After spending three weeks in Italy this summer, my kids have been itching for some good Italian food. Yeah, we all know how that goes in this town. Particularly after you have actually experienced Italy and the wonderful variety of food that is offered (I know, I’m a broken record but it’s not just red sauce and alfredo people).
We decided to give Pioneer another try because I have been told they have a new(ish) chef (Lane Milburn) and that he used to work in San Francisco at Delfina, one of our old favorite neighborhood Italian joints. The menu has a Northern Italian/Alsace bent.
It’s a big place and I usually prefer sitting in the bar area for a bit of coziness, but we had the kids with us, and well, this is Indiana so we sat in the main room. I am happy to report that by the time we left, it was pretty full out there. And again, it’s big.
To start with, they brought us some little happy hour freebies (nice to see them doing this outside the bar area) of fried chickpeas, olives and sausage with pickled mustard seeds. It was a nice little treat, everyone loved the chickpeas and you know olives and me. Hubby was particularly fond of the sausage.
As appetizers, we ordered the pretzel with beer cheese and honey mustard ($6) and the short rib Milanese arancini ($6). The pretzel was a huge hit with all of us. It was obviously homemade, and had just the right amount of texture to it as well as salt. I am going through a little beer cheese obsession right now, and this one was just how I like it. More of a spreadable consistency (not melted) and had a nice kick from the beer. The honey mustard was also a nice variation or addition to the beer cheese. Pretty sure there will be two orders of this in the future if we take the kids again. The arancini were also very well received, particularly by hubby. The rice was nice and tender and stuffed with some short rib. The outside was breaded and fried just right so that it gave it the crunchy edge without drying out or liquefying the inside. They were sitting on a bed of saffron aioli, giving them a nice dipping sauce with just the right amount of tanginess.
Both the kids wanted to order pasta for their main dishes, so hubby and I went a little lighter on our choices because we knew we could eat part of theirs. When we were on the Amalfi coast in Italy, my entire family became obsessed with the tiny clams that are everywhere there. They are like the size of your fingertip. I have never seen them anywhere in the U.S. But there was linguini and clams ($21) on the menu at Pioneer, and my daughter was determined to get it and hopefully relive the vacation experience. While they weren’t the teeny tiny clams that we had (like I said I have never seen them here), they were nice and small and the dish was excellent. Definitely one of the better pasta dishes around town. The linguine was cooked just right and well seasoned with pancetta, red chili flakes, and white wine. The clams were small and tender. A really tasty dish.
My son went with the rigatoni with “Sunday supper sauce,” meatballs, ricotta, and pancetta bread crumbs ($19). You want a rich and hearty (and delicious) plate of pasta? This is for you. I loved the balance with the creamy, tangy ricotta and the texture offered by the breadcrumbs. It was a deep, rich red sauce with a lot of flavor, but was so much more interesting because of the other things going on in the dish. Really well done. Again, one of the better pasta dishes I have had around Indy.
Like I said, hubby and I got appetizers as mains (and some sides) because we shared the pasta. I ordered the beef Carpaccio ($13) with radicchio, caper berries and Parmesan and hubby ordered the warm chicory salad with a poached egg ($11). We also ordered a side of the spatzle ($5) and the German potato salad ($5). The Carpaccio was a little different than most I have had—the beef was sliced a little thicker, but it was very good. It was so tender it was not hard to eat, even though it was a bit thicker. Loved the caper berries that were sliced on the plate to give it the acid that Carpaccio absolutely needs. The Parmesan added some saltiness. My kids were begging me for more bites of this all through dinner. It was a crowd pleaser for sure. Personally, I may have slightly preferred the chicory salad though. Wow, that was a great salad. It was slightly warm, so the chicory wasn’t too tough and it was dressed with a garum vinaigrette, which is a dressing made with a spice blend that gave it a great flavor. Plus there was more shaved Parmesan, croutons, and that wonderful poached egg giving it a rich creamy decadence. A wonderful salad. I highly recommend.
The sides were the only things that didn’t really impress as much. The potato salad was the better of the two, and was seasoned with gorgonzola, bacon, and dressed with Banyuls vinaigrette. It sounded much more interesting on paper than it actually tasted. I was looking for more kick from the dressing and the blue cheese, but it was kind of bland. Not bad, just not as exciting as I had hoped. The spatzle was quite dry and didn’t seem to have any seasoning to me. It was supposed to have lemon and black pepper, but I wasn’t really getting much of it. We left most of this one.
All in all though, this was a really, really good meal and I look forward to returning soon. If you are looking for some interesting Italian dishes, go give this place a shot. I still feel like it flies under the radar a lot more than it deserves. Go give them some love. (Only downside here...what is up with the parking in Fountain Square? Oy. Although Pioneer does have it's own parking lot in back).
1110 Shelby Street