing situation. We like different things anyway, so we were able to trade small tastes of our choices, but still load up on the stuff we liked.

The waitress told us about a deal where if you buy a bottle of wine, they throw in a complimentary meat and cheese antipasto sampler tray. I don’t know if this is just offered on Monday nights, or if it was just offered last night, but if you’re ever there and it’s thrown out at you – take it! Hubby and I would have each had a glass or two wine anyway at $6 or $7 apiece — the Spanish red we chose was $26 a bottle, and the meat and cheese usually cost $3 or $4 a pop. So for us, it worked out to be a bargain. The wine was served in these really cool stemless glasses. On the sampler, we received several thin slices of capricola, salami, provolone and asiago, plus a little ramekin full of a delicious marinated garbanzo bean salad, a taste of grape salsa and giardinera – along with a basket of thin bread slices and some olive oil to dip them in. It was a perfect starter course — just enough to give you a great taste of everything and whet your appetite for the other tasty treats to come.

Hubby doesn’t like seafood and nearly half the Zing menu consists of fish dishes, so we narrowed down our choices quickly — some fantastic chorizo-stuffed dates wrapped in bacon, broiled and served with a kick-ass spicy tomato sauce that tasted like something straight out of New Orleans; a trio of fried risotto balls full of sexy melted mozzarella and peas atop a creamy tomato sauce for me; and for hubby, a very generous serving of fingerling potato fries with crumbles of sausage and a squeeze of lemon (what can I say, you can take the boy out of Ireland…). Between the two of us, we finished every delicious bite. It sounds like a lot of food, but when you consider we each had a few slices of cheese and meat, two dates each and the rice balls for me, potatoes for hubby, it really wasn’t all that different than sharing a starter and then each enjoying our own meal. The ingredients all echoed each other and blended nicely, too, and the red wine capped everything off in an ideal way. We left feeling perfectly full and content, but not stuffed. Our total bill was $50 on the dot, not including tip, which we felt was extremely fair value for the amount and quality of food and drink we enjoyed.

In short, I really liked Zing. A lot. Good value for what you get foodwise, and a dynamic decor in which to savor it. We’ll be back.

Zing – http://www.zingrestaurant.com