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

And another one!

Amy’s Food Flights is now a member of Indianapolis Bloggers!

This site is a great way to keep tabs on lots of cool stuff (food and otherwise) that’s going on in the Circle City. But don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself:

http://indianapolisblogs.blogspot.com/

Life, Libertine, and the pursuit of happiness

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

 

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

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

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

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

the Seelbach Cocktail

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

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

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

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

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

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

Libertine’s bacon flight

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

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

chicken pate and waffles

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

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

duck meatballs over gnocchi

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

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

the one-eyed Jack

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

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

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

living it up at Libertine with the gals

For more information, visit:

http://www.libertineindy.com/

Libertine on Urbanspoon

Cake walk

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

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

Parcha Sweets exterior

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

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

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

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

Parcha Sweets cupcakes to go

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

the Red Velvet

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

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

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

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

the Chocolate Passion

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

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

the S’mores

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

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

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

For more information:

http://www.parchasweets.com/

Parcha Sweets on Urbanspoon

Don’t dodge this draft

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

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

Triton Brewing Company from the approach

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

Inside the Triton tasting room

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

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

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

Beer flight at Triton

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

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

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

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

For more information:

http://tritonbrewing.com/

Don't dodge this draft

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

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

Triton Brewing Company from the approach

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

Inside the Triton tasting room

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

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

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

Beer flight at Triton

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

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

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

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

For more information:

http://tritonbrewing.com/

Craft drafts

A friend brought Twenty Tap to my attention last week in a mass email when she announced she’s now hostessing there one night a week and we should all stop by and check it out. I was happy to get the chance to do so.

Twenty Tap in SoBro

Twenty Tap is the brainchild of Kevin Matalucci, of Broad Ripple Brewpub brewing fame, nesting down in the former home of Northside News at 54th and College. The guy has obviously put a lot of effort into putting a new face on the business via tall wood booths, spherical hanging light fixtures and walls dressed in earthy hues.

A girlfriend and I stopped in for dinner last night. My first impression was that Twenty Tap has a bit of a split personality— half restaurant and half pub. To the left is an open bar area with electronic darts; to the right, a family-friendly dining room. Everything looks fresh and clean, but I couldn’t help but think the place feels somehow unfinished. Perhaps some more art on the walls would help. Maybe, like a new apartment, it just needs a little time to develop a more lived-in feel. The dining room was fairly empty when we arrived just after 6 p.m., but steadily filled to capacity during the course of our stay.

In a nod to terroir, Twenty Tap distinguishes itself by serving 20 craft beers, all made within Indiana (like Tomlinson Tap Room). Always nice to see locavoracity in action. Beer choices are listed on a blackboard wall (this trend seems to be everywhere these days). I settled on a pint of Fort Wayne-based Mad Anthony kolsch, and my friend (a non-beer drinker) seemed happy with her Sun King Wee Mac. Our young server seemed pretty up to speed when we asked him for recommendations.

Twenty Tap beer list during our visit

The menu details gastropub-ish grub, with a few surprises. From what I keep hearing, the pressed Cuban sandwich (a tribute to the version formerly served at Northside News, I assume) is the thing to order, but I passed it up to try the mushroom Reuben instead. Saying she wasn’t all that hungry, my friend asked for the pimento mac and cheese, a $5 appetizer offering with optional bacon for an extra buck fifty. There’s also a handful of burgers, a few salads and a soup du jour. Three-bean salad sounded like an interesting side alternative to standard fries.

We settled in to enjoy our beers and everything was going fine until our server apparently fell off the face of the earth. People sitting next to us (who’d ordered long after we did) received their food, and my pint glass sat empty for long enough that we started to wonder where the heck our guy had disappeared to. Finally, our dinners arrived (reassuringly hot, thank goodness) and I was able to get a refill on my kolsch, so all’s well that ends well.

The macaroni was nicely cooked to al dente and the sauce had a subtly spicy pimento tang.

Twenty Tap’s pimento mac and cheese

My sandwich was ok, subbing strips of sliced mushroom for corned beef with all the other traditional Reuben accoutrement, but I must admit, I found myself wishing I’d gone with the word of mouth buzz and ordered the Cuban instead. The fries were crispy and lightly dusted with black pepper.

the mushroom reuben

Halfway through my meal, the server dropped off a tiny ramekin of house-made pickles. The cucumbers were sliced paper thin and the pickling liquid had a flavor note I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Cinnamon, perhaps?

Our house is situated east of Broad Ripple, so Twenty Tap probably won’t become a regular haunt for us, but if we lived in the neighborhood, I can see how it might be a steady stop. Especially since it’s kid-friendly. My husband often takes our three-year-old out to the “pub” to enjoy some daddy-son bonding time over a pint of beer and a glass of lemonade. (My son drinks the lemonade, just in case you were wondering…)

I can’t seem to find a Twenty Tap web site up and running yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. Watch this space…

Twenty Tap on Urbanspoon

Come on, get hoppy

Last night, hubby and I headed downtown to sample the wares at one of the more recent additions to the thriving Indianapolis microbrewing scene — Flat 12 Bierwerks.

We’re well familiar with Sun King and Thr3e Wise Men has become one of our regular Broad Ripple hangouts, but I must admit, I didn’t know a great deal about Flat 12 going in. Hubby’s enjoyed the beers on several occasions at pubs around town, but this marked my first taste of the product.

Flat 12 is located just east of downtown on Dorman Street, and you really have to know where you’re going to find it. It’s across the street from the new Goose the Market Meatery enterprise, but otherwise, there’s not much going on in this industrial neighborhood ‘cept for a couple of really cool-looking modern condo buildings. We saw a glut of cars angling for street spots before we’d actually glimpsed the Flat 12 building, and figured we must be in the right neck of the woods.

Flat 12 Bierwerks exterior

First impressions – the facility itself is really attractive, exposed brick walls, high beamed ceilings and good merchandising. Nicely done, y’all. You flash your ID when you walk through the door and get your hand stamped, then you’re given five free drink tickets for tastes of your choice.

the Flat 12 tasting room

On to the important stuff. They really had a decently big selection available to taste during our visit, including eight or nine year-round classics and nearly half a dozen seasonal/specialty offerings.

Flat 12 beers for the tasting

My favorite beer of the night was probably the Grain Wave American Wit, a straightforward wheat beer with a hint of citrus. A good all-around entry-level microbrew for a go-to domestic beer drinker like myself. I liked the Upside Down Blonde too, but found the wit a little more flavorful.

I managed to ask one of the busy servers what he’d consider the “signature” Flat 12 beer/s. He said the porter and the IPA. I usually find IPAs a little too hoppy for my taste, so I passed on the Half Cycle IPA and ordered a swig of the Pogue’s Run Porter, a dark but still mellow beer that I really liked. I was curious to try the Tangerine Porter as well to contrast and compare flavor notes, but alas, it had run out. Instead, I followed up with the Lacto-Matic Milk Stout. Wow, does this baby pack a punch. Imagine a beer-flavored shot of espresso and you’ve kinda got the right idea. It even looks like espresso in the cup. A little too much for me. I couldn’t finish it.

Flat 12's Lacto-Matic Milk Stout

My tasting concluded with a sip of Walkabout Pale Ale, made with Galaxy hops from Australia. Didn’t like this one, the flavor was just a little too funky for me.

Flat 12's Walkabout Pale Ale

The Flat 12 roster on the web site details several intriguing seasonal beers that I want to keep my eyes peeled for. Namely a German-style Karousel Kolsch (I learned to LOVE kolsch during our visits to Cologne within the past few years), the Bloody Blonde made with blood oranges and ruby red grapefruit (I enjoy fruity beers), and a Glazed Ham Porter (!) redolent with holiday spices.

One small complaint about the tasting room service… the guys who were pouring seemed a little on the gruff side. This being our first time at Flat 12, I’d kinda hoped to ask a few questions about the beers and the business. The answers I got were short and borderline curt. I guess maybe “serious” might be a better word to describe the personalities here. I’m sure they’re probably perfectly lovable guys when you catch them outside a tasting rush. In any event, one gets the feeling they don’t mess around when it comes to their beer.

Overall, we really enjoyed our Flat 12 visit. Good selling points— if you find a beer you really like while tasting, you can purchase a pint to enjoy on site (or a growler or half-growler to take home). And you can even grab some grub and make a meal of your visit thanks to the Byrne’s Grilled Pizza food truck parked outside in the side lot. We saw some of said pizzas flying around to the scattering of tables both indoors and out, and they looked and smelled damn tempting.

Glad to finally make your acquaintance, Flat 12. I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other again.

For more information:

http://flat12.me/

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:

http://tavernonsouth.com/

Tavern on South on Urbanspoon

I’d tap that

You can’t shake a stick these days without knocking over someone’s glass of locally brewed beer. The microbrewery scene has simply exploded all over Indianapolis in recent years, leaving plenty of grateful aficionados to enjoy the tasty fallout. If you appreciate local beer, you need to grab your empty growlers ($10 fills on Thursdays – woo hoo!) and get yourself down to Tomlinson Tap Room pronto.

Tomlinson Tap Room in City Market

Located in downtown Indy’s historic City Market, Tomlinson Tap is, I believe, the only place in town that exclusively serves Indiana beers from a number of brewing establishments. And I’m not talking about just beers from here in Indianapolis (although there are certainly plenty to choose from in the Circle City). I mean from throughout the state. Don’t come in here thinking you can order any old bottle of Bud or Miller Lite. Tomlinson shows off 16 rotating taps of flavorful, full-bodied beers made fresh by Hoosiers for other Hoosiers. Nice.

Indy’s historic City Market

The décor is reason enough to visit. I’ve always loved City Market and sadly, don’t get down there very often now that I’m no longer working downtown. The market dates back to 1886 and the building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Inside the brick façade is a soaring marketplace filled with all sorts of distinctive food vendors and retail booths. Add in the bustling weekly Wednesday farmers market that lines Market Street outside, and you’ve got all the makings of a darn cool downtown destination.

Tomlinson Tap Room nestles into a sunny southwest corner on the mezzanine level of the building, offering a bird’s eye view of the marketplace below. You may not even know it’s here unless you’re looking for it specifically, which makes it feel like you’re in on a well-kept secret. It’s not big, just a nice long bar and a scattering of tables. The hours have been a little limited, but I see on the Tap Room web site that they are now open Monday through Saturday. If you work downtown, this would make a fabulous happy hour stop.

Tomlinson doesn’t serve food, but during the day of course, you have your pick of the City Market vendors for everything from ethnic food items to soups to pizza to sweet treats. Several even stay open into the evening to satisfy the tap room patrons with various munchies.

Hubby and I recently met a couple of new friends here for a beer, and it was a great, pub-style spot to hang out and relax. The servers and employees really know their stuff and if you ask nicely, may even let you taste a beer to see if you like it before committing to a full pint. You never know what you might find on tap any given week. During our visit, drinking options included offerings from Sun King, Flat 12, Three Floyds, Oaken Barrel, Crown, New Albanian and Big Woods (which we recently hit up in Nashville), to name a few.

tasty Tomlinson Tap Room beverages

The bottom line? You won’t go thirsty here. Cheers.

For more info:

http://www.indycm.com/tomlinsontaproom/