One-Two punch

Within the past month or so, I have righted a very serious culinary wrong.

It’s shameful that Tinker Street has been open now for as long as it has, and I’ve only JUST gotten there. If you know anything about dining here in Indy, you’re probably already familiar with the dream team that is Peter George and Tom Main. I’m honored to have recently made their acquaintances myself, although their reputations as creative, warm restaurateurs certainly preceded our introduction.

I visited Tinker Street on a Thursday night with my friend, Eileen, and found myself making pleasant small talk with one of the regulars at the tall communal table on the heated patio as I waited for her to arrive. Once seated, we received small shots of sparkling wine to kick off our meal… and here’s what we ate:

beets.jpg

A delicious plate of beets with Point Reyes blue cheese, paper-thin radish slices and honey. I must admit, I’m a late arrival to the beet party, but now that I’m in the door, I’m not leaving anytime soon.

bread.jpg

Artisan bread slices with herbaceous butter to slather on top. As a young girl, our dinner table ALWAYS included slices of plain white bread and margarine. This is the grown-up, sexy edition.

shrimp.jpg

Several friends had recommended the shrimp and grits to me, and I can see why. Perfectly tender gulf shrimp, fragrant bisque, creamy grits, green tomato concasse — what’s not to love!?!?

cheesecake.jpg

For dessert, we had what I like to think of as a semi-deconstructed cheesecake. For ages, I’ve been wanting to see someone serve a scoop of cheesecake filling on an ice cream cone or in a sundae glass with hot fudge. The TS “cheesecake” arrives not in a traditional crust, but atop a shortbread cookie round doused with an addictive pineapple jam (can I buy a jar of this to take home, please!?!?!?) and garnished with a few bright citrus segments.

Service was outstanding through our entire meal, by the way…

I was a little quicker on the draw getting to Festiva, Peter and Tom’s most recent project, managing to squeeze in my first visit just a few weeks after it opened! Between my friend Laura and I, we demolished:

margarita.jpg

Several (ahem) margaritas. There are three options available, along with some pretty clever and innovative craft cocktails. We sampled the signature Festiva Margarita (with a sugar rim instead of salt, ‘cause that’s how Laura rolls), and the floral, fruity blood orange Margarita Estacional. Both were pretty damn delicious.

guacamole.jpg

If you put avocado and hot sauce on a shoe, I would eat it, so clearly, an order of guacamole was a given. The presentation here is beautiful, sprinkled with pumpkin and pomegranate seeds, cilantro and serrano peppers. Happily, it tastes every bit as good as it looks.

pozole.jpg

It was hard passing up the tacos, but we opted instead to share two entrees. The pozole. Think a deep, rich Mexican chicken soup/stew. If I were feeling under the weather, I’d tuck into a big bowl of this.

ribs.jpg

The costillas — pork ribs — were perhaps my favorite thing we ate all night. Super spicy (we’d been warned by our server), meaty and tender. So, so good.

flan.jpg

Laura’s a big flan fan, so that’s what we got for dessert. Again, the presentation was lovely, and the custard was light and silky with sweet caramel syrup poured over and capped off with an edible flower.

Is your appetite is sufficiently whetted? Support our local business scene by checking out these fine establishments for yourself. Just know before you go, both are 21+ crowds only, and neither accept reservations. (P.s. Tinker Street is participating in the Devour Indy promotion going on now through Feb. 5).

http://www.tinkerstreetindy.com
http://www.festivaindy.com

 

Rook’s worth a look

I was excited to check out Ed Rudisell’s new Rook venture yesterday for lunch with an old friend. I like what Ed’s got going on at Black Market, and had high hopes for his new Vietnamese banh mi sandwich shop.

R

The little eatery’s located directly on the Cultural Trail as it leads to Fountain Square from downtown via Virginia Avenue. Definitely a smart move, location-wise. Rook’s on the south side of the street just down a block from Bluebeard and in the same building with some sort of shared co-op space for creative types. Customers enter in the same entrance as the co-op, and as I sat in the front of the restaurant, I’d say more than half of the people who came in tried to go in the co-op first before realizing it wasn’t the door into Rook. No biggie, but might be something worth addressing?

interior

Rook’s fun and funky interior

Rook is small and industrial-chic with concrete floors, white walls and tables, strings of bare-bulb lights, and these awesome distressed yellow metal chairs. The vibe kinda felt like hanging out on a really trendy patio in someone’s backyard.

Ed was chatting about the food with another customer when I came in, and I overheard him saying that this was the kind of stuff chefs like to eat when they get off work. I don’t blame them. You can’t beat a good sandwich with a can of soda and something crunchy on the side.

The menu here is fairly short, but offers a nice range of options. For the uninitiated, Vietnamese banh mi is a long, flat sandwich made on soft bread and filled with yummy things like pork, steak, and sausage and topped with pickled vegetables. Not really all that different than a sub or hoagie when it comes right down to it. Rook offers nine varieties to choose from with whimsical bird-themed names like the Raven, the Nighthawk and the Magpie.

The Rook with bites of crack. I mean, pork cracklings.

The Rook with bites of crack. I mean, pork cracklings.

My friend ordered the Rook, stuffed with Vietnamese pork roll and chicken liver terrine; I went with the Crow’s Nest with Chinese BBQ pork. Both were garnished with a light smear of mayo, cilantro, thin slivers of jalapeno and a bit of shredded pickled radish/carrot slaw. We jazzed things up with some spicy sriracha – it’s the only condiment here, but available in mass quantities via a shelf full of bottles for help-yourself service.

The Crow's Nest with shrimp chips

The Crow’s Nest with shrimp chips

The sandwiches (all $8) were good and the ingredients were very fresh. A few pieces of my pork were a little chewy, but it had good flavor, and I loved the fresh garnishes. The pickled radish and cilantro really brightened up the whole concoction. My friend seemed pleased with his banh mi as well, polishing it off in short order.

The only sides here are pork cracklings and shrimp chips (although on my visit, the chalkboard menu included lotus chips as well). For fried food fans and pork rind enthusiasts, the cracklings were like little bites of crack. Seriously, I could have easily downed a couple bags of these with a nice light summer beer and called it a meal. The shrimp chips were fine, but the crunchy still-warm (!!!!) pork cracklings were definitely the winner.

For dessert, Rook carries several Circle City Sweets macarons in Asian-themed flavors like black sesame, green matcha and lemongrass.

Overall, Rook was a great little lunch stop. Nothing fancy, just distinctive, fresh, reasonably priced sandwiches and chips in a fun atmosphere. Banh mi is something unique for Indianapolis, and I hope it catches on. Check it out.

For more info, www.rookindy.com.

 

Rook on Urbanspoon

Rook's worth a look

I was excited to check out Ed Rudisell’s new Rook venture yesterday for lunch with an old friend. I like what Ed’s got going on at Black Market, and had high hopes for his new Vietnamese banh mi sandwich shop.

R

The little eatery’s located directly on the Cultural Trail as it leads to Fountain Square from downtown via Virginia Avenue. Definitely a smart move, location-wise. Rook’s on the south side of the street just down a block from Bluebeard and in the same building with some sort of shared co-op space for creative types. Customers enter in the same entrance as the co-op, and as I sat in the front of the restaurant, I’d say more than half of the people who came in tried to go in the co-op first before realizing it wasn’t the door into Rook. No biggie, but might be something worth addressing?

interior

Rook’s fun and funky interior

Rook is small and industrial-chic with concrete floors, white walls and tables, strings of bare-bulb lights, and these awesome distressed yellow metal chairs. The vibe kinda felt like hanging out on a really trendy patio in someone’s backyard.

Ed was chatting about the food with another customer when I came in, and I overheard him saying that this was the kind of stuff chefs like to eat when they get off work. I don’t blame them. You can’t beat a good sandwich with a can of soda and something crunchy on the side.

The menu here is fairly short, but offers a nice range of options. For the uninitiated, Vietnamese banh mi is a long, flat sandwich made on soft bread and filled with yummy things like pork, steak, and sausage and topped with pickled vegetables. Not really all that different than a sub or hoagie when it comes right down to it. Rook offers nine varieties to choose from with whimsical bird-themed names like the Raven, the Nighthawk and the Magpie.

The Rook with bites of crack. I mean, pork cracklings.

The Rook with bites of crack. I mean, pork cracklings.

My friend ordered the Rook, stuffed with Vietnamese pork roll and chicken liver terrine; I went with the Crow’s Nest with Chinese BBQ pork. Both were garnished with a light smear of mayo, cilantro, thin slivers of jalapeno and a bit of shredded pickled radish/carrot slaw. We jazzed things up with some spicy sriracha – it’s the only condiment here, but available in mass quantities via a shelf full of bottles for help-yourself service.

The Crow's Nest with shrimp chips

The Crow’s Nest with shrimp chips

The sandwiches (all $8) were good and the ingredients were very fresh. A few pieces of my pork were a little chewy, but it had good flavor, and I loved the fresh garnishes. The pickled radish and cilantro really brightened up the whole concoction. My friend seemed pleased with his banh mi as well, polishing it off in short order.

The only sides here are pork cracklings and shrimp chips (although on my visit, the chalkboard menu included lotus chips as well). For fried food fans and pork rind enthusiasts, the cracklings were like little bites of crack. Seriously, I could have easily downed a couple bags of these with a nice light summer beer and called it a meal. The shrimp chips were fine, but the crunchy still-warm (!!!!) pork cracklings were definitely the winner.

For dessert, Rook carries several Circle City Sweets macarons in Asian-themed flavors like black sesame, green matcha and lemongrass.

Overall, Rook was a great little lunch stop. Nothing fancy, just distinctive, fresh, reasonably priced sandwiches and chips in a fun atmosphere. Banh mi is something unique for Indianapolis, and I hope it catches on. Check it out.

For more info, www.rookindy.com.

 

Rook on Urbanspoon

Latin love at Seviche

Dear readers,

I’m sorry for being so remiss in tending to my blog in recent months…. But I just had a meal so truly transcendent, I feel inspired to share. Immediately.

I think I may have mentioned my love for all things Louisville a time or two? Well, I’ve had the privilege of spending the past few days here for the Midwest Travel Writers Association conference, and dinner at Seviche for last night’s dine-around has just taken our relationship to a whole new level.

Image

Seviche entrance

Chef Anthony Lamas has been bringing Latin flavors with Southern flair to Louisville since he opened Seviche in the hip and trendy Highlands neighborhood in 2005. I met him on a trip here last year for another travel conference (see earlier post about the show taping for “Secrets of Louisville Chefs” and Chef Lamas’ fabulous chorizo with grits and orange bourbon barbecue sauce demo). We’re now Facebook friends, so I get to stay up to date on Chef Lamas’ doings and dishes. In 2011, he won the title of Food Network’s “Extreme Chef,” a Survivor-meets-Top Chef-style show in which chefs are dumped in the middle of the desert or jungle with, like, a can of tuna and told to prepare a gourmet meal for 50 people. That should tell you something about how bad-ass this guy is.

We arrived last night ready to be wowed, and were ushered to a semi-private dining room in the back of the restaurant (created, along with a new lounge area, in a recent expansion). The interior is sleek, done up in rich neutral shades, and I loved the jars of pickled fruit and veg lining the shelves that served as decor. Chef Lamas kept a sweet 80s soundtrack playing in the background, which we later found out was his own iPod. This, of course, only made me like him even more.

mojito

My mojito

We started with drinks, as you do, and I ordered a mojito. Admittedly, I don’t have a lot of experience with this libation, usually sticking instead to wine, beer and bourbon, but I figured this place probably knows how to do ‘em up right. My suspicions proved correct. The drink arrived in a tall glass, loaded with muddled lime and mint. Sweet, but not too sweet. Tart, but not too tart. Totally fresh and refreshing with a big spike of sugarcane to gnaw on in lieu of a swizzle stick. So far, so good.

Chef Lamas had pre-planned a multi-course tasting menu for us, a smart move because so many things on the menu sounded delicious, we might have been there all night just deciding what to order. An avalanche of small plates soon started arriving, all beautifully presented and each tasting even better than the last. Seriously, I felt like a Top Chef judge, and found myself wondering how Padma does this all the time and still maintains such a hot bod.

First up, the starters. We received sharable family-style dishes here — a plate of grilled shishito peppers with ponzu sauce and a little sesame, and fried bison-filled empanadas with an avocado-jalapeno puree and pico de gallo.

shishito peppers

blistered shishito peppers with ponzu and sesame

Our server Daylon (I apologize if I’m butchering the spelling of your name here, dude), who ROCKED by the way, described these peppers as a Russian roulette of heat. Some are mild, some will blister your sinuses, and like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get until you bite in. My pepper was mild, and I liked the texture – sort of like a banana pepper or giardinera. It had a little toothsome bite left, and the sesame ponzu was a nice touch.

bison empanadas

bison empanadas with pico de gallo and avocado-jalapeno puree

I like making empanadas at home every now and then, although I bake mine instead of frying, and I’ve never had them filled with bison. Both great ideas. These cute buffalo meat hot pockets had good flavor, but what made the dish for me was the avocado jalapeno puree. I’m an avocado junkie anyway, and the tingly heat from the jalapeno provided a much-appreciated kick. Think spicy pureed smooth guacamole. Only way better.

tuna ceviche

tuna ceviche “Old Fashioned”

Next up was a little glass of tuna ceviche “Old Fashioned.” This was my favorite item of the evening; and a day later, it’s the one I’m still daydreaming about. Sushi fans take note, this was AWESOME. Gorgeous colors and a perfect balance of flavors – chunks of buttery soft tuna, sweet tiny diced pineapple and an orange supreme, a wee splash of bourbon, sesame, salty soy sauce, verdant cilantro, and something addictively spicy that left my lips tingling after I’d dug out every bit with my chopsticks. I very nearly tipped the glass up to drink the few precious last drops of juice in the bottom. I can’t tell you how much I loved this. I wanted to make out with this food.

halibut ceviche

wild halibut ceviche

For comparison, the next dish was a wild halibut ceviche. This fish was chunkier, soft and mild, with a little corn, onion, microgreens and garnishing sauce I couldn’t quite place. Good, but didn’t nearly blow me away to the same degree the tuna ceviche did.

swordfish risotto

grilled swordfish over mushroom risotto with crispy leeks

One member of our group had requested the swordfish, and that’s what showed up next – a small square of perfectly grilled fish over a spoonful of mushroom risotto with crispy almost onion-ringy leeks and a lobster truffle sauce ladled around the plate. This fish was so tender, it practically melted in my mouth, and the risotto was a luscious earthy complement.

scallop fideos

seared scallop over fideos with goat cheese, artichoke and asparagus

As much as I liked the swordfish, I went crazy over the grilled scallop that we received afterward. I’ve been hit or miss with scallops in the past, some too rubbery, gritty or just plain meh. This one was stellar, nicely browned and tender enough to cut with my fork. It sat atop fideos – a nutty tasting, Spanish-style pasta that looks like short strands of angel hair spaghetti — with pine nuts, goat cheese, an asparagus spear and a chunk of artichoke heart. I think the sauce had truffle in it, but I was so distracted by this sexy scallop, I didn’t care.

churrascuro

Churrascos and chimichurri, oh my.

My tummy was starting to reach capacity at this point, but there were still more good things to come. Such as a Churrascos-style bite of grilled skirt steak with garlic mashed potatoes, a dab of demi-glace, and a bold herby chimichurri sauce I had trouble not licking straight off the plate.

desserts

sweet finales

A dessert trio platter ended things on another high note. Liquid nitrogen frozen caramel corn lent a unique crunch factor. The housemade macadamia nut ice cream was rich, creamy and perfect. The bourbon butterscotch pudding smooth and decadent. But I couldn’t get enough of the avocado ice cream, another Chef Lamas trademark dish. Imagine, if you will, avocado flavored ice cream (don’t hate – it is DELICIOUS) that’s prepped to look exactly like an avocado. See the pic below – the ice cream is scooped into a thin chocolate shell with a bourbon ball truffle nestled into the middle just like a real avocado pit. All edible. What else is there to say about this, really? Genius.

avocado ice cream

Seviche’s signature avocado ice cream

Thus, our feast came to a reluctant end. Not a misstep in the whole shebang. Chef Lamas even graciously came out and spoke with us after the meal, politely answering our questions and submitting to our endless photo requests even though I’m sure the kitchen must have been completely slammed behind the scenes.

Chef Lamas

Chef Anthony Lamas himself. Rock. Star.

To stay on our event schedule, we only had about 90 minutes or so to spend at Seviche in total, so everything felt a little rushed. This was the kind of meal I would have liked to savor over three hours or so. Still, I was grateful we got to taste as much as we did, and I have a pretty good idea what I’d order again on my next visit. And bank money on it, there WILL be a next visit. Soon, I hope. I’d drive two hours to Louisville again just to eat here. So should you.

For more information about Seviche, check out www.sevicherestaurant.com.

Seviche on Urbanspoon

Nick’s still does the trick

For many Indiana University alumni, no Bloomington establishment evokes stronger nostalgia than Nick’s English Hut. (Which is neither English in origin, or a hut. Discuss.) Just saying the name brings to mind (usually drunken) visions of the quirky little shingled-awning, half-timbered façade on Kirkwood Avenue just a block from the edge of campus. Indeed, within stumbling distance.

Nick’s English Hut on Kirkwood Ave.

Inside, the nearly eighty-year-old restaurant welcomes drinkers and diners into its dark and cozy man-cave environs with Indiana University memorabilia strewn over every available inch of space. Be forewarned, taking in the IU license plates, photos, pennants, mounted deer heads and newsprint-style tables feels like looking through a giant kaleidoscope, and being in here for any length of time can be enough to make you feel dizzy. If the room starts to spin, just focus on the food, or one of the televisions scattered throughout the joint (this is one of the best spots in town to settle in for an IU game).

I didn’t hang out at Nick’s often when I was an IU student, but I do recall one particular end-of-semester happy hour with J-school ethics class comrades and regular lunches here with coworkers when I interned at the Herald-Times newspaper. This was 20-some years ago. The menu doesn’t appear to have changed much since then. Chili, sandwiches, pizza and deep-fried apps are what you want here.

My old college partner in crime (her nickname, in fact, was the Crime Dog), and I hit Nick’s for dinner about a week ago when I passed through town. First, we fueled up on a mini-pitcher of beer across the street at Kilroy’s, our old hang. If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard “last call for alcohol!” within those walls… but that’s another story. Nick’s seemed more family-friendly than I remembered, perhaps because you can no longer smoke inside. Maybe we’re just older now.

Nick’s mushrooms with Dijon dipping sauce

We shared an order of the (deep-fried, of course) mushrooms as a starter. Yummy, greasy beer-battered goodness on a plate. The Dijon mayo dipping sauce was pretty tasty, too.

cup of Nick’s house-recipe chili

I followed this up with a cup of cheddar-smothered chili; Crime Dog went with the stromboli. Both house specialties. Nothing fancy, just the kind of solidly dependable eats you want in a place like this.

Nick’s famous stromboli

They say change is good. Not always, though.

For more information, visit www.nicksenglishhut.com.

Nick's English Hut on Urbanspoon

Nick's still does the trick

For many Indiana University alumni, no Bloomington establishment evokes stronger nostalgia than Nick’s English Hut. (Which is neither English in origin, or a hut. Discuss.) Just saying the name brings to mind (usually drunken) visions of the quirky little shingled-awning, half-timbered façade on Kirkwood Avenue just a block from the edge of campus. Indeed, within stumbling distance.

Nick’s English Hut on Kirkwood Ave.

Inside, the nearly eighty-year-old restaurant welcomes drinkers and diners into its dark and cozy man-cave environs with Indiana University memorabilia strewn over every available inch of space. Be forewarned, taking in the IU license plates, photos, pennants, mounted deer heads and newsprint-style tables feels like looking through a giant kaleidoscope, and being in here for any length of time can be enough to make you feel dizzy. If the room starts to spin, just focus on the food, or one of the televisions scattered throughout the joint (this is one of the best spots in town to settle in for an IU game).

I didn’t hang out at Nick’s often when I was an IU student, but I do recall one particular end-of-semester happy hour with J-school ethics class comrades and regular lunches here with coworkers when I interned at the Herald-Times newspaper. This was 20-some years ago. The menu doesn’t appear to have changed much since then. Chili, sandwiches, pizza and deep-fried apps are what you want here.

My old college partner in crime (her nickname, in fact, was the Crime Dog), and I hit Nick’s for dinner about a week ago when I passed through town. First, we fueled up on a mini-pitcher of beer across the street at Kilroy’s, our old hang. If I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard “last call for alcohol!” within those walls… but that’s another story. Nick’s seemed more family-friendly than I remembered, perhaps because you can no longer smoke inside. Maybe we’re just older now.

Nick’s mushrooms with Dijon dipping sauce

We shared an order of the (deep-fried, of course) mushrooms as a starter. Yummy, greasy beer-battered goodness on a plate. The Dijon mayo dipping sauce was pretty tasty, too.

cup of Nick’s house-recipe chili

I followed this up with a cup of cheddar-smothered chili; Crime Dog went with the stromboli. Both house specialties. Nothing fancy, just the kind of solidly dependable eats you want in a place like this.

Nick’s famous stromboli

They say change is good. Not always, though.

For more information, visit www.nicksenglishhut.com.

Nick's English Hut 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

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

 

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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

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