Delicia presents a dilemma

Dinner last night at Delicia with a lovely friend. After hearing great things about this place for months now, my expectations were high from the get-go. Maybe a little too high. After our meal, I find myself scratching my head and trying to figure out if I really liked it. I didn’t not like it. It wasn’t a bad experience in any aspect. It just didn’t blow me away to the degree of, say, Seviche a couple months ago.

Delicia exterior

It would be quite easy to miss Delicia entirely were it not for one small sign in front of the otherwise nondescript SoBro building it calls home. (This structure used to be a video store in its most recent former life.) There’s a tight little parking lot in front of the restaurant, but you’re probably better off to skip it and scope out a space on College Avenue instead.

Delicia interior

Once you get inside, though, the sleek and chic decor totally belies the ho-hum exterior with a massive mirror-backed bar, retro hanging light fixtures, a long white banquette running the length of the restaurant, airy beamed ceilings and subdued colors. The place was pretty hopping for a Sunday night with a diverse range of diners in attendance. No kids though. I’d have to check to confirm, but pretty sure Delicia is 21 and up only. And even if it isn’t, this is not the kind of place you want to bring the little guys.

caiparinhna

caipirinha

So we ordered drinks and then turned our attention to the menu. I’d never had a caipirinha, and figured I’d try one for something new. (How fun is caipirinha to say, by the way? Go ahead. Try it a few times.) Caipirinhas are traditionally made with sugar cane liqueur, lime and sugar. This would lead one to believe it would be sweet, but not here. To be fair, our server warned me that the Delicia version wasn’t at all sweet, but is instead more light and refreshing. Since it was damn near 90 degrees outside, this was ok by me. And the cocktail was perfectly refreshing for a sultry summer night, but for some reason, it was a little too gin and tonic-ish for my taste (although it doesn’t contain any gin). I’m not a gin fan — see previous posts extolling my love for bourbon. Still, I drank it and it was fine.

mojito

mojito

My friend enjoyed a glass of sangria. Again, the server accurately described it as being very wine-forward. Fruity? Not so much. Later in the meal, I switched to a mojito. Also refreshing and tasty (and served in a big wide-mouthed water glass – yikes!), but I was a little bummed that the bar here uses a mint syrup as opposed to fresh muddled mint leaves, which look so pretty in the glass. The spearmint flavor came through loud and clear, but halfway through, it suddenly got a little too cloying for me to finish.

beet

spicy beet salad

While not terribly extensive, the Delicia menu offers plenty of intriguing dishes. This is not your run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurant. If you’re looking for basic crunchy tacos and burritos, keep on driving. Delicia is upscale new-wave Latin cuisine. After debating appetizers for a short while, we agreed to share a spicy beet salad to get things underway. The kitchen thoughtfully split the serving for us, giving us each a beautifully arranged mini-plate version. This might have been my favorite part of the meal. Spicy was an understatement, so much so that it caught me off guard at first bite. These beets will kick you in the throat if you’re not ready, thanks to a bold jalapeno/sour orange mash-up. Elsewhere on the plate were a little mound of salad greens, pretty julienned red radish, crumbles of queso fresco and sweet-salty candied pumpkin seeds. A tasty blend of flavors, and the initial rush of heat quickly smoothes out into something sophisticated and delicious.

Our server had promised us each a little amuse bouche or something of broth redolent with the Latin flavors to follow, but somehow, this item was forgotten until my friend thought to ask for it halfway through our salads. Delivered in a little sake-style cup, I’m having a hard time pinpointing just what this was, apart from an earthy broth with a umami-mushroom flavor. Not quite sure what the point of it was, but it didn’t hurt anything.

I considered several different entrees, namely the pork carnita tacos, the carne chimichurri, and the duck enchiladas I’ve heard several raves about. In the end, I selected the tamal corn cakes (partially because of our server’s strong recommendation), and my friend ordered something called tapou — trigger fish in a coconut milk stew with rice and sweet potatoes. Our eyes nearly popped when the entrées appeared; the portions here are ginormous. We easily could have split one and saved room for dessert.

tamal corn cake

Tamal corn cakes with barbacoa beef

I thought the food was good, but not great. My plate arrived lukewarm and so heaped with shredded barbacoa beef that I could barely make out the two small, but thick corn cakes beneath. The whole thing was drizzled with a cilantro lime crema and topped with a light sprinkling of pico de gallo. The meat was tender, and there was a ton of it, but I felt a little misled. As it’s advertised, it seems like the cornbread-like corn cakes should be the star of the show here. To that end, I had to scrape off some of the beef just to get to them. And I wished there had been more crema and pico de gallo (then again, I tend toward a heavy hand when it comes to sauces and condiments). The plate was mostly meat, and could have used a little more seasoning. In fact, now that I think about it, I felt like everything I tasted needed a dash more salt to really make it sing.

tapou

Tapou fish dish

I think my friend liked the fish. I had a bite, and it tasted good, but the texture was strangely chewy. I was expecting it to be much lighter and flakier. The coconut milk broth was yummy and the sweet potato chunks were well cooked. However, I couldn’t help thinking that this curry-style dish would have seemed much more at home in a Thai or Indian restaurant than a Latin eatery.

We made as much of a dent in our dinners as we could, but still called it quits around the halfway point. The short list of Delicia desserts includes flan, tres leches cake, churros and a plantain bake with ice cream that sounded sorta like a cobbler. Alas, our stomachs had reached capacity and we had to pass.

Props where props are due — to our server. While she wasn’t particularly warm or smiley, she did know the menu inside and out, capably answered our questions and offered intelligent comments about the food and drinks throughout our meal.

While Delicia is a breath of fresh air on the Indianapolis dining scene and I’m glad I finally got there, I don’t think I’ll be rushing right back. I know several people who absolutely love, love, love this place, but for now, I’m firmly on the fence about it.

Delicia doesn’t have a web site, but you can locate its Facebook page (including a complete menu) with a quick search.
Delicia on Urbanspoon

Twist, and shout, and let it all out

Wait, it would appear I’m mixing up not only my songs, but my musical genres… oops. My bad.

photo-48

Last night, a girlfriend and I paid a visit to the new Twist Lounge, an offshoot of the ever-popular Zest! Exciting Food Creations in SoBro. (One of my brunch go tos — crème brulee French toast and bacon. Need I say more?)

This place is swanky with super fun décor. You enter the lounge through a swinging chain curtain that immediately made me think of the Brady Bunch episodes where Greg had his own groovy room in the attic with the beaded curtain over the door. Am I showing my age, here? Anyway, Twist is very dimly lit, which prompts me to preemptively apologize for the quality of my phone pics.

photo-49

There’s a whole array of seating to choose from including tall stools along the bar, a private-ish room full of plush couches by the front windows, a couple of booth/tables with padded leather seat backs and funky clear plastic chairs, and even hanging swings. Oh, and a disco ball. !!!! There should be more disco balls in the world, if you ask me. How can anybody hate a disco ball? Fun fact – did you know that 90 percent of the world’s disco balls are made in Louisville. True dat. But I digress…

photo-50

I’d heard a rumor that Twist does a mean house Manhattan made with an Indiana-produced rye, so that’s what I ordered without even first looking at the menu. This baby arrived in a large water tumbler-size glass garnished with a skewer of those great gourmet cherries (not those artificially red grocery store numbers). They are not messing around here. Jess, our friendly bartender, really seemed to know what she was doing, and this was a damn fine drink. Once I did scan the menu and saw the list of other craft cocktail offerings, I was almost sorry I hadn’t branched out and tried something called a Blood and Sand or a Spicy Little Tart, but I am a bourbon girl, first and foremost. You stick with what works, ya know? My friend ordered a mojito and seemed quite pleased with her selection; Jess told us she’d personally picked the fresh mint that evening. One of those small details that makes a big difference.

At 7:30 p.m., we were the first patrons to arrive for the night, and although several other drinkers slowly rolled in, the place never did really fill up. I get the feeling this is more of a weekend or late-night hang. We did see a couple here on a date night, but it’s more the kind of hotspot you hit with a group of gals. I can’t imagine many single guys stopping by for a post-work scotch of their own accord.

After sucking down our first round of cocktails probably faster than we should have, we knew we needed food. The full dinner menu is available both in Twist and in the flagship restaurant attached. I’ve eaten dinner at Zest before, and love, love, love their three-napkin burger, but they’ve added some new temptations to the menu since the last time I was here. After strongly considering the chicken and waffles, I instead opted for the chile rellenos, and was quite glad I did.

photo-51

These were no ordinary chile rellenos. For starters, I only found one small pepper on the whole plate, but no matter. With rice, penne pasta, black beans, sauce and a showering of crunchy tortilla strips on top, there was plenty going on here to fill me up and keep my mouth entertained.

photo-52

My friend ordered some sort of grilled romaine wedge salad that looked beautiful and delicious. We also each got a pint of local beer to go with our dinners; there’s a solid selection here to choose from.

I really liked Twist, and would definitely put it near the top of my destination considerations for a girls’ night out. (As a side note, I don’t know what they put in that chile relleno, but I had the craziest dreams last night…)

For more info:
www.zestexcitingfood.com.

Twist Lounge on Urbanspoon

Proof is in the pudding

Each fall, for as many years back as I can remember, my mom made persimmon pudding. This was no small undertaking. First, you have to find a source for the persimmons. My mom had the hook up; always managing to know someone with a persimmon tree. Every October or so, when the dusky orange plum-like fruit would fall to the ground, my mom was right there, poaching. She swore you had to wait until the messy persimmons ripened, turned squishy and fell off the tree, otherwise they’d be tart enough to make you pucker if you made the mistake of biting into one too soon.

A full day of processing then ensued, washing the persimmons and straining them through a food-mill contraption mom reserved solely for this once-a-year purpose. After that came the ceremonial baking of the persimmon pudding, a recipe my mom gleaned from her mother, and very likely, her mother before that. You get the idea. Persimmon pudding was a fall tradition in my house, and one I’m ashamed to say I eschewed. I never ate the stuff. For some reason, I decided to turn up my nose at it when I was little, and stubborn as I am, I never tried it again.

Spring Mill Inn at Indiana’s Spring Mill State Park

So it was with no small amount of irony that I attended the opening Candlelight Tour that kicked off the annual Mitchell Persimmon Festival last night at Spring Mill State Park. Part of the package was a stay at the lovely Spring Mill Inn, and dinner at the on-site Millstone Dining Room, a buffet packed with all the good old-fashioned comfort foods you most likely grew up on, if you grew up in Indiana during the 1970s like I did. Think roast beef, fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, grits, cornbread, mashed potatoes, green beans stewed with chunks of ham… And the piece de resistance — while it’s typically just a seasonal fall dessert for many, persimmon pudding stays on the menu here year-round. They don’t always have it out on the buffet, which puzzles me, but all you have to do to score a piece is ask.

persimmon pudding at Spring Mill Inn’s Millstone Dining Room

In keeping with tradition, my pudding arrived in a cute little square topped with a generous dollop of Cool Whip. Grabbing a fork, I scooped up a big bite, toasted my mom and tucked it into my mouth. Tasty, I must say. If I didn’t know otherwise, I would have guessed it to be pumpkin – the consistency and flavor were exactly like a mild, creamy pumpkin pie filling. My friend Janet liked it, too, even in spite of harboring a pumpkin pie grudge of her own that went way back. We both cleaned our little plates, pleasantly surprised, and vowed never to judge a dessert by its cover again.

The Spring Mill Inn persimmon pudding is nothing like I remember my mom making, though. Mom’s was much more spongy and cake-like, nearly like a very moist gingerbread.

Sadly, the elaborate persimmon pudding-making process I never took part in was abandoned when my dear mom passed away ten years ago. I know I still have the family recipe somewhere, and I’m thinking I might just have to bring it out of hiding this year for old times sake. (Fortunately, it’s not hard to find pints of already-processed persimmon pulp for sale around Indy, if you know where to look.) Here’s hoping I’ll make my mama proud.

For more info about Spring Mill Inn (which is every bit as nice as the Abe Martin Lodge in Brown County, if not nicer, IMHO), visit http://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/inns/springmill/

For info on the annual Mitchell Persimmon Festival, go to http://persimmonfestival.org/

Round 'em up

Another fun place I visited as part of my Fox River Valley tour earlier this summer was Two Brothers Roundhouse in Aurora, Ill.

Two Brothers Roundhouse in Aurora, Ill.

This character-rich brewpub is an offshoot of the original brewing operation in Warrenville, owned by — you guessed it — two brothers. Dating back to the mid-1800s, the Aurora roundhouse is a really cool historic site and the oldest existing limestone facility of its kind in the U.S., once a bustling 40-bay servicing operation for various locomotives.

Two Brothers Roundhouse dining room

These days, the massive circular structure encloses a lovely courtyard area, brewing operations, unique banquet/event spaces, bars and a darn tasty restaurant. The owners have wisely preserved much of the original décor to give the whole joint a rustic casual feel, the perfect backdrop for some delicious pub grub.

Cheddar goat cheese dip

Our group stopped in for lunch and beer tasting on a sunny weekday. We kicked things off with a round of sharable appetizers — a smoked cheddar and goat cheese dip with toasted bread, tempura-battered green beans with a ranch dipping sauce, and soft pretzels served with a stone-ground beer-spiked mustard. All very respectable and done well.

soft pretzels with beer mustard and cheese

The cheese dip was rich and creamy with a good smoky depth of flavor, and the mustard with the soft pretzel was seriously addictive. The green beans might have been my favorite, though, nicely crispy without being greasy.

Tempura green beans with ranch dipping sauce

Honestly, I’d eaten so much on this trip, I filled myself up just sampling the appetizers and left it at that. Everything else the group ordered around the table looked delish, though… particularly the skirt steak taco small plate with ancho chili sauce, the Dover Sole fish tacos (a house specialty), and the grilled veggie sandwich. I did nibble a couple of the housemade potato chips off my neighbor’s plate. Yummy.

Dover sole fish tacos

Looking back now, I’m not sure if the beer serves as the perfect foil to the food, or if it’s the other way around. In either case, the two components play very nicely together. Our server brought out first one six-beer flight for us to share and sample. Then another. For lunch. Yikes. I picked a few I specifically wanted to taste and politely declined the rest. I did have a four-hour drive home ahead of me, after all. Otherwise, I could have happily sipped away, and perhaps grabbed a little catnap in the sunny courtyard afterward as I slowly sobered up.

Two Brothers beer samples

Between the house brews and a collection of bottled brands, there’s a big selection of beer here. I can’t even remember everything that was included in our tasting, but the flagship brew seems to be the Domaine DuPage, a French country-style ale. Very drinkable and refreshing. The porter was good, too, with the suggestion of chocolate and coffee flavors. I’m not so hip on IPAs or bitters, so I shied away from those and stuck to the more German strains of pilsners and lagers. All in all, solid beer. If you like what you’ve tried, you can even pick up bottles and growlers on the way out at a fill station near the entrance.

I’ve seen Two Brothers beer, particularly the Domaine DuPage, making a few guest appearances on several taps around Indy. Look for it and give it a try. And if you happen to find yourself near Aurora, stop in the roundhouse for lunch. You won’t be disappointed.

For more info:
www.twobrosbrew.com

Two Brothers Roundhouse on Urbanspoon

Round ’em up

Another fun place I visited as part of my Fox River Valley tour earlier this summer was Two Brothers Roundhouse in Aurora, Ill.

Two Brothers Roundhouse in Aurora, Ill.

This character-rich brewpub is an offshoot of the original brewing operation in Warrenville, owned by — you guessed it — two brothers. Dating back to the mid-1800s, the Aurora roundhouse is a really cool historic site and the oldest existing limestone facility of its kind in the U.S., once a bustling 40-bay servicing operation for various locomotives.

Two Brothers Roundhouse dining room

These days, the massive circular structure encloses a lovely courtyard area, brewing operations, unique banquet/event spaces, bars and a darn tasty restaurant. The owners have wisely preserved much of the original décor to give the whole joint a rustic casual feel, the perfect backdrop for some delicious pub grub.

Cheddar goat cheese dip

Our group stopped in for lunch and beer tasting on a sunny weekday. We kicked things off with a round of sharable appetizers — a smoked cheddar and goat cheese dip with toasted bread, tempura-battered green beans with a ranch dipping sauce, and soft pretzels served with a stone-ground beer-spiked mustard. All very respectable and done well.

soft pretzels with beer mustard and cheese

The cheese dip was rich and creamy with a good smoky depth of flavor, and the mustard with the soft pretzel was seriously addictive. The green beans might have been my favorite, though, nicely crispy without being greasy.

Tempura green beans with ranch dipping sauce

Honestly, I’d eaten so much on this trip, I filled myself up just sampling the appetizers and left it at that. Everything else the group ordered around the table looked delish, though… particularly the skirt steak taco small plate with ancho chili sauce, the Dover Sole fish tacos (a house specialty), and the grilled veggie sandwich. I did nibble a couple of the housemade potato chips off my neighbor’s plate. Yummy.

Dover sole fish tacos

Looking back now, I’m not sure if the beer serves as the perfect foil to the food, or if it’s the other way around. In either case, the two components play very nicely together. Our server brought out first one six-beer flight for us to share and sample. Then another. For lunch. Yikes. I picked a few I specifically wanted to taste and politely declined the rest. I did have a four-hour drive home ahead of me, after all. Otherwise, I could have happily sipped away, and perhaps grabbed a little catnap in the sunny courtyard afterward as I slowly sobered up.

Two Brothers beer samples

Between the house brews and a collection of bottled brands, there’s a big selection of beer here. I can’t even remember everything that was included in our tasting, but the flagship brew seems to be the Domaine DuPage, a French country-style ale. Very drinkable and refreshing. The porter was good, too, with the suggestion of chocolate and coffee flavors. I’m not so hip on IPAs or bitters, so I shied away from those and stuck to the more German strains of pilsners and lagers. All in all, solid beer. If you like what you’ve tried, you can even pick up bottles and growlers on the way out at a fill station near the entrance.

I’ve seen Two Brothers beer, particularly the Domaine DuPage, making a few guest appearances on several taps around Indy. Look for it and give it a try. And if you happen to find yourself near Aurora, stop in the roundhouse for lunch. You won’t be disappointed.

For more info:
www.twobrosbrew.com

Two Brothers Roundhouse on Urbanspoon

Prime beef(cake)

Sex sells. In this case, it sells burgers.

Earlier this summer, I enjoyed lunch at Prime BurgerHouse aboard the Grand Victoria Casino riverboat in Elgin, Ill. as part of a Fox River Valley press trip. Casinos by nature are sort of lusty and libidinous, and Prime is obviously capitalizing on those basic carnal urges and making no apologies about it. I’ve never seen a menu so blatantly full of T&A. The cover (and the web site) opens with a photo of a sexy doe-eyed model and the words “Get Lucky,” and there are additional pics of hot chicks (and some beefcake dudes, lest female customers feel left out) scattered throughout. The tagline is “Burgers, booze, bliss.”  I felt borderline naughty before I’d even ordered anything.

Prime BurgerHouse within Elgin’s Grand Victoria Casino

The décor here is Jetsons meets groovy 1960s with white space-age egg chairs, red vinyl banquettes and lots of silver sparkles. If you happen to be dining alone, you can snag a booth by the windows and watch TV on your own personal set.

Foodwise, I must say, the burgers here ROCK. These are some seriously gourmet sandwiches with top-shelf toppings. Think prime beef capped with the likes of lobster, avocado, white truffle aioli, fried tomatoes, asparagus, hickory bacon… Customers can either build their own from a laundry list of decadent accoutrement, or choose one of the pre-determined offerings. Something cool – each burger description on the menu includes suggested cocktail, wine, beer, nibble and shake pairings. Nice. For accompaniment, the sweet potato fries are the way to go.

the Asian chicken burger

We all ordered something different around the table to check out the full array of options. The Asian chicken burger looked delish smothered in green papaya slaw and Thai peanut sauce.

the Garlic Parmesan Butter Burger

The garlic parmesan butter burger was also unusually tempting with roasted garlic mayo, batter-fried tomatoes and greens on a pretzel bun spiked with a parmesan cheese crisp. (There’s so much cholesterol happening here, I felt like this one should come with a disclaimer for diners with heart conditions.)

the Drunken Bull Burger

I was perfectly pleased with my Drunken Bull Burger, a seriously upgraded bacon cheeseburger with Kobe beef, proscuitto, blue cheese, caramelized onions and a Cabernet reduction sauce. Decadent and delicious.

shake it, don’t break it

The luscious milkshakes are another Prime attraction, available in leaded (boozed-up) or unleaded varieties. We sampled the chunky toasted marshmallow and crème brulee versions, both so rich, you could have dished them up with a spoon. The marshmallow was good, but I preferred the crème brulee, which came across like a densely flavored vanilla pudding.

Expect to drop $12 to $15 or more per burger depending on how jiggy you want to get with it. Portion sizes are easily big enough to split between average appetites; I don’t think anyone at our table finished more than half their meal.

Bottom line — if you don’t mind a little T&A, Prime offers great food in nightclubby digs.

For more info, (if nothing else, take a peek at the menu if you’re feeling sorta randy):
www.grandvictoriacasino.com/dining/prime-burgerhouse/

Prime BurgerHouse on Urbanspoon

Digging the scene

Quick. Complete this sentence. “Life’s a…”

My standard answer is “Life’s a garden. Dig it.” But after my inaugural visit to Indiana’s premiere food festival yesterday at White River State Park, I’m changing my answer to “Life’s a garden. Dig IN.”

The roots for Dig IN date back to 2008, when an Alice Waters event at the IMA inspired local Ivy Tech instructor Thom England and local celebri-chef Neal Brown (Libertine, Pizzology, L’Explorateur) to dream up the Taste of Indiana farm-to-fork festival to promote Indiana’s Slow Food scene and its constituents. The name transitioned to Dig IN in 2009, and the rest is history.

The 2012 roster yesterday took in some 30 chefs, several dozen producers, a handful of food trucks, microbreweries, wineries, artisan vendors and live entertainment. This was one big par-TAY for foodies.

Dig In at White River State Park in full swing, Aug. 26, 2012

My pal Laura and I met up in White River State Park about an hour after go time, and I’m glad we didn’t wait any longer than that to arrive. The place was PACKED, which was awesome. So great to see so many Hoosiers embracing the local/regional food industry in all its varied forms. (Plus, I hear some vendors actually ran out of samples even before the halfway point.)

Here’s how it works: when you enter, you get a food “passport” that basically gives you the lay of the land — who’s in what tent, what they’re serving, where to find the beer and wine, food truck row, Indiana food artisans, etc. You figure out what you want to taste based on the item descriptions, or the chef’s reputation, and hop in line to score your sample. The lines were a little intimidating at first, but we were reassured to see them moving quickly, and I don’t think we had to stand anywhere for longer than a few minutes waiting for food.

Between the two of us, we made our way through nearly a dozen lines. Overall impressions, there was a lot of corn to be had here, and a lot of pork. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but made for some overlap among the offerings. Also, although there were several fruit-based soups, I didn’t see a whole lot of dessert options. Would have loved a tiny bite of cake, brownie, pie, whatever to finish things off. I suppose in retrospect I could have just stocked up on 240Sweet marshmallows and Frittle’s Candy.

Laura and I ran into quite a few people we knew wandering around, and it was fun to compare notes on what we’d tried. Got a few great recommendations that way. So here’s what we ate:

mini bison brat from 18 on the Square, Shelbyville

First up, we jumped in the 18 on the Square line for a mini bison bratwurst with handcrafted mustard and a pickled corn/squash relish. It was a nice-sized sample and a great way to kick things off. The brat had good flavor, and the relish was a tangy vinegary counterpoint to cut the richness. I don’t know anything about Chef Joseph Martin, but I’m going to put this restaurant on my radar if I’m ever down around Shelbyville.

ricotta with peach corn puree and popcorn from Zest! and Just Pop In!

A line or two over, we tried the housemade ricotta with peach and white corn puree topped with Twisted Sistaz Popcorn. This one was a team effort between Zest! Exciting Food Creations and Just Pop In!, (perhaps they joined forces because both feature exclamation marks in their names?) It pains me to say this, because I love Zest and the eatery is one of my brunch go-tos, but I did not like this dish. I’ve been wanting to try my hand at making ricotta at home, and was hoping to get some indication of how it might turn out, but I couldn’t taste it at all underneath the puree. There was also a little splash of something green (arugula?) that just didn’t do anything for me. The popcorn was good, but seemed a strange garnish, and with all the other flavors going on, I couldn’t discern the spices and curry in it.

Sun King Sunlight Cream Ale. Ahhhhh….

It being a near-90-degree day and all, we decided a cold beer was definitely in order. Options abound; you can load up on small free samples, or purchase a take-home pint glass for $6 that includes one fill (additional refills are $5 a pop). $6 for a souvenir glass and a beer is a good deal in my book. I suppose I could have tried something new, but I decided to support my buddies Clay and Dave and beelined straight to the Sun King line for a pint of Sunlight Cream Ale. You really can’t go wrong with this beer on a hot summer day.

R Bistro’s peach soup with smoked duck

Thirst quenched and ready for more food, Laura snagged a taste of chilled peach soup with a scattering of shredded duck and a radish slice on top from R Bistro and pronounced it tangy, fresh and delicious.

corn salad with pancetta from Late Harvest Kitchen

Combining the themes-of-the-day corn and pork, and doing it extremely well, Ryan Nelson and Late Harvest Kitchen offered a corn, walnut, goat cheese and pancetta salad. Fresh, crispy, creamy and flavorful. The pancetta really made this dish. Then again, bacon makes everything better if you ask me. Still can’t believe I haven’t been to eat at Late Harvest Kitchen yet. MUST get there. Soon.

Fermenti Artisan’s garden kraut with Capriole Farms cheese

Laura wanted to say hi to her friend Mark Cox at Fermenti Artisan, who served a small scoop of fermented garden kraut with Capriole Farms Old Kentucky Tomme cheese. Laura loves her some sauerkraut, and said this was an especially good one.

Oakley’s lamb adobo lettuce wrap

My personal favorite dish of the day came from Oakley’s Bistro – a lamb adobo lettuce wrap. O.M.G. was it good. The tender spicy, braised lamb with a little creamy grain underneath (still trying to figure out what this was – polenta? Cous cous?) and the fresh, crunchy lettuce was a perfect flavor/texture combination. I could have eaten several of these and called it a day. I’m ashamed to say I have never been to Oakley’s Bistro for a meal despite several strong word-of-mouth recommendations, and I must rectify this wrong. A ridiculous lapse of attention on my part.

Neal Brown rocking the scene

At this point, Laura and I took a little breather to sit down and drink some water, which brings me to another cool feature of Dig IN. The organizers and volunteers kept the free bottles of water coming the entire afternoon, dropping off cases to the entertainment tents and passing them out via golf carts. We even spied Neal Brown himself playing water boy, cruising through the crowds on his golf cart like a rock star. I’m surprised people didn’t stop him to get his autograph.

Scratchtruck’s corn panna cotta with dulce de leche

Refreshed, we took a wander up to food truck row on the bridge over the White River. I wanted to try the sweet corn panna cotta with dulce de leche from Scratchtruck. Sadly, this one let me down. It could have been much better if it had been really icy cold and much firmer in texture. As it was, the temperature was on the warmish side, and the consistency was way too loose, almost like yogurt. I didn’t care for this at all, but I’m more than willing to give Scratchtruck another shot for a burger sometime, which I hear is stellar.

My Dad’s sweet corn chowder from Circle City Soups

Husband and wife Roger and Cindy Hawkins operated their respective Circle City Soups and Circle City Sweets booths side by side, just as they do their stands in City Market. (All together now…. awwwwww.) I love these folks. I actually had the pleasure of working with Roger when I was doing some temp catering several years ago at Puck’s at the IMA, and I recently interviewed Cindy for an article in the current issue of Edible Indy, so I’m thrilled to see them both doing well. Roger is the soup master; for Dig IN, he ladled up his signature My Dad’s Sweet Corn Chowder. I don’t even want to know how much cream and butter go into this recipe, but if you’re looking for an insanely rich, delicious soup, Roger’s the man. I could take a bath in this stuff. It’s that good. If you happen to be in City Market, or catch him at a farmer’s market, do yourself a favor and pick up a pint or two.

candy trio from Circle City Sweets

Likewise, Cindy’s sweets and pastries are top shelf. For Dig IN, she served a very interesting, and perfect for the occasion, trio of candies — a peach pate de fruit that was like a melt-in-your-mouth gumdrop, a creamy French nougat studded with nuts and dried fruit, and a soft caramel so good it nearly made our eyes roll back in our heads. I’ve decided I want to take a weeklong culinary vacation at Roger and Cindy’s house, and wonder what I might need to do to get invited to their next dinner party…

cantaloupe cucumber soup with creme fraiche from Meridian

Laura wanted to keep going, but I was really hitting the wall and had to call it quits. She went on to try the cantaloupe cucumber soup with basil crème fraiche and watercress pistou from Meridian, and said it was like a light, refreshing sweet/savory smoothie; and the signature Reuben from Black Swan Brewpub, which she loved. With full tummies and happy hearts, we decided to call it a day and head home.

My only suggestion on how to improve on Dig IN would be to extend it to two days, or even a full day. I don’t know if that’s even logistically possible, but there was just too much to see and sample here to cram into a couple hours without going into total gustatory overload. I really would have liked to eat more, but after so many samples, a pint of beer and a bottle of water, my belly felt like it was going to bust. In a good way.

I loved, loved, fricking LOVED this event, and I’m already looking forward to coming back next year. I suggest you do the same.

For more information,
www.digindiana.org

Breakfast of champions

Lifelong Richmond resident and Pearl Harbor survivor Paul Brittenham passed away last October at the ripe old age of 94, but his legacy lives on at the popular northside diner he founded back in 1948.

Paulee Restaurant in Richmond’s historic Depot District

 

Brittenham opened Paulee Restaurant several years after returning home from his military service tour. A businessman first and foremost, he knew his profits depended on frequent turnover. With just 10 seats to work with, the crusty Brittenham discouraged dawdling, often telling customers to “eat and get out!” His loyal patrons didn’t mind, and the good food and fair prices kept them coming back. The restaurant still draws crowds of devoted regulars, some who’ve been known to come in for breakfast and return a few hours later for lunch.

An on-site fixture for decades, Brittenham retired just a few years ago at age 89, passing the torch to Jenny Orbik, a loyal employee who had worked for him for 20 years and didn’t want to see the restaurant close.

my dear old dad, fitting right in at Paulee’s

 

Not much has changed at Paulee through the years, except perhaps for the addition of some nifty murals on the exteriors of the neighborhood buildings. There are still just 10 seats in the whole place and the joint still serves the same straight-up-good, no-nonsense food in a nostalgic diner atmosphere, much as it did when it opened decades ago.

a basic breakfast at Paulee’s

If you’re in the mood for a hearty basic breakfast, this is the place to go. Eggs come any way you want alongside toast and meat choices that include bacon, fresh or smoked sausage, ham, chopped steak, pork chop and even tenderloin.

B&G at Paulee’s

 

Biscuits and gravy fans take note – the recipe at Paulee is top-notch, and available in one, two and three biscuit portions. The three-egg omelets are another popular breakfast choice, and if you need a sweet fix, Paulee carries donuts and Danishes from local bakeries.

For lunch, Paulee offers a lineup of classic burgers, sandwiches and soups, along with an old-fashioned daily special along the lines of cabbage rolls, tuna casserole or green beans stewed with sausage and potatoes.

Today, Paulee Restaurant finds itself ideally sited amid prime real estate in Richmond’s emerging Historic Depot District. Neighborhood improvements, the renovation of the depot itself, and the addition of new businesses are attracting a whole new generation of clientele to the area, many discovering Paulee for the first time.

Paulee’s menu board

 

Open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday, Paulee’s prices are more than reasonable for the amount and quality of food you get. Just don’t forget to hit the ATM first, this cash-only diner doesn’t accept credit cards.

420 N. 8th St.
Richmond, Ind.
(765) 962-5621

Bravo Bazbeaux

Dear readers,

Before delving into a new post, I must apologize for being missing in action so much this summer. Suffice it to say the past few months have been pretty tumultuous for personal reasons, but I pledge to do better in the future and not let weeks lapse between blogs!

With that said, let’s talk pizza. Everyone’s got their personal fave, and once it’s been established, it’s hard to sway opinion. I was raised on Pizza King in Richmond, and I’m sure my former classmates and childhood compadres will agree it still holds a special place in the palate for nostalgic reasons. It’s pretty much a given that we’ll end up ordering a Royal Feast at some point during any visit to dear old dad’s. The pizza itself is distinctive, even if it’s not anything gourmet, or really even spectacular. Flat, fairly cardboard-ish crust slathered with sweetish tomato paste then generously dusted with tiny cubes of chopped pepperoni, sausage crumbles, onions and peppers diced so small you have to really look for them, cheese and a few mushroom slices, broiled quickly and sliced into squares. That’s it. Nothing fancy, but dependably good.

Once I moved to Indy and started working downtown a ahem, er number of years ago, I was introduced to the beauty of Bazbeaux. And although there have been minor flirtations with other pizzas and pizzerias since (primarily Some Guys and Bacino’s in Chicago), Bazbeaux still tops my list when I’m in the mood for a steamy, cheesy slice of deliciousness.

Bazbeauz Broad Ripple location

Bazbeaux throws off a slightly circa-1980s Seattle grunge vibe. The atmosphere is fairly bohemian with a funky edge. Cooks and servers are usually tattooed and/or pierced and don’t smile much. They do, however, know their stuff when it comes to rocking some good ‘za.

good ole pepperoni

Beyond the build-your-own options with all the usual toppings (and some not-so-usual toppings), Bazbeaux’s menu details a bunch of really great specialty pizzas to please both carnivores and vegetarians. There’s all manner of accoutrement here — the Tchoupitoulas pizza offers a Cajun twist with blackened shrimp, andouille, roasted red pepper and fresh garlic. The Cubano elevates with black bean salsa and capicolla, ham and salami sourced from the Smoking Goose. There also are several interesting seafood pies that arrive adorned with crab, shrimp and albacore tuna. The only other place I’ve ever seen tuna on a pizza was in Provence… I’ve never had a sandwich here, but I hear the spinach melt is worth a try.

Pizza Alla Quattro Formaggio – bellissimo!!!

I really like the B.O.T. (bacon, onion and tomato) and the Garden, laden as it is with artichoke hearts, spinach, olives and other veggies, but my Bazbeaux go-to is the Quattro Formaggio. It all starts with a cracker-thin crispy crust and then heaps on Romano, cheddar, mozzarella, provolone and dollops of ricotta. Wait a sec, that’s really five cheeses, isn’t it? Huh. Anyway, as if all that isn’t ooey, gooey goodness enough, they take it over the top by tossing on mushrooms and bacon. See what I mean? You really can’t go wrong. Tack on a nicely assembled side salad with bite-sized shavings of Parmesan scattered across the top (the creamy basil dressing is what I always ask for), and you’ve got all the makings of a fantastic meal.

the standard side salad with creamy basil dressing

For dinner, the deck overlooking the canal at the Broad Ripple location is a chilled-out spot for al fresco dining. And if you’re downtown for lunch, Bazbeaux offers one of the best deals in town — a mere $5 or so scores you a large slice of pizza, side salad and a fountain drink.

For more info, check out www.bazbeaux.com.

Bazbeaux Pizza (Broad Ripple) on Urbanspoon

Shine on, shine on

Located off an I-70 access road, a visit to the quaint and rustic Firefly Grill capped off a rather lackluster daytrip I made to Effingham, Ill. earlier this summer.

In an area otherwise populated with all the usual highway dining suspects, Firefly Grill is a real breath of fresh air, and a pleasant discovery to make. It takes some work to find the place; you have to first wend your way though the chain restaurants off the exit and back a little ways. When it comes into view, though, there’s no mistaking you’ve come to the right place. It’s basically a big old barn with firewood stacked out front and the name of the joint in big red letters scrawled across the roof.

Firefly Grill in Effingham, Ill.

Besides the fab food, the charming lakeside setting and the upscale casual vibe, Firefly Grill apparently finds it easy being green. Meaning eco-friendly. In fact, Bon Appetit has named it the No. 2 eco-friendly restaurant in the country. Yep, right here in little old Effingham. Farm-to-table doesn’t get much fresher than this. On-site gardens supply herbs and produce for use in the kitchen. The staff takes pains to get to know the farmers, fishermen and foragers from whom they source mostly local and organic products (of course). Inside, the soaring ceiling is made of what looks like reclaimed wood. Overall, Firefly Grill makes a great first impression, as well as a second and third.

inside Firefly Grill

I was flying solo for my visit, as I often do on freelance assignments, and didn’t feel at all out of place. I brought a book in for company, but never even cracked it open, occupied as I was instead by the food and décor.

The one-pager dinner menu boasts “contemporary Midwestern” cuisine by way of small plates, brick oven pizzas, soups, salads, steaks, pastas and fish dishes. I struggled to make decisions, torn between halibut, a Szechaun pork tenderloin and other tempting fare. Red meat reigned supreme in the end, and I went with something called a Montana Mignon, a beef Wellington-esque concoction with filet, housemade boursin cheese and barbecue sauce all tucked into a puff pastry crust. Sides are all ala carte; I opted for Brussels sprouts with lardons and parmesan cheese.

the (very rare) Montana Mignon

The server had warned me that the steak would be served rare/medium-rare to prevent the pastry crust from burning. This made me a little nervous. I like my meat pink, but not bloody, which I let her know. Still, when the dish arrived and I cut in, it was really, really red in the middle. She told me the kitchen could take the filet out, sear it a little more and bring it back, but I was already a few bites in and it tasted so good, I might have stabbed her with my fork if she’d tried to pull my plate away. The combination of boursin and barbecue sauce was rich and fantastic, and the puff pastry layers shatteringly light and yummy. The serving size was a little small, but packed with flavor. I left the very center bite of meat behind, but devoured the rest.

crunchy Brussels sprouts with lardons and Parm

Likewise, the Brussels sprouts were treated with respect, not overcooked to mush. The sprouts had been halved and roasted to preserve a good crunch, and the crispy bacon lardons and parmesan cheese really upped the flavor ante. I should also mention the housemade sourdough bread boule I received with sweet whipped butter. I only managed one slice and would have cried to see the rest go to waste. The server kindly wrapped up the remaining loaf for me to take home. I sliced and toasted it for lunch the next day, and it was awesome.

One good thing about keeping the portions on the smallish side, I had plenty of room for a dessert. Again, narrowing down on one was something of a challenge, and although a trio of housemade sorbets sounded light and summery, I couldn’t get past something called “liquid cheesecake.”  I do love me some cheesecake.

the luscious liquid cheesecake

My little parfait was pretty as a picture, a cute dish with layers of pudding-like not-too-sweet cheesecake filling, fresh berries, and panko-crisp graham cracker crumbs with a mint sprig on top. I usually prefer chocolate desserts when I dine out, but this was perfect for the season and sooooooo good. I think I might have even inspired the ladies dining next to me to order one for themselves.

Firefly Grill isn’t cheap; I dropped over $50 on my dinner and that’s without any wine (alas, I still had to drive all the way back to Indy after I ate). Then again, I felt ok paying for food and service of this quality. You could get away with a lower bill by choosing less expensive menu options or sticking with small plates. The chefs and cooks here obviously put a ton of tender loving care into the plates they’re putting out, and the whole experience was so much more satisfying than stopping in an Applebee’s or Chili’s off the road. If you happen to be driving by on I-70 or I-57 and you’re in the market for a good meal, I highly recommend giving the Firefly Grill a go.

For more info:
www.ffgrill.com

 

Firefly Grill on Urbanspoon