Monday, August 23, 2010

Bonge's Tavern

Bonge’s is sort of a legend around Indy, and hubby and I decided that after living here for 4 years together, it was time to get out there. Now, one of the things Bonge’s is known for is the tailgating that goes on in the parking lot as people wait for their turn at one of the maybe 12 or so tables. People bring their own refreshments and snacks and sit outside (often in their own camp chairs) and hang out. On the weekends during nice weather the wait can apparently be several hours pretty much from the moment they open their doors (at 4:30), so we thought we would try and get there a bit early during the week and hopefully avoid a long wait. It worked. It was a beautiful day, but we got there just after 5:00 and were seated immediately. Of course when we left some time after 6:00, there was already quite a wait and several groups in the parking lot. Oh, and this is a tavern, so you can’t go in to eat unless you are 21.

We weren’t exactly sure what to expect, but we were greeted by a friendly server who asked if we had been before and then explained the menu. There are about 7 entrées listed on a chalkboard above the bar to choose from. Three are always there (the Perkinsville Pork, the Hargar duck, and the NY Strip) and the rest change regularly. Every meal comes with either soup or salad and they all came with the same potatoes and veggies on the side (the sides change periodically). The entrées range in price from approximately $24-30, so although it is a tavern, it isn’t cheap.

The atmosphere inside is totally casual and has a great feel with lots of wood paneled walls and booths. There is a very old looking bar on the wall across from the wall of booths and a few larger tables scattered in between. There are obviously a lot of local regulars coming in judging by the greetings received by the staff. Everyone just seems happy to be there.

As for the food, it is not complicated, but it is really quite good. I started with the “world famous tomato soup” while hubby had the blue cheese wedge (for a salad, you can get a wedge with blue cheese or raspberry vinaigrette). I really liked the soup—this is not your traditional canned tomato soup. This is a hearty, chunky soup filled with large pieces of actual tomato as well as other veggies like celery and onion. You could taste both the sweetness and tanginess of the tomato flavor and I really liked it.

Hubby’s wedge was also quite good—a traditional wedge of iceberg lettuce amply covered in a very rich and tasty blue cheese dressing and sprinkled with garlic breadcrumbs (tasted a lot like the croutons on my soup). Honestly, we had a hard time deciding which starter we enjoyed more (hubby would say the salad) and I would happily order either.

As for the main dish, I ordered the “Prime Cap with Shrimp.” This was thinly sliced prime rib that was slow cooked like traditional prime rib, but perfectly to medium rare temperature. The flavor of the meat was amazing. And there was a demi glace on the plate, but it was truly like an au jus, and just added more meat flavor. Seriously, this meat was perfectly seasoned and delicious. Across the top was a skewer of shrimp covered in an herby garlic butter sauce. The shrimp were also really good and I liked the contrast in flavor of the rich meat and the zesty shrimp. There were roasted potatoes and thumb sized asparagus on the side which were plain and forgettable, almost more of a garnish than anything, but I didn’t care because I enjoyed the meat and shrimp so much.

Hubby had the Perkinsville Pork which was pounded pork tenderloin (but not super thin) coated in flour, egg and parmesan cheese and pan fried. The pork was good—especially the thicker parts of the meat because they were the most tender. I liked that you could really taste the cheese which gave it a unique flavor from your usual pork tenderloin. There was also a light lemony sauce on top that was nice as well. However, while it was good, it was nowhere near as good as my beef. Again, same sides, same thoughts about them from hubby.

They also brought us a basket of cornbread with our entrees that was really delicious. There was a bit of jalapeno in them which gave them a bit of a kick, but the pieces were small and evenly distributed so you didn’t feel overwhelmed by biting into a big piece of pepper. The bread was so moist you almost needed to eat it with a fork because it just sort of fell apart in your hands. It was really really good.

Since we didn’t have a formal appetizer we also decided to try a dessert. There were several to choose from and we went with what was a chocolate cake base with a thin layer of sugar cream pie at the top and all covered in cherries and whipped cream. The chocolate base sort of reminded me of a brownie—it was quite dense and a little dry and there was not as much of the sugar cream part as I thought there would be. I wasn’t quite sure about it at first, but it became strangely addicting. I wasn’t overly impressed with the cherries; they sort of tasted like the topping you can buy in a can. The whipped cream was obviously homemade though and, while I don’t tend to be a huge whipped cream person, this was good.

The experience at Bonge’s was really great. It is the kind of place that while you are there, you are already planning your next trip and thinking of the people you would like to introduce to it. It is out in the middle of nowhere (about 35 minutes from Indy depending on where you live and the traffic) but it is certainly worth the drive.

Bonge’s Tavern
9830 West 280 North
Perkinsville, IN 46011

Bonge's Tavern Restaurant on Urbanspoon


  1. I've never heard of this place, but I'm intrigued!

  2. You nailed it, great food, uncomplicated, but I've never had a bad meal there -- and the experience is the thing.

    However, when they get busy, they can get pretty inflexible. I've been there much later in the evening (9 p.m. or so) where the wait for food after your seated is pretty ridiculous. I find it surprising that they can't fix the problem of getting food out of the kitchen at the end of a night when they've been really slammed -- but my impression is they don't really feel they have anything to fix. My solution is to go early -- like you did -- or plan for a brief wait, usually with a gin and tonic in my hand.

  3. As a note for the future, if you want the pork, but want something else as an entree, you can get it as an appetizer. Always nice if you're with first timers since it's the signature dish.

  4. Jessica in NoblesvilleAugust 23, 2010 at 7:22 PM

    Bonge's is definitely about the tailgating and taking it slow with friends. I've never minded the pace, but I always go with a group of friends. If you're going on a weekend, you have to expect a wait, and come prepared with your own beverages and appetizers (we also bring a folding table, chairs, and cards). In colder weather and in the middle of the week, you can usually get in quickly, and it's calmer inside. Bonge's is also popular for Christmas office dinners.

    I've never had a bad meal there, but the Harger Duck (duck breast stuffed with cream cheese and jalapenos, then wrapped in bacon and basted with bbq sauce) and applewood-smoked prime rib are my favorites. The prime rib is only available on weekends.

    Next time you go, I strongly recommend trying the sauteed mushrooms and the cold smoked salmon appetizers ... another good reason to go with a group, so you can order more food! And their sugar cream cake with warm blueberry sauce is much better than the chocolate cherry cake ... it's easily the best dessert I've had in Indy.

    I'm glad you enjoyed Bonge's, it's a unique place.

  5. hey, thanks you all for the suggestions...we are seriously contemplating another visit soon and will take them all into consideration...

  6. You must try the smoked salmon, Tony smokes it himself and it is the best I have found anywhere in the state. And if you like steak....the strip is phenominal....tied for the best I have had in Indiana with Harry and Izzy's.


  7. We went on a Saturday. Waited 4 miserable hours made worse by the parking lot Nazi. Made us park next to the kitchen exhaust fan. Wouldn't let us use the chairs out on the lot, wouldn't even let us turn on our car radio (which is not amplified, boosted nor a premium sound system). He made the wait excruciating. I would have left if it weren't a birthday dinner for our daughter. Inside the food and staff are good. But it is the only restaurant where I had to pack a meal to eat during the wait. Ray

  8. If it's available, try the Elk Tenderloin. Absolutely fantastic!!

  9. I've never been there although I've heard about the place.

    However, reading about the waiting experiences and the need to entertain yourself for hours and to bring food to eat before you can eat the actual food at a restaurant that serves food tells me that this is probably not a place I want to go to. Thanks for the warnings.

    Ray, I could have driven up to Chicago and be well into a nice dinner at a nice restaurant with nice wine chatting with the bartender within those four hours...say, at the bar at Naha... :-)

  10. interesting...I have dined at Bongges many times...acceptable food to be sure...but I have never been completely wowed by anything I have consumed there...will go back..but not on my list of best restaurants in the area.

    tailgating is fun..

  11. "Bonge's is definitely about the tailgating and taking it slow with friends."

    "tailgating is fun.."

    I'm sure tailgating is fun. I still find it bizarre that one has to bring food to eat while waiting to eat the food served by a restaurant.

  12. Glad to know Bonge's is still open. We use to love to go with a group of friends, but then they changed the parking lot and put up an outside seating area that changed the vibe of the tailgate scene. We haven't been back since, maybe 7 years?! yikes. Your review makes me want to go back....

  13. We love Bonge's! It is a fun, quirky place that serves great food. We LOVE the tailgating aspect of the Bonge's experience and getting to know your neighbor's while you wait for your table. Relax, take it easy, enjoy a glass of wine and a light appetizer.

    We "usually" get the wedge salad with bleu cheese dressing and it is awesome! Love the jalapeno corn bread and yes, it is so flaky you want to eat with a fork so you don't miss a crumb!

    Our favs are the Perkinsville Pork (glad to know we can get is as an appetizer so I can try some of their other yummy entrees), Harger Duck is my fav-sweet, spicey and who doesn't love something stuffed with cream cheese, hubby loves the Applewood Smoked Prime Rib. We've had other entrees but these are our favs.

    And we ALWAYS make sure to leave some room for the Sugar Cream Cake. And even if we don't have room, we order it anyway.

    My husband and I LOVE Bonge's and we hope you will give it a try. Or maybe not because the more who know about Bonge's the more who will come and make our wait longer. But the "trick" is to get there early. Bonge's NEVER disappoints!