I’m talking about opinions. Opinions as in reviews, specifically restaurant reviews. I read quite a few reviews in the course of determining which joint Pat and I should visit. Reviews have been a part of food preparation since the first person started cooking for strangers. Back when I was in my “prime”, so to speak, reviews were common place. They just weren’t as abundant as they are now. Once only newspapers and magazines took the trouble to send someone to an eatery just to eat the food and write about it. Now with the increase of cable TV we have different food networks,complete with recipe shows and cooking competitions. That might be the reason there is such a surge in the number of new restaurants opening.
Furthermore with the advent of the PC has come Yelp and Urbanspoon. Now every one is a Restaurant Critic. Remember the old saw: “Those who can’t do, teach”? Well I amended it to “Those who can’t do,teach,and those who can’t teach critique.” That is where I am now. As a chef/cook I was also a teacher. They both go hand in hand. As a kitchen head it is your responsibility to create the menu, establish recipes and procedures and to teach everyone who works with you every thing you can. The more the individuals learn the more valuable they become and the more time you can spend on other things. Now that I no longer have a commercial kitchen I can play in I get my kicks vicariously by writing about the food.
In addition to the “like” reviews I also read the “do not like ” reviews as well. These can be just as helpful as the positive ones; maybe more. I pay close attention to the dates as well. If a joint hasn’t been written about in a while it may mean that word of mouth has out paced the reviews. Or it might just mean the “blush is off the rose” and that particular joint is not as “hip” as it used to be. People can be fickle. Another thing I pay attention to is what I call the “geology” of the restaurant. Some places that have been around for a while will have “layers” of differing opinions. At first the reviews are positive for a year or so and then they change to negative. If they stay negative I will usually avoid the place. If the joint rebounds and wins the public over again that means that whatever happened has been rectified. In which case it could be a winner. In all cases the reviews are opinions of 1 or 2 people and damn few joints can be flawless at all times. I like to consider a bunch of the positive and negative posts in order to get the feel if the joints has off days or if it just isn’t very good.
One more thing I find funny is some of the reasons given for the negative comments. The woman who complained about having trouble figuring which door to use to enter. Or the party that came in 5 minutes before closing and griped about the food they were out of. No joint wants to run out of menu items,but sometimes demand is higher than normal on certain items. And restaurants are always adjusting pars; sometimes just too late. For the most part people are nice. But some folks really aren’t. My personal biggest gripe are the newly relocated people; usually from Chicago; who complain that Indianapolis Restaurants are not Chicago Restaurants. Really. You moved for a reason didn’t you? I am sure some big nasty old Hoosier Hillbilly didn’t drive up to Chi-Town, hog tie you and bring you back in his pick-up truck. Some one in your family or Company picked Indy for a reason. I am sure it wasn’t a conspiracy just to deny you dining pleasure.
So not only is it fun to eat out it is fun to write and read about it. I hope everyone takes advantage of both Yelp and Urbanspoon and plans a dinner date or a family night out. And I hope everyone enjoys their food.
The last few weeks Pat and I appear to be stuck on one specific food genre’. The Italian sandwich or grinder. First, South of Chicago, then Greiner, then Fresco and now the Cannoli Queen on the south side of Indy. Since Pat still resides on the south side. He noticed the place. Sometime back, but thought it was part of a chain. When he discovered that it was a mom-and-pop joint we put it on our list. And after eating there and talking with the Queen herself, I think that this is probably the most complete little Italian joint around. They make their own pasta, sauces, and all those delightful little cannolis and confections. And they even make their own bread.
On top of one of the merchandise cabinets they provided small saucers of samples of their biscotti, and their various other sweets. After trying a few pieces I could not make up my mind as to whether I wanted an Italian Beef or Meatball Grinder. They cook their seasoned beef, along with green peppers and onions for several hours. Which was very tempting. They also make their own meatballs; and who can ignore a plump and tender hand-made meat ball? All of their sandwiches come with Italian fries. These are crinkle cut fries topped with Parmesan cheese and then toasted in an oven. Locked on the horns of a tasty dilemma. I went with the meatballs. And I must say the whole sandwich was nearly flawless. The meatballs were moist and tender; a perfect foil to the bread, which had the perfect tooth. Just the right combination of soft and chew. And the sauce was first rate as well. As for the fries they were deceptively tasty. Pat nor I thought they looked like much but the taste was spot on. Especially with the addition of that excellent “red gravy”. And to gild the Lilly the owner gave us a taste of their beef. It too was excellent. Melt in your mouth tender with a wonderful jus; infused with green pepper and onion.
After lunch we just had to split a Cannoli. A chocolate dipped cannoli, at that. I think this confection sums up the nature of the culinary endeavor. It is all about both balance and contrast. And when it is done right it is a whole lot of fun to eat. The sweetness of the cream cheese filling, and the texture of the fried tube. Hey I think cannoli should be included in the list of State Fair food. After all it is fried.
Well South of Chicago, take notice there is a Hoosier right here in Naptown that cooks a pretty mean hunk of beef. The Fresco Italian Sandwich Shoppe actually has 2 locations. One in the Marsh Grocery at 320 N. New Jersey and the other at 310 W. Michigan. On the canal. Since it was raining we opted for the New Jersey location. The joint has only been opened about three years. It is run by 2 brothers using their Dad’s recipes. And these recipes are golden. Their signature Italian beef is easily as tasty as South of Chicago’s. Fresco might have a slight edge in that they offer their sandwiches as a 4 inch half or an 8 inch whole.
We started off splitting a small Caprese Salad. He uses Roma tomatoes from a local Farmers Market, uses a local Mozzarella cheese and grows his own Basil. So needless to say the salad was fresh and delicious.
I was torn between the beef and the meatball. The owner suggested I get the beef and he would give us a sample of meatball to try. So how could I not accept such a generous offer. Again all I can say is the beef is easily as tasty as South of Chicago. On that Pat and I were in agreement. He “discovered” this place when he was shopping and had already tried a half of a beef sandwich. I might suggest you get yours dipped. The Gonnella bun soaks up all the tasty jus and still keeps its shape. A lesser roll would dissolve. As for the meat ball and accompanying red sauce it too was excellent, and on the same level as the beef.
So I can’t think of anymore to add. Except this. If you like Good Italian Beef now you have a second place to score. In addition if Caprese or meatballs are your thing then this has to be at the top of your list.
Meet Matt, bartender/ server at Union Jacks in Broad Ripple. Also may I introduce the bar at Union Jacks; a well-known and established tavern on Broad Ripple Avenue. It is styled after a British pub. Complete with dark wood and big pints and mugs of beer. One of the great things about this place is the “open-air” seating in the bar dining room. Along the outside wall they have seating at a bar with a mini garage door and windows. On nice days the door can be opened and it is like sitting outside on the sidewalk. Only better. You don’t need to worry about rain or pesky birds. It also gives you a chance to chat with passers-by. Who will either smile and talk back or hurry off; scared by two old louts in a bar. Most people were sociable and we did have a fun time.
What is interesting about this joint is although it is an English pub when it comes to food they are really noted for their Italian beef sandwiches and deep dish pizza. Patrick lived in Chicago several years after college so he has a “thing” for Italian beef. And as I think you can see it brought the artiste’ out in him.
I was craving pizza, especially when I discovered they had a 7 inch personal, deep dish with two toppings for $7.50. Admittedly, I’m a pizza junkie and I’ve tried deep dish in a lot of different places in this country. I must say they have one of the best I’ve tried. A nice rich sauce thick chunks of sausage and tender yet flaky crust. For some reason some people think deep dish means thick crust. They end up with something closer to a hollowed out bread bowl with stuff in it than a pie.
While we were eating our Italian food. We were drinking a Scottish ale Floyd’s Cutter. That is, the Floyd Cutter that Pat referenced in his review. This was the first time I have tried it. It was excellent.
While we were finishing lunch a young couple came in. Since we were, for the most part, hogging the best seats in the house we moved down to give them room to join us. It seems the gentleman was from England and his wife was American. And he had just been naturalized as an American citizen. So naturally we had to have a pint to celebrate such a momentous occasion. As I said we had a great time.
Sitting in an English style pub. Eating Italian food and drinking Scottish ale. In Indianapolis Indiana. What do you say to that Knicks?
I’m sure most foodies in Indy have heard of South of Chicago in Fountain Square. That’s the place that serves Chicago style pizza and Italian beef sandwiches;sandwiches so authentic you can smell the lake with every bite. Well I don’t know about the lake part but ,yes Ma, the beef IS as good as everyone says it is. Pat has been there numerous times,but I had to wait until I had bone fide functional teeth before I could give it a try. Naturally we both had beef sandwiches with cheese. I took mine with hot peppers Pat without. The sandwich is huge. It probably weighs close to 2 pounds. It is most definitely not a hand-held sandwich. At least not until you eat some of the meat out first. The au jus is also the real thing,juice from the roasting meat;not just some beef base and water. That leads us to the proper way to order. You can get it wet; that’s when the bun is lightly wetted with the jus or dipped; the whole thing is submerged in the au jus. I think there is a third option;but I can’t remember what it is. Nor can I recall what else they serve beside the beef or a beef and sausage combo. Oh and pizza. What sort of Chicago style joint would it be without pizza. The pizza might be great but on this day cow was king. A big Gonnella hoagie roll stuffed with tender,slow roasted beef just dripping with beefy goodness. And how much does such a tasty treat cost;you ask. Why 8 bucks. That’s right eight dollars. And it comes with a pack of chips,and it is big enough for two cheap people to share. It is times like this that makes you proud to be an America.