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

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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/

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

Chow, bella!

Checked out Lino’s Coffee this morning after a sneak peek tour of the new Dallara Automobili factory, and found this nifty little café worth the drive to Speedway.

Lino’s hails from Parma, Italy, part of a franchised family that includes around 60 international locations; Indy is the company’s first venture into the U.S. Having actually been to Parma and visited several cafes in Italy for basis of comparison, let me assure you. Lino’s is the real deal. This is about as close as you can come to an honest-to-God Italian café without buying airfare.

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The café sits at the northwest corner of the bright and shiny new Dallara building on Main Street in Speedway, and is easily a stand-alone destination on its on merits. If there’s anything Italians love more than fast cars, it’s good food and coffee. Everywhere you look, this place screams “VIVA ITALIA!” from the espresso machines (imported from Italy, of course. Duh.) and the coffee menu placards in Italian to the sparsely filled panini sandwiches and the gelato. Mamma mia, I was excited about my lunch.

Traditional Italian food thinking dictates keeping it simple. Use high-quality, mostly unadorned ingredients and let the true flavors shine through. No burying stuff under pools of ketchup. Forget super-sizing and all the extraneous add-ons. In Italy, you don’t need them. When you’ve got building blocks this good to work with, why would you want to muck things up?

Customers here have their pick of paninis, pastas and salads — all kind of unbelievably priced under $10 and many items less than $6. Or, you can assemble a light continental breakfast from a small but carefully vetted selection of flaky fresh pastries from a mouthwatering display case.

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The Parma panini

My two lunch companions both ordered the Parma… a long, skinny panini with paper-thin shavings of Parma ham, Parmesan cheese, stunning tomato slices (take that, Subway!) and a scattering of lettuce.

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the Milano panini

My Milano sandwich held slices of the same salty ham with Fontina cheese and a little shaved artichoke on a square of chewy, toothsome rustic Ciabatta bread. The only condiments in sight are olive oil and balsamic vinegar at the counter. That’s all you need. Simple, and simply delicious.

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Then there’s the coffee… ah. The coffee. I’ll need to make a return trip soon to test-drive a cappuccino or a regular Americano, along with one of those sexy baked goods perhaps. This being a hot day and all, we went for a round of iced coffees, and quickly discovered that this is not your average iced coffee.

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Lino’s iced coffee

I have never had, tasted or seen an iced coffee like this before. Forget all about your fancy Frappuccinos and the usual milky mixture poured over melting ice that only serves to water it down. Now, imagine a rocks glass filled with the most insanely smooth-blended coffee concoction you’ve ever slurped into your mouth. It wasn’t a drinkable coffee at all, really, but more like a rich, sweet, creamy coffee-flavored Wendy’s Frosty. Or maybe a half-frozen chocolate/coffee pudding? But better. Waaaay better. It’s so thick, you have no choice but to eat it with the accompanying demitasse spoon.

Ok, maybe the iced coffee isn’t exactly traditional Italian. Then again, I’ve never ordered an iced coffee in Italy. So who knows, maybe it is. Who cares. It rocked. I want another one right now. Who’s with me?

For more information:
www.linoscoffee.com

Lino’S Coffee on Urbanspoon

Bourbon bliss and Southern comforts

Southern hospitality is alive and well and living in Lexington. My love affair with Kentucky continued this week with a five-course, bourbon-paired dinner that took our relationship to a whole new level. When I received the extremely gracious invitation from my extremely gracious friend Niki at the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau to be her guest at a James Beard Dinner celebrating the summer solstice, I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

Determined to make the most of my all-too-short overnight visit to bourbon country, I spun through Bardstown and Maker’s Mark on my way down, followed by a stop at Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill in the afternoon. Sleepy, charming Bardstown is adorable, and somewhere I’d love to spend a few days exploring. I passed the Jim Beam and Heaven Hill distilleries on my way to Maker’s, which is seriously out in the middle of nowhere. The picturesque campus sits amid rolling hills laced with rustic stone walls with “Whiskey Creek” running through the property. The stoic black warehouses and outbuildings all sport red shutters.

taking a dip at Maker’s Mark

I had my heart set on doing the touristy thing and dipping my own bottle of bourbon in the signature red sealing wax. As it turned out, this activity was slightly anti-climatic but still fun, and I quickly realized it was harder than it looks to get an even drip all the way around. My wax ended up a little lopsided with a couple of wispy strands trailing off the edge of seal. (The guide said they call these “guardian angels.”)

the finished product

Calling Conner Prairie to mind, Shaker Village is a gorgeous restful place in the bucolic countryside southwest of Lexington with an on-site restaurant and a series of buildings you can actually book rooms to spend the night in. I passed a very idyllic hour or so wandering through the various historic structures and enjoying the peaceful scenery. If you’re looking to get away from it all for a night or a weekend, this would be an excellent place to do so.

the charming Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill

On to the main event, though… For the visiting New Orleans Bourbon Society (!), the bourbon dinner shindig was just one of the first stops on a weekend-long tour of Lexington. I would have loved to crash the party further to sneak onto the distillery tours and horse farm visits still to come. Let me tell you, these people know how to have a good time.

The evening started off with cocktails at the ridiculously luxurious 600+ acre Donamire Farm on Old Frankfort Pike. Talk about lifestyles of the rich and famous… this place was like a country club. The owners offered up their guesthouse for our pre-dinner festivities, and it was insanely lovely.

a classic Sazerac

We mixed and mingled in the main foyer while sipping Sazerac cocktails — a New Orleans specialty composed of rye bourbon, bitters and anise-tinged Herbsaint with a small lemon rind curled in. Strong, but delish. I must admit to being somewhat intimidated about the amount of bourbon I’d be ingesting throughout the evening and nursed my glass slowly, lest I wind up under a table somewhere before the food even arrived. The New Orleans-themed hors d’oeuvres that made their way around the room included fresh oysters, poached salmon and bite-sized alligator puff pastry potpies.

We then bussed down the road to the Headley-Whitney Museum, a decorative arts facility founded in the 1970s by prominent jewelry designer George W. Headley III. We only got a small peek at the interior, as the tables were already set up in the main lobby space when we arrived, but I did spy some jewelry displays around the room that looked interesting. It felt like Christmas, 4th of July and my birthday all rolled into one as I sat down and waited for the proceedings to begin. Logically, everything highlighted top-shelf Kentucky-made products, and Buffalo Trace Distillery in nearby Frankfort supplied all the bourbon.

fried chicken salad and Tornado Surviving

Pike Valley Farm fried chicken salad in lettuce wraps with a buttermilk sage dressing kicked things off nicely, paired with the curiously named EH Taylor Tornado Surviving. This particular bourbon did actually come through a twister that damaged several Buffalo Trace warehouses in 2006, and the barrels’ ensuing exposure to the elements has given it a serious profile that nearly jumps out of the glass and smacks you in the face. This one was a little harsh for my taste, but you have to respect its sheer strength of will. The chicken salad was fab, a savory creamy scoop amid a fresh lettuce cup with a scattering of crispy potato sticks across the top. I could eat a bigger serving of this for a summer lunch and be perfectly happy about it.

barbecued shrimp with Buffalo Trace

Next up was bourbon BBQ shrimp with a crackin’ cornbread muffin. The small shrimp were perfectly tender, and the sauce was deep and rich in flavor, almost smoky. I used a few pieces of the cornbread to dredge up more sauce since I didn’t have a spoon and I didn’t want to embarrass myself by licking the plate. I wasn’t that drunk. Yet. The bourbon match for this course was the versatile, all-around-good Buffalo Trace. I’ve tasted this stuff before and loved it, so much so, that I made sure to hit a liquor store on the way out to stock up on a few bottles. Man cannot live by Maker’s Mark alone.

red drum with crabmeat and crawfish cake

And the hits kept on coming… Third course was a small crusted filet of red drum (an Atlantic fish I can’t recall ever tasting before) atop a crawfish cake with chunks of jumbo lump crab and a bourbon cream corn sauce. The fish and the crawfish cake were sweet, moist and tasty, but it was the meaty chunks of crab dripping with the corn sauce that I could not get enough of. Sooooo. Good. The bourbon accompaniment was Weller 12 Year. At this point, I’m ashamed to say the bourbons were all starting to taste the same to my neophyte palate, but I persevered, trying to discern different flavors and scents as we went along. (To keep myself out of trouble, I did not finish all my samples and tried to just sip prudently throughout the meal.)

beef tenderloin with shiitake mushroom “bacon”

As if I wasn’t already swooning and smitten, the fourth course nearly took me over top into multiple foodgasm territory. Lyon Farms beef tenderloin with Old Kentucky Tomme scalloped potatoes and a caramel peppercorn sauce. I’ve critiqued quite a bit of steak this year, and this was simply one of the best pieces of meat I’ve ever had. The medium-rare beef was so tender I cut it with my fork, and the flavor was outstanding. Here’s something else that blew me away about this dish – scattered around the plate were little crunchy pieces of what I thought were bacon, but later realized were Sheltowee Farm shiitake mushrooms. I haven’t stopped wondering how in the heck they made these. Unbelievable. And the bourbon? Blanton’s Single Barrel. I was supremely proud of myself for detecting the honey notes in this one before our tasting guide had even pointed them out.

bourbon poached peach a la mode with accoutrements

By this point, I had quite a buzz going, and also felt sort of like I might soon explode. Dessert was a don’t-miss, though; a bourbon-poached halved peach with a small cube of butter cake, handspun vanilla ice cream spiked with a sorghum-almond tuile, and a splash of raspberry coulis. Very Southern, pretty as a picture and just as delicious. The bourbon capper here was Eagle Rare. Stick a fork in me. I was done.

Big, big props to the chefs for this event — Jonathan Lundy from Jonathan at Gratz Park in Lexington (where last  year, I had a fantastic blackened salmon and crawfish macque choux dish that I still daydream about), and Chef Darin Nesbit of Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House in New Orleans. Top, top marks for taste, skill and presentation.

I must also give a shout-out to the lovely Gratz Park Inn for my accommodations. This boutique hotel in Lexington’s oldest historic neighborhood utterly exudes old-world class. (It’s also thought to be haunted, but that’s another story…) The inn is ideally situated to downtown restaurants and attractions, the rooms are beautiful, and the hospitality warm and wonderful. I’ve stayed here twice now, and I can’t imagine booking a room anywhere else in town.

Oh, and that vague food/bourbon hangover headache I nursed throughout the following day? Totally worth it.

cheers!

Burn baby burn

When I was in high school and college, it was a summertime Richmond tradition to cruise by the fire station on South A Street and wave to the cute firemen who hung out on the bench by the street.

I’m happy to report there’s a new place in town to ogle cute firemen, and eat some darn good food at the same time. Local firefighters Rick Bolen and Tom Broyles teamed up to open Firehouse BBQ and Blues in the Historic Depot District last January, a labor of love two years in the making.

inside Firehouse BBQ and Blues

This hopping new restaurant/live music venue is located in what was Richmond’s first fire station back in the 1800s, and Rick and Tom have kept much of the building’s original architecture intact; the dining room sits where horses were once stabled to pull fire “trucks” in days of old. Make sure to take a gander at the incredibly detailed murals while you’re here; the one on the exterior side of the building is so lifelike, you might actually think it’s on fire at first glance.

exterior murals

By the way, Rick and Tom recently made an appearance on Indy Style, where they prepared mouthwatering brisket and pulled pork that definitely whetted my appetite prior to my visit. These guys will crack. You. Up. (Watch them “smack the butt” around the 0:49 mark: http://www.wishtv.com/dpp/indy_style/kitchen/firehouse-bbq-and-blues)

Let me get back to the food – this is some tasty, down-home-style ‘cue. Definitely the best in Richmond. My friends and I got off to a good start with the BBQ Nachos, a messy and delicious plate of tortilla chips loaded up with pulled pork, barbecue sauce, baked beans (!), cheese, onions and jalapenos. You could make a meal of this dish on its own.

barbecued nachos

Dinners come with two sides and a jalapeno corn muffin and meat choices include all of barbecue’s greatest hits: Pulled pork, beef brisket, chicken, baby back ribs, and a somewhat intimidating concoction called “The Smokin’ Hog.” Take a smoked sausage, slice it and put it on a bun, pile on some pulled pork, cheese, onions and barbecue sauce. There you go. Diners with smaller appetites will be happy to hear you can get the “lunch special” all day long, a sandwich with one side.

the Smokin’ Hog with mac and cheese

Everything we tasted was good. If you twisted my arm, I’d have to name the beef brisket as my fave, although the pulled pork was pretty rockin’, too.

beef brisket with baked beans and cheesy potatoes

From the sides (all served in adorable short Mason jars), the cheesy potatoes came out the winner in my book, reminding me my aunt’s comfort food-classic hash brown casserole recipe. The baked beans were delish as well.

pulled pork with baked beans and cole slaw

Sadly, I had to take off around the time the live music was just tuning up for the evening. This place offers a whole calendar full of acts from throughout the region to rock the house every weekend. Kids are welcome here throughout the week and until 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, after that, the crowd is 21-and-older only.

If you like good barbecue in a really interesting atmosphere, get yourself down here pronto. I’m already looking forward to coming back again next time I’m in town. This place is hot. Dare I say, it’s on fire!

For more information:
http://firehousebbqandblues.com/

Firehouse BBQ and Blues on Urbanspoon

Divvy is divine

I’d read some mixed feedback about Divvy prior to last night’s visit with the hubs, but tried to keep an open mind going in. I’m traditionally not a big tapas fan; I’d usually rather enjoy a full-sized serving of one entrée that I can keep all to myself. Divvy, however,  is making me rethink my stance.

Divvy exterior

Located in the high-falutin’ Carmel City Center alongside Eggshell Bistro and an soon-to-emerge Hubbard and Cravens, we encountered a little trouble just getting in the Divvy door. Literally. From its corner location, there are what appear to be several entrances, and for the life of us, we couldn’t seem to choose the correct one. A kind gentleman, who I assumed to be the owner, finally opened the locked door we were trying to wangle our way into like a couple of idiots and directed us to the hostess station.

We stopped in around 8 p.m. hoping to miss the dinner rush, but the place was still quite busy. Décor is pretty nifty with what looks like reclaimed wood floors, two-top booths with tall backs that offer privacy while still looking modern, and a really cool wall in the dining room composed of little squares of wood in different tones and varying heights. Visually interesting, and a nice departure from the chalkboard walls that everyone else seems to be featuring these days.

Divvy’s cool wall o’ wood

The menu is presented in a neat wallet-like leather binder that stays at the table to revisit as you make continued small-plate selections throughout the meal. However, once I opened it and started flipping through, my palms started to sweat a little. There is a LOT of stuff to choose from here, starting with drinks through a half dozen or so categories of tapas, and then desserts. It all started to blur together. Making decisions here requires some time and consideration. Fortunately, my ahead-of-time research predetermined a few things I knew I wanted to try going in.

Once the text stopped swimming before my eyes, I found it easier to zero in on some choices by process of elimination. Due to hubby’s predilections, anything with onions or leeks was automatically out, as was seafood. This made reaching decisions slightly easier.

First up, drinks… in keeping with the “Sip. Share. Savor.” concept, Divvy offers sampler flights of wine and beer. I might have gone for the “Maple Manhattan” or the “Bubbles Taster Tour” for $10 had I not already consumed a glass and a half of pinot grigio before we arrived. Instead, we simply opted for a single glass of wine for me and a nice draft Anchor Steam for hubby.

Back to the menu we went, finally agreeing to order something from the spreadable “Toppers” and the “ooey-gooey goodness cheese” selections to get the ball rolling. I’d heard mention of the bacon jam in another blogger’s review, and it piqued my interest. Sold.

jam on it

I LOVED this stuff and spent my precious bites trying desperately to decode the recipe. The jam arrived in a little ramekin with several halved pretzel buns to spread it on, and another ramekin of horseradish mustard that hubby avoided but I adored. Between us, we scraped out every last trace of the salty-sweet deliciousness.

gorgonzola cheese balls

The gorgonzola balls weren’t quite what I expected – I had in mind that they’d be some kind of deep-fried hush puppie sort of thing, when they were really just whipped blobs of creamy cheese served with crackery slices of toasted focaccia, sliced red grapes and more sunflower seeds. All fine and dandy, but somehow lacking the wow factor of the bacon jam.

After inhaling the first two plates, we went back again to the menu. Or, I should say, I did. Hubby left all the ordering in my hands. The other item I knew I wanted to try was the corn crème brulee, having read raves about it on every review I’d seen. I toyed with ordering the andouille sausage with maple bourbon gastrique (you know how I feel about all things bourbon these days) and the chili-glazed duck drumsticks, but red meat won out in the end. I went for the Worchestershire-seared steak bites.

corn creme brulee

The crème brulee… O.M.G. Think of the creamiest, richest, most indulgent mac and cheese you’ve ever tasted, swap out the pasta for sweet corn and brulee some sugar on top. Sooooo yummy. A trace of jalapeno gave it a nice kick. Hubby doesn’t usually like rich creamy saucy things like this, and I had to wrestle the spoon away from him to get my share. The brulee portion on top was more sticky than crunchy, but whatever. We didn’t care.

Worchestershire steak bites

The steak bites looked more like medium than the medium-rare as advertised and came with some halved roasted red potatoes. I would have liked a spoon to dish out the jus-like sauce in the bottom of the plate. I think hubby liked this more than I did. Again, it was tasty, but didn’t blow me away to the degree that the jam or the corn pudding did.

We debated ordering one more small plate, but fearing overkill, turned our attention to the desserts, available in larger two-person sizes as well as the smaller mini-morsel portions. I was tempted by the Krazy Krispies, a sharable Rice Krispie treat with peanut butter glaze and chocolate chips, but went instead for the first two items among the small-sized offerings.

butterscotch blondie

Both were cute as can be in presentation, each with its own tiny demitasse spoon. The Blondie Bite with butterscotch bourbon glaze, banana and whipped cream was delish, but I preferred the Dreamsicle cake, a tres-leches sort of thing but with blood orange juice instead of milk. I really liked the unexpected fruity, juicy burst of flavor, and the white chocolate shavings on top.

Dreamsicle cake

I must give props to our server — I don’t think he ever formally introduced himself, but the receipt says his name is Lewis. This guy was warm and courteous without a hint of condescension or insincerity, and his pacing throughout the meal was absolutely perfect. Excellent, excellent service. Good job, Lewis.

I could easily return here and happily order a completely new spread of items to try, but I’d have a hard time passing up the bacon jam and corn crème brulee again. All told, we left contently full and very satisfied, pledging a return Divvy visit soon. Go here. Now.

For more info:
www.divvycarmel.com

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