Friday, July 29, 2011

Road Trip: Moon Palace--Chicago

Hubby and I have a couple of good friends who moved to Indy from Chicago not long after we moved here, and we actually met them through my blog.  We have bonded over food in Indy and Chicago and they often give us great tips for more out of the way places in Chicago to go to, that you might not easily find if you didn’t have an insider’s knowledge.  So the other day I shot an email asking about dim sum or Chinese in Chinatown, because I had never really eaten in Chicago’s Chinatown.  One of the suggestions was Moon Palace.  Not only did he recommend it, but told us exactly what we MUST order—and I figured, hey, who am I to argue?  So we did.
Chinatown is a really easy place to get to coming into Chicago from Indy, making it an easy stop on your way into town.  We managed to get there just in time for lunch and ordered (from the dinner menu, although they do have lots of lunch specials) exactly as we were told.  Chive dumplings ($7) and fish fillet with salt and pepper ($16 from the “chef’s suggestions" section of the menu). 

The dumplings came (there are 12 of them!) and I have to say, my first thought was, hmmmm….they didn’t look that appealing.  But I cut into them and started eating and turns out, they are very good.  The dumpling skin is a little doughier than would normally be my preference, but the minced filling with a ton of chives was so fresh and tasty—a little soy and vinegar and these were top notch.  The more you ate them, the more addicting they became.  We nearly ate them all. And that’s a lot of dumplings.
So next they brought us the salt and pepper fish.  Again, I looked at this dish, which was similarly white as the dumplings were, and thought, there is no way this dish is going to have any flavor.  But I was totally wrong here too.  The fish was delicious.  The fillets were lightly fried and had just a perfect amount of seasoning—salt and pepper.  Soy sauce was too much—took away the delicate flavor.  A teeny bit of the chili oil was nice with it, but honestly, I liked it with just a bite of the veggies that sat underneath—sautéed white onions, green onions and jalapenos. The fish itself was not overcooked nor was it fishy at all.  I can see why my friend loves this dish.  As huge as the menu is at this place, and as good as a lot of the things were, I would be hard pressed not to order one or both of these items the next time we go.  Although next time I am intrigued to try the dim sum place he recommended.  Nothing like some good dim sum.
The interior of the restaurant was a little nicer than what you would expect from your average run of the mill Chinese place in a Chinatown.  It was also exceptionally clean.  The service was courteous and professional and there was a fair amount of people in there for lunch.
Anyway, just goes to show you how valuable personal recommendations can be in a City that is not your home, particularly one the size of Chicago.  If you have any off the beaten path faves, let me know!
Moon Palace Restaurant
216 West Cermack Road
Chicago, IL

Moon Palace on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Scratchtruck (Food Truck)

I saw Scratchtruck was parked on my way home from downtown the other day, so I stopped off and checked it out.  I was torn about what to get—the Tuscan chicken sandwich sounded quite delicious, but after a quick chat with the extremely friendly man on the truck, who said he could eat the chicken cone every day, I decided to go with that—after all, from what I have read, this is one of Scratchtruck’s signature dishes.
So the chicken cone is a flour tortilla wrapped around hand breaded chicken tenders ($7 with fries).  The chicken itself is fresh—you can tell this is real chicken, not some nasty food service nugget.  They have a fairly thin breading and that is slightly spicy—sort of a red pepper flavor.  I noticed some sesame seeds in the breading as well.  There is slaw in the cone as well, what is described as mango-jalapeno slaw, although to be honest, I didn’t get a lot of mango or jalapeno (mostly cabbage), but I did enjoy the ancho chile aioli that was in there too.  It had just a touch of heat, but, not in that burn your mouth kind of heat, but a more mellow pepper that builds a bit after you eat it.  So they wrapped the chicken in the tortilla and then set the whole thing down into a paper cone (think of what you get a snow cone in).  It’s nice if you’re eating on the go, because it doesn’t drip all over you.  Overall, the cone was maybe a little dryer (sauce-wise) than I would've thought, but the chicken was tender and the flavors went together well.

There was also a healthy handful of hand cut fries in the box as well. They had really nice flavor and were pleasantly browned, which tend to be my favorite kind of fries.  There were still some nice pieces of skin on them too, giving them a slight chewiness and a little deeper potato flavor.  My complaint about the fries was that they could have been a little hotter and crispier, although when you are serving food from a truck, I am sure it is hard to really cook fries to order.  Also, I would have liked something else besides ketchup for them (I know, I am a broken record on this point) because they were hearty and tasted so homemade—they deserved more than simple ketchup.  Little containers of some fancy aioli? Or even just a container of that ancho chile aioli would be great. Heck, charge extra for it, I’d pay.
Overall, Scratchtruck is a nice addition to Indy’s food truck scene.  It is fun to see Indy people so excited about all the trucks. And I like the way they can travel around so lots of people can get a taste even if the location isn’t always convenient.  I know we have quite a few, and more popping up all the time….what’s your favorite one?
Various locations
Follow them on twitter @scratchtruck

Scratchtruck (Mobile Food) on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 25, 2011

10 01 Food & Drink

A friend recently asked to try 10 01, as she had been curious about it.  Naturally, I was too, and had just been giving it the customary couple of weeks to get things in order before I went in.  But I was looking forward to it, as well as some well-needed girl talk.
They have a lovely large patio overlooking, well, basically traffic on Broad Ripple Avenue, but the nice thing is that it is set up high enough that the traffic noise isn’t overwhelming.  But get there early or late if you want a seat out there, by 6:05 on a Wednesday, we got the last table, which unfortunately was in full sun (ok, so we were there before the straight week of 90+ degree temperatures we have been "enjoying" in Indy as of late--not sure if anyone has been sitting out there lately).  We could have sat inside, but it was too cold in there for me (again, what is with the sub zero air conditioning at every restaurant in Indy?).  I didn’t mind the sun, but it was getting pretty hot, and my very fair skinned friend was actually starting to get sunburnt I think, so we eventually switched tables, which they were extremely accommodating about.  Although they sat the sunny table right away.
The menu is fairly large, and slightly varied, so I asked the server for some recommendations.  The first appetizer she mentioned was the “Cafe’s Cowboy Caviar” ($7) which apparently is a menu item from the defunct Café Santa Fe, and which was an item my friend had really liked at Café Santa Fe.  It is sort of a fancy 7 layer dip—there is a bottom layer of a creamy type sauce. By color I thought it was hummus, but it was more like a seasoned sour cream flavor.   A little thicker than regular sour cream wise (maybe some cream cheese too?).   This was topped with a bright green cilantro oil that I really liked. It tasted really fresh and also had a bit of lime to it I think (there was definitely lime coming from somewhere).  This was topped with black beans, chopped peppers and onion (the menu said there were also olives in it, but I didn’t see or taste them).  There were freshly fried corn tortilla chips to dip with.  It was really quite good.  Although, it is probably better to share with more than two people, but I liked that it wasn’t super heavy like a lot of dips tend to be.
For my main, I again went with the first recommendation out of the server’s mouth—the fried chicken ($14).  As you know, I am somewhat picky (ok, and obsessed) about my fried chicken and this one didn’t disappoint.  It was a de-boned breast and a leg/thigh combo.  I was impressed that even without the bone, the breast wasn’t dried out.  It was still quite moist and the dark meat was very moist.  The coating was a thin crispy coating that was very well seasoned--more like a pan fry then a deep fry.  I would order it again. I have actually been thinking a lot about it since eating it, which is a good thing.  It was served with fontina mashed potatoes that were good-they had nice flavor, although maybe were a little gloppy (not sure how else to describe them).  Normally they serve the gravy over the top, but I asked for it on the side, after being told by the server that this was the case (I appreciated the warning).  There were also a nice crispy biscuit that had good crunchiness, but needed some butter.  I guess if you get the gravy on the top, then you wouldn’t have the dryness issue, but I didn’t.  So I dipped chunks of the biscuit into the gravy.  I liked the gravy, and I often don’t.  It wasn’t overly heavy or thick (I hate pasty gravy) and had a bit of Bourbon in it.
We did have dessert, although this was the low point of the meal for me.  There is only one choice and it is called “Death by Chocolate” ($12).  It varies daily and includes various chocolate items (go figure) served on some lovely pieces of wood that were reclaimed by one of the owners of the restaurant.  Anyhow, the main feature on this night was a large slice of chocolate cake, which was cold, which is generally not how I like my cake.  There were some Amaretto truffles that were pretty tasty, and some chocolate covered toffee pieces that were much like Heath bars.  It wasn’t terrible, it just didn’t get me going.  I would certainly skip dessert next time if this was still the only offering.
For a place so new, and so busy, I was quite impressed with our service.  Our server was always around when we needed her, and told us she had tried everything on the menu.  She gave good recommendations and was friendly and helpful.  The restaurant also sources as much as they can locally, including the produce and meat, and I always appreciate those kinds of efforts.  Indiana restaurants in the summer should be chock full of goodness and this one looked like it was taking full advantage.  They are also open late nights (til 3 am according to the menu), which I can imagine is a nice change of place in Broad Ripple if you are a late night partier.
I am sort of excited about this place….I had my doubts, but as for my first visit, I was impressed. I look forward to going again and trying some of the other things.
10 01 Food & Drink
1001 Broad Ripple Avenue
Indy  46220

10-01 Food & Drink on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hoaglin To Go - Revisit

I stopped in at Hoaglin to Go for a quick lunch the other day.  Their menu is very appealing to me, and I really enjoyed the egg salad last time I was there, but since I feel like I should try something new when I am going to do a review, I ordered one of the daily specials—the veggie quiche with blue cheese and pine nuts.  I ordered it with greens on the side and the Champagne vinaigrette dressing ($8.50).
I was told there were lots of veggies in it, and that was no lie.  There were certainly a lot of different ones—I remember carrot, tomatoes, asparagus and big thick pieces of sautéed onions.  And the egg part of the quiche and the crust were both good.  The crust was flaky and the egg moist and not dried out.  My biggest problem? I didn’t taste a lick of blue cheese or pine nuts which is why I ordered it to start with (those are two ingredients I really enjoy together).
The salad on the side was good—simple mixed greens with some tomato and cucumber slices.  But the dressing—the Champagne vinaigrette-- was amazing.  It had the right amount of bright tanginess that I love, but with still the right amount of oil to balance it.  A bite of the salad, dressing, and quiche altogether was quite a treat.  I made due with zinging up the quiche with the dressing since the blue cheese didn’t seem to be there to serve that purpose.
Overall, I like this place though—the ingredients are high quality and fresh and this is the kind of place I like to go for lunch.  The things on the menu are familiar and comforting for lunch, but they add just the right amount of their own touches to also make them unique.  And that dressing was great (and all of the dressings are homemade).  I can see why they call it their “signature” dressing on the menu.
My server was also exceptionally nice—she gave me the time I needed to look over what is a pretty extensive menu without rushing me, answered my questions, and even brought me a soda to go on my way out because it was so hot outside.  That was a nice touch.  I would love to hear other people’s favorite items here because it is such a large menu—and I would really like to make my way back there sooner than I did last time.
Hoaglin To Go
448 Massachusetts Ave
Indy, 46204

Hoaglin To Go Cafe & Marketplace on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 18, 2011

Fire By the Monon

Just when I said I wouldn’t order another flatbread (seriously, most places should just call them “inferior pizzas”) we took the kids to Fire by the Monon where pretty much the only appetizers they have are flatbreads and salads, so we broke the rule and went with the “blue blaze” flatbread ($8.95).  It was a thin crust flatbread with thinly sliced grilled steak, rosemary, caramelized onions, blue cheese (gorgonzola to be precise) and tomatoes.  And you know, it wasn’t bad.  The ingredients were good and made a nice flavor combination. The steak was tender (seems like it was probably marinated to keep it as tender as it was), even though it was closer to medium than I would prefer.  There was ample blue cheese so that you could really taste it, and the onions (not a lot of color on them for caramelized though) and tomatoes were good-- adding the deeper cooked onion flavor and the fresh acidic flavor from the tomato.  The crust was probably the weakest link, although not horrible.  It tasted pretty good (sort of reminded me of a larger, flatter pita) and was grilled.  It wasn’t particularly crispy, although, it was hard to tell if that was what they were going for or not in this case.
Hubby and I shared two things for our dinner—the Hearth Spinach salad ($8.95) and the pulled pork sandwich ($9.95)(they call it the “Tug of War”).  They were both also pretty good.  The sandwich was probably the best thing we had.  The salad was spinach leaves with black beans, roasted corn, tomatoes and red onions with a slightly sweet chipotle dressing.  There was a sliced boiled egg across the top as well. The dressing is slightly warm, as are the veggies, causing the leaves to wilt slightly.  I actually like this slightly wilted thing with a salad (when it is intentional), and with spinach in particular, because it makes the leaves more tender.  The flavor of the dressing was good—slightly spicy, a little sweet, and could stand up to the hearty spinach.  The egg was a nice touch to add something slightly soft—acting as sort of a substitute cheese component in the salad (and who doesn’t love a little cheese in their salad) as well as some additional protein.
The sandwich was pulled pork in a smoky barbeque sauce with red cabbage slaw, a hefty slice of smoked Gouda and more of the caramelized onions.  We chose the beer battered onion rings as our side and they were served with a side of remoulade sauce.  There was also a little dish of shredded pickles, which I appreciated, because I love pickles.  The sandwiches are served on either a multi-grain bun or Brioche and we chose the multi-grain.  The bun was really delicious with the other toppings, because it really stood up to them without being too soft, but was too hard and grainy the way some multi-grain buns can be.  The pork was tender and had a good flavor—I really liked it with the little pickles on top, and the Gouda added more smokiness which is tasty in barbeque.  I found the addition of cheese interesting on this kind of sandwich, adding a touch of creaminess too, although if it was a little more melted, it might have been better.  The onion rings were good, and were certainly the preferred side item at our table.  Our son had a grilled cheese with fries, and the fries were certainly nothing special.
We also shared desserts—the kids chose the molten chocolate cake (what a surprise) which was a little bundt type cake covered in a warm fudgey sauce.  It tasted pretty much like you expected. It was chocolatey and rich, and really messy (that’s the Mom in me).  The kids enjoyed it for sure, but they will like anything that is made of chocolate.
Hubby and I split the blackberry cobbler which was okay.  I would have liked a touch more crust on top—it was mostly filling and ice cream, and not a lot of the crust which is typically my favorite part of these kinds of desserts.
Service was reasonable.  Not super speedy or friendly, but certainly not unfriendly either.  We sat outside and the kids enjoyed the fact that they gave them sidewalk chalk to color on the ground while they waited.  I just briefly walked through the inside, although I had been inside many times as its incarnation as L’exploreteur.  I was surprised to see they added another bar at the front end of the restaurant, making both ends bars.  There is only one small dining area that is appropriate for families (and this particular room was hubby’s least favorite when we ate at L’ex).  I was surprised I guess because I had read that the owners opened this restaurant to be a good alternative in Broad Ripple for families.  In the warm weather you’re fine because there is plenty of outside seating, but just looking at the inside makes it look like they are attempting to attract more of a bar crowd.  They were very busy, even on a weeknight, and people were waiting for outside tables by the time we left.  They have obviously figured something out to get people to this slightly out of the way location.  It's good to see an independent so busy. 
Fire by the Monon
6523 Ferguson Street
Indy  46220

Fire by the Monon on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 15, 2011

A Few of My Favorite Places: Kona Jack's Fish Market

Continuing along with the series on a few of my favorite Indy places (food and drink type places I frequent on a regular basis), I thought I would talk about Kona Jack’s fish market.  Honestly, this is an easy segment for me to write because literally you are just along on the ride with me on some of my regular errands…
Anyway, when I want fresh fish, and seafood in general, one of a very few places I will buy it to cook at home is Kona Jack’s.  And if I want sushi grade anything to make a ceviche or something along those lines, this is one of only two places I would trust.  For me, I have to have a little extra time, because it isn’t super close to my house, but I can always count on it being really fresh.
The nice thing about the market is that because it is also a restaurant and sushi bar, so you know their turnover is very high.  You can just go in and look in the case (my picture is of the main fish section, there is another case that contains mostly shellfish and freshwater fish) and you can tell that this stuff is good quality.  The regular fish mongers there know about seafood and can order just about anything you want—usually with just a day or two notice.
The only downside (besides it sort of being an out of the way location for me) is that it isn’t cheap.  But when you really want a good quality piece of fish, in my opinion, you can’t skimp too much or you may as well just eat something else.
I also like that I often run into friends at this fish market—even though it is a restaurant too, it feels  familiar to me and somewhat like a little neighborhood shop inside a restaurant.  So on this day, I walked in, on my way to pick up my kids, without knowing what I wanted. I just looked around until something jumped out at me. On this day it happened to be the grouper that caught my eye, which I took home and grilled with a version of a blackening type rub.  Turned out pretty good, if I do say so myself.
The grouper--after

Kona Jack’s Fish Market
9419 North Meridian Street
Indy   46260

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

MacKenzie River Pizza

I have had a few recommendations for this place, and it is very close to our house.  So the other night, when I really didn’t want to cook, we took the kids and headed over.  It hasn’t been open too long, and from what I have heard and seen, this location has never done very well with any restaurant.  When we pulled in, we thought we might have trouble getting in, because the parking lot seemed very full.  However, I guess the restaurant must be quite a bit larger than the parking lot (and they have a fair amount of outside seating) because the inside was pretty empty.  We were the only table in our entire section.
So this place is a chain, although a chain in Montana, Idaho, and Washington, so I am not exactly sure what inspired them to open one in Indiana, other than I guess chains do so well here (sigh).  It will be interesting to see how they do, particularly in this location.
Anyway, our server was friendly, and fairly attentive.  We started with an order of “lodge poles” which are described as breadsticks with cheese and served with marinara.  So I know that a lot (all?) breadsticks are often made with the same dough used in the pizza, but this was actually one of their pizza crusts which was cut in half and had cheese melted on it and a bowl of marinara.  So basically, it was a cheese pizza with the sauce on the side and cut into thinner slices.  They didn’t taste bad, and had a nice bit of garlic to them, but really, I felt like I was having a pizza appetizer before my pizza.  The marinara is pretty good—more savory than sweet which I like.
We also ordered a regular small pizza on their original crust (which is sourdough—same as for the breadsticks). On this one we went with the classic margarita—mozzarella, tomato, and basil.  The toppings were pretty fresh and plentiful and tasted good. Here’s the thing though—I am pretty sure the crust on their “original” pizza (and the sticks) is made somewhere and frozen.  They are perfectly round discs that even have little holes punched into the crust—I assume to keep the shape when they are frozen.  I don’t know, in this day and age, with all the pizza choices there are, I thought this was kind of lame.  And the crust was bready and dense, and just didn’t do it for me.  Honestly, I think Boboli is better (and it’s not my favorite).
The thin crust was better—it appeared to be made fresh, as it was super thin and much more irregular in shape.  It was crispy and a much better alternative to the regular crust.  We got the Sequoia which is pesto (instead of marinara), artichokes, sundried tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, and mozzarella cheese.  Interestingly, it was pretty spicy—I am assuming it was a combination of a lot of garlic in the pesto and maybe the marinade of the sun dried tomatoes.  It was pretty good though.  The crust was much crispier and I liked the combination of toppings. The artichokes gave it that slightly vinegar taste and the pine nuts a bit of crunch.  And I liked that there was enough cheese to make it feel rich and not like a veggie flatbread or something.  They have a lot of choices for their pizza combos and I can appreciate that they have a nice variation of things.  Although sometimes it seems a little overwhelming because there are so many options.
So honestly, there was nothing about it food-wise that made me want to go back, even though with its proximity to our house, I will never say never. (They did have a decent selection of local beer.)  I have a feeling that several of you will disagree with me about this review though, so please share your thoughts.  And while you’re at it, please share your favorite pizza places. It has been awhile since we talked pizza and I’m always looking for something good….
MacKenzie River Pizza
4939 East 82nd Street
Indy   46240

MacKenzie River Pizza on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 11, 2011

U.S. Adventures: Maritana Grille, St. Pete Beach, FL

 After a couple of days in Disneyworld, we were so ready for a couple of relaxing days at the beach.  We rented a car and drove to St. Pete Beach.  We had been once before, several years ago, and remembered having a great dinner at the Maritana Grille in the Don Cesar resort.  So we booked a kids club night for the kids and made a reservation.  The restaurant has won several awards for its food.
For a hotel restaurant, I like this place because it is on the small side, and is quiet and relaxing (seriously what I was needing).  They specialize in seafood, but have a fairly extensive menu.  The service seemed fairly professional, although again, we had a server that wanted to explain just a little too much.  I am sure there are people who really need all that information, but I am not sure why any server assumes everyone does.  And then when we actually did have a question, he didn’t know the answer (but would go find out for us).
First, just let me tell you about the bread plate.  It was so good, it deserves a mention.  The bread itself was fresh and warm and included kalamata olive bread, asiago cheese bread, little white rolls and a whole grain.  The bread was all good, but the butters were served with various flavors of salt on top—one with duck fat salt.  Yep, duck fat salt. Nothing like a little duck fat with your butter.  There was also cumin infused salt and garlic salt.  All really good (and served on nice room temperature butter).  You know I liked it when I took a picture of the bread plate. Yum.
Anyhow, again, cold things were sounding good (it was pretty hot after all) and we shared the tasting trio ($13) that included tuna tartare, beef Carpaccio, and a cocktail shrimp.  This dish was quite nice, the best thing being the beef Carpaccio.  The beef itself was fresh and tender, practically melting in your mouth.  The accompaniments were good as well, a drizzle of mustard, some capers, microgreens and very thinly sliced fennel.  It was a small portion though, being part of a trio, and I think they overdid all the accompaniments that were piled on top. We took a few things off, and then it tasted quite nice.  The tuna tartare was nice as well, a soy based sauce served with a seaweed salad and some crispy wontons, but it wasn’t spectacular.  The shrimp was perfectly cooked, but it was basically one shrimp cocktail (it had a little cocktail sauce artfully placed on the plate).
We also ordered the tempura soft shell crab (of course we did) ($13) and this was a major disappointment.  The crab itself seemed fresh and meaty, but the batter was gloppy and undercooked.  I think the oil must not have been to temperature, although we saw others come out that looked much better, so I guess we were just the unlucky ones.  As much as I love soft shell crab (and you know I do), I didn’t even finish my half.  The ponzu dipping sauce was good that was served alongside—the slight sweet, sour and salty all combined together but you needed a crispy crab to dip into it, and we did not have that.
For my main dish, I went with the King Crab and white truffle fagottini ($22).  This dish was superb.  Hubby was so jealous (which always makes me happy).  Fagottini are typically little square-shaped filled pastas that are sealed at the top, but these looked like little bags—they were filled with ricotta that I think was flavored with some white truffle and were served with a bunch of different spring veggies—there were spring onions, white asparagus, morning radishes, a couple of carrots and some sliced cherry tomatoes (ok, fruit).  There were also big hunks of the crabmeat, and it was all set in a light broth that had butter for sure, as well as probably a little more of the truffle oil and maybe some stock.  It was seriously, really good.  It was funny, when hubby looked at it, he thought surely it wouldn’t taste good, but he was so wrong.  And the rich creamy cheese inside the pasta added just the right amount of creaminess without drowning out the other flavors.  One of the best pasta dishes I have had in a long long time.
Hubby had a special, which was pan seared snapper set over potatoes and veggies with a black truffle beurre blanc.  This one was disappointing. A really nice piece of fish that gave its life only to be overcooked. It had a soufflé on top which I think is the reason they overcooked it.  It was a shame really.  It was too dry, and no amount of beurre blanc could save it.  The flavors combined nicely together, but we ended up just pretty much splitting mine (I really am too nice).
For dessert though, they redeemed themselves.  There was a s’mores dessert ($10), another of my weaknesses.  And these were homemade graham crackers—they were almost more like think cookies—they weren’t hard like crackers, they were flaky and light.  There was a nicely singed marshmallow in between, and the whole thing covered with deep rich chocolate. Oh, with a bit of ice cream on the side.  It was a perfect way to end a meal that had certainly had its ups and downs.
We also ate at several other places—Madfish—one of those cool old retro diner cars with pretty terrible food (obviously past its prime), Crabby Bill’s—your typical seafood shack type place, right on the beach, a chain I think. It had decent fried and blackened grouper and the kids enjoyed it.  And to celebrate a family milestone, we all went to The Lobster Pot, which is an old school steak and seafood place—we had steak and lobster, and it was good.  But seriously, if the name of your restaurant is the Lobster Pot, you better know how to cook a lobster properly (and they did).  St. Pete is a fun place, and we had a really nice time.  Food-wise, it was up and down, but honestly, when I go to the beach, that is sort of what I expect I guess, and I am really there for the relaxation more than anything, right?
So where is your favorite Florida spot to visit? We are always trying to decide whether to stay with our tried and true place (Captiva) or go somewhere new. I would love to hear feedback.  I know a lot of Hoosiers are regulars in Florida.
Maritana Grille
Don Cesar Resort
3400 Gulf Blvd
St. Pete Beach, FL  33706

5200 Gulf Blvd
St. Pete Beach, FL 33706

Crabby Bill’s
5100 Gulf Blvd.
St. Pete Beach, FL 33706

The Lobster Pot
17814 Gulf Blvd.
Redington Shores, FL  33708

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Maritana Grille on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Grecian Garden--City Market

Thanks to everyone who has recommended their favorite City Market lunch spot to me either here, or via email.  I really do pay attention—and based on one reader’s advice, this week I decided to check out the Grecian Garden.  The spinach pie (or spanikopita) was recommended, and I love a good spanikopita.
First, I will say just how friendly the staff at the Grecian Garden were—they were quick and answered all my questions. After perusing, I went with my gut and got the spinach pie ($4.95)“for here” and after a quick moment while they heated it, I took it upstairs to eat.
As for the food, you know, it was pretty good. I love phyllo and this was a nice sized piece of spinach pie with lots of phyllo.  If I had my preference, I probably would have had them heat it just a little bit longer, because I like it really crunchy.  But with that being said, there was a nice ratio of dough to filling, and the filling-- sautéed spinach, onions and bits of feta scattered throughout were good.  I am sure it would be a really nice change of pace from your average burger or sandwich for a quick work lunch out.  So if I was a regular at the City Market, I would probably ask them to heat it a bit longer and make it a regular on my lunch rotation.
Separate from my specific Grecian Garden experience, I have a couple of pet peeves about the City Market though.  The first is that it seems nearly everyone (ok, not the crepe place) serves their food in Styrofoam to go containers, no matter whether you order it to eat there in the market or “to go.”  I mean, what is the point of asking if you want it “for here” if you are going to serve it “to go” anyway?  I hate those containers and really wish more of the vendors made an effort to become more eco friendly in this regard.  Offer plates that are biodegradable at least… and lots of other places offer less toxic alternatives for to go items than these.  Plus, I really hate eating out of them.
My other pet peeve? How come when you go to the City market website, you cannot find any information on the actual restaurants that are there?  (unless I am totally blind or something).  You can find out about the farmers market, and how to host a private event, and even where to drink, but there is nothing about where to eat.  Seriously, the majority of our market is made up of restaurants, I would think they would play that up and let us be able to do a little research and see what’s there.  An out of town visitor would have no idea what to expect out of the market by looking at its web presence.
Ok, enough ranting… please keep the suggestions coming about the market (or general downtown suggestions)…I am still down there about once a week and am always looking for something new…
Grecian Garden
Indianapolis City Market
222 East Market Street
Indy  46204

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Chef Mike's Charcoal Grill

I am sort of torn about the whole Groupon thing—I mean, who doesn’t love a deal right? But sometimes Groupons and coupons in general (but particularly when you have paid for them) just make me feel guilty. I keep seeing it, knowing it is going to expire at some point, and then forgetting to use it.  Maybe it’s just me.  I bring this up, because I had a Groupon to Chef Mike’s Charcoal grill, had had it for about a year, and I finally got around to using it recently (about a week before the expiration date).  It is a bit of a haul for me, particularly during rush hour, so we were pretty hungry by the time we got there.
Unfortunately, upon arriving, and it was one of those ridiculously hot days, we found out their air conditioning was not working.  Of course, I can’t blame them for this, as it wasn’t their fault, but it made for quite a warm dinner (we sat next to the portable air conditioning unit for our dinner and the thermostat read 91 degrees).  I did find it humorous that I had my daughter bring a sweater because we are both usually always cold in restaurants, but obviously, she didn’t need it this time.  The staff was extremely gracious about it though and worked hard to get us the coolest spot in the place that they could. 
Chef Mike’s specializes in charcoal grilled items, and I went with a burger ($9.75) and hubby the grilled chicken wings (buffalo flavor) (6 for $6.99) because we thought wings sounded interesting since they are usually deep fried.  We both started with a salad, which was probably a mistake, but it was so hot, it sounded good.  The lettuce was fresh, but the blue cheese dressing was clearly bottled and had that sort of fakey sweet flavor that a lot of bottled dressings have. 
My burger was outstanding though—I ordered it medium rare hoping it would be a little pink (no one really seems to be willing to cook a burger medium rare) and it was.  My problem with grilled burgers is usually that they are dry—this one was not.  And it had a wonderful charcoal smoky flavor to it.  I had ordered the bacon cheddar burger, and the cheddar was nice and melty and hot, but the bacon a little hard.  They actually use a mixture of Bourbon and chives in their burgers too—hard to say exactly how they impacted the burger, but the burger was moist and tasty.  I got what they called “potato skins” on the side, which are not what you think of when you think of potato skins.  They were red skinned potatoes that were sliced with the skin on, and deep fried.  Not as thin as a potato chip, but fairly thin. They were also delicious, and fresh.  The light batter they use on the fries and skins was really light and crunchy and had a unique flavor with a little bit of seasoning and a healthy dose of salt.  My kids had the fries, which were also very good—hand cut and fried in the same batter.  At first I couldn’t chose which I preferred, but by the end, I think I liked the “skins” the best because they were a little crispier. Hubby preferred the fries.
Hubby’s wings were interesting.  They were pretty meaty and were also charcoal-grilled, having even more of that distinctive smoky flavor—I think you could taste it even more with the wings because the meat has a more mild taste than the beef.  There was just a drizzle of buffalo sauce on them, and it didn’t really add much.  I would be tempted to try one of the other flavors, like the spicy garlic sauce.  My skins came with my burger, but we also tried the potato salad ($2.50) just because.  It was your standard potato salad (although certainly homemade) with red potatoes, egg, mayo and celery.  Not bad, but not super exciting.
I also liked that kids under 6 eat free, so my son got his meal for no cost.  They both liked it ok, although they were a little grumpy from the heat.  The service was quite friendly, especially considering they had to work in that heat.  And I was impressed with how many people came in anyway.  I might have changed my mind if it weren’t such a haul, and if I didn’t have that Groupon.  Oh, and on the subject of the location—just so you know in case you want to check it out, it is a little challenging to find.  It is located on the west end of 71st street just inside 465—in a little strip mall behind the Holiday Inn.  We drove by a couple of times before we spotted it.  But you know, if it were in my neighborhood, I would certainly add it to my local, kid friendly list.  The food was good, the people nice, and it is one of the only non-chains in the immediate area that I saw.  I hear they also have decent lunch specials.
Chef Mike’s Charcoal Grill
7102 Woodland Drive
Indy  46278

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