Monday, October 31, 2016

A2Z Café

My Mom and Dad live near A2Z, and recently have rediscovered it—it has been under a couple of ownerships over the years (I went once ages ago under a different owner and wasn’t overly impressed). But not only have my parents told me to go, but so have a couple of readers recently. So the other day my daughter and I went to meet my parents for late breakfast/early lunch.
It’s a little strip mall place off of 96th Street in an area where there are not a lot of mom and pops—it’s good to see one doing so well. At around 11:00 am on a Sunday, there was about a 20-minute wait. Everyone in this place—and I mean everyone from the hostess to the owners to the servers to the bussers are super friendly. Even the co-owner (the “pop” in the relationship) came out from cooking in the kitchen to greet tables. It was an atmosphere that was just pleasurable to be in. I think it rubs off on the customers too, as even they seemed very friendly.

Food-wise, I wanted to get a taste of some breakfast and some lunch, so we ordered a bunch of different stuff. We started with a small order of fried biscuits for the table ($4). These are similar to those that you get in Brown County except they are dusted in cinnamon and sugar, so they are sweet right out of the gate. A bit more like a donut hole. They do serve them with apple butter as well. It was good, but I don’t even know if you need it with the sugar. They were hot and fresh and tender. Very tasty and I nice way to start. My daughter particularly loved them (she has a huge sweet tooth).

Because everyone else was ordering breakfast, I wanted to get a lunch item just to be able to write about it all. I had the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich ($10.50). This is hand breaded and is one of those ones that is totally huge! I cut it in half and just used half for my sandwich, but if you’re a double decker kind of person, you could do two full-sized layers. The pork was very tender and I loved the lightness of the breading on the sandwich. The bun was nicely toasted and I ate it in the classic way, with mayo, red onions, pickles and lettuce. It was very tasty. I’d put it up there with some of the better versions in town. Honestly though, I really enjoyed just cutting bites of the extra part of the cutlet that I didn’t put on my sandwich. It was so light and crunchy. And you could really taste and appreciate the meat. It made me like the whole thing even more. I had a side of mac and cheese and it was good, but not mind-blowing. I liked that the pasta had a bit of firmness to it though—it wasn’t all mushy like some are. They also have a Reuben on the menu, which is one of hubby’s favorites, so we’ll have to go back and try it.

I had a bite of my Mom’s California omelet ($10.50) and it was also good. It’s the kind of thing that includes ingredients that can almost make me get excited about an omelet. There was avocado on top and inside it had bacon, tomato and American cheese. It was very bacony, which is always a good thing. Normally it comes with a side of sour cream as well, but mom didn’t get it—I would have liked it even more with the sour cream I think for that kick of extra tanginess. It’s still an omelet, which like I said aren’t my favorite things just because they’re a little dry for my taste, but overall this was a pretty darn good one.

My Mom got two sides with her omelet and she got fruit and I convinced her to upgrade one to a half order of biscuits and gravy for her other one (for only $1.50 more). They weren’t bad, but I would have liked a but more pepper and sausage flavor. They are very generous with the gravy though. You can see my Dad’s plain cheese omelet ($7) in the background. I didn’t try it, but he seemed to like it.

My daughter had the steak and eggs ($12) and pretty nearly cleaned her plate so I think she was good with it. They did her sunny side eggs perfectly. The steak portion of the meal was a skewer of beef tenderloin. She said it was good, but a bit cooked past the medium rare she asked for. This is one of the reasons I avoid meat on a stick in general—hard to cook it to order. But like I said, she pretty much ate every thing on her plate except all her toast, so I think she was good.

This is a very good option for a homemade breakfast or lunch—it’s not fancy and it’s not gourmet or anything, but they do have some interesting options besides just the standards and the food is very good. And they have a lot of fresh options like avocado and spinach and lots of different cheeses are used in different dishes. I look forward to returning to get my very own breakfast. And I would happily eat that tenderloin again. Plus, the staff alone makes it worthy of visiting. Most of the people working in there knew my parents by name. It seemed like they were like that with a lot of the customers. I would like to know for those of you who have been there, what else stands out on the menu?

A2Z Café
4705 E 96th Street
Indy 46240

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Turf Catering & Kitchen--Revisit

Super quick little re-post about Turf Catering. I took a different friend here for lunch the other day, and he loved it. Seriously, it’s a little ray of sunshine in the food desert that is Castleton.

You guys, you should really try this place. They are really doing a great job. This time I tried the Turf burger ($11), and it was delicious. There’s a lot of stuff going on on this burger—the beef was tender and rare (as I asked) and was topped with bacon marmalade, cheddar, their special sauce, arugula and roasted tomatoes. Such a good flavor—there was a good amount of acid and I liked the crunch from the greens. The brioche was perfect. Ok, by the end, the bun was getting a little soggy, but it tasted so good, I didn’t even care. Plus, see that giant portion of pimento cheese? That was my side (+2 to upgrade from chips). We both ate a lot of it and I still took half of it home. They serve it with bread, but I like eating it with their housemade chips.

My friend had the short rib grilled cheese ($12) and loved it. It is braised beef short rib, butterkase cheese, and red onion jam on toasted Cuban bread. Also very delicious (I had this one last time as well). They do really nice things with jams and sauces. These are the kind of things that make me so happy. He also had a side of Tuscan beans and they were also delicious, even for a woman who tends to not get that excited about beans. A great fall-ish herby flavor. Seriously, such a tasty and unique side dish to have on a cool fall day.

If you work or live in or around Castleton, and you haven’t tried Turf yet, do yourself a favor and give it a go. Report back!

Turf Catering & Kitchen
8155 Castleway Court, Suite C
Indy  46250

Monday, October 24, 2016

Road Trip: Nashville, TN: The Catbird Seat, Butcher and Bee, Biscuit Love

Hubby and I celebrated our anniversary recently with a trip to Nashville. I had such a good experience a few months ago with a girlfriend, I wanted to go and eat there with him. And introduce him to Biscuit Love.

The first night though, we went to The Catbird Seat. This place is so great. You have to buy a ticket to go, and there are only about 20 seats in the place, so they are hard to come by. But I lucked out and got two for Friday (they book exactly a month in advance). The concept is that you sit around this u-shaped bar and they cook everything right in front of you. It’s very cool. Chef Ryan Poli, who has been at several places in Chicago before coming to Catbird Seat, is running things with several assistants. Everyone does everything here. They are cooking, setting silverware and refilling drinks. Even Chef Poli. 

It’s about 9-10 small courses (about $115) and they were spectacular. I’ve got to try and be brief, but here we go. First was malt vinegar chips with dairy dip and butter Iberico ham. Perfect together—the chips were super salty, but great paired with the dip and smooth ham. Next was a tiny piece of tuna with two little infused watermelon balls on top of fermented butter and drizzled with verbena oil. Tiny and perfect—probably my favorite.

Then they brought us a risotto made from sunflower seeds instead of Arborio rice. Very cool. Toothier than typical risotto, but very reminiscent. It was done is a rich truffle cream sauce and then topped with a complete coating of Burgundy summer truffles. You can’t really go wrong with truffles in my book.

Next came these little cockscomb-shaped pastas made from seaweed—this one had a creamy sauce with yuzo—which is a type of citrus. The whole thing was topped with dried shaved scallops. It had an intense seafood aroma, although a milder taste. A very cool sensory dish.

The next course was mainly vegetable-based, but was interestingly the richest dish in my mind. It was a piece of sake-grilled cauliflower that was roasted until it took on a deep rich flavor. It was on top of this cashew cream, which was so rich just from its nuttiness. There was also a strip of what looked like rolled up pasta, but was actually made from turnip. Oh and beef fat. That probably added to the richness as well. It was very cool, although maybe my personal least favorite.

Next was pork with corn, corn and more corn. It was a slice of pork tenderloin and a hunk of sausage (looked like a chocolate truffle almost) and then was drizzled with this corn sauce, and alongside there was corn pudding topped with paprika and popcorn dust. And then on the side a sautéed corn dish with chanterelles and some green beans. The corn stuff here was so so good. I felt almost like the pork was only on the plate as a vehicle to eat the corn and it was honestly almost unnecessary. The corn stood so well on its own. The loin was a bit dry.

Next we moved toward dessert with their version of what was almost a richer palate cleanser. It was milk panna cotta with lemony olive oil. It had a strong citrus flavor and was a nice change. The formal dessert was roasted kelp ice cream with bitter chocolate mousse underneath with some oranges, some cookie and rice crispy crumbs. It was topped with these matcha and chocolate slices. It was really good—didn’t taste at all like seaweed—it just lent an almost smoky taste. Really well done. Then they bring you a cookie jar with some housemade cookies. One was peanut butter and one was a chocolate macaron.

This place is great. Good music, a cool feel to it—and I loved watching the food be prepared. We also had the drink pairing, which was very creative. For example,  Japanese beer was paired with one course, and sake with another. The staff is so friendly and we even had fun talking to the people next to us who were from Chicago (and getting their recommendations for places to eat there). I know if we go back to Nashville, we will certainly try to go again. Hubby loved it too.

The next night we went to Butcher and Bee. This is a cool place as well—a very industrial-type vibe with a fair amount of hipster. I am pretty sure you can’t get a job here unless you have at least 5 tattoos. Unfortunately our service was pretty poor—very hard to get our server when we needed her, and we waited a very long time to order.

But once we got the food, we were very happy. They are known for their whipped feta dip ($5) according to everything I had read, so we ordered that and got it first thing. It is so darn good. It’s feta cheese whipped smooth (and I am assuming mixed with something else to get it to that consistency) and mixed with herbs and topped with this warm fermented honey and pepper and served with hot pita bread (you’ll need more than the one they give you). I am totally going to attempt this one at home.  We also had the corn mezze (the menu has a long list of small plates called mezze and then dishes of varying sizes). It was a corn with a little serrano that was cooked with a rich beef (I’m guessing) broth. It was tasty, but I probably would have enjoyed it more as a side dish rather than as a stand alone one. 

We had two of the middle-sized dishes as well--the fried okra ($12) and the roasted mushrooms ($15). The fried okra was the only total miss of the night. The whole pieces of okra were breaded and fried and topped with a ranch-type sauce and pickled shishito peppers. The breading had a ton of flavor, but when you bit into it, or cut into it, all the breading just fell right off. Neither of us was impressed with this one and it was the one we didn’t finish.

The roasted mushrooms were really good—they had nice crisp edges to them—I love that. There were also sunflower seeds and pickled tomatoes in there—and it was all topped with shaved pecorino. This and the whipped feta were our favorites of the night.

The last thing we had was the wood charred whole trout ($28). It was a whole fish and it was very tender and good. You have to be willing to pick it from the bones. It was pretty easy to do though. And the potato salad gnocchi they served with it were delicious. These alone were worth the price of admission. Super creamy and it had a nice mustardy flavored sauce. Really good.

We were really full at this point so we took a skip on dessert. I would recommend this place. It’s cool, and the food is solid. Hopefully the service is not always so off though.

The last place we ate, on our way out of town, was Biscuit Love. I highly recommend going there at 8:00 ish on Sunday—I’ve done it twice and barely had to wait. When we left though, the line was around the corner. I fully reviewed this place before, but this was hubby’s first time.

We again got the East Nasty, and we again loved it. We also had the Southern Benny again, and it was perfect as well. Ok, hubby wished for a little more gravy, but happily he liked the place as much as I did. We will include a repeat visit here to any future Nashville trip for sure.

We ate really well, and like I said, I would be hard-pressed not to return to Catbird Seat and Biscuit Love on any and every subsequent visit.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Marsh fried chicken

Another quick one (sorry life is pretty busy these days!). So you know I have this thing for fried chicken right? Well recently I heard from a couple different sources that Marsh Supermarkets had changed their fried chicken recipe and that it was good. Of course I was instantly intrigued. I’m not generally a grocery store fried chicken connoisseur, but I was certainly excited to try it.

And you know what? It was really good. Even though it had clearly been cooked earlier, it still remained amazingly crispy on the outside—that breading is big and has a great crunch factor. The meat inside (I ate all thighs, love that you can choose exactly the pieces you want) was super tender as well, which again was a little surprising since it had been sitting for a bit. If I were going to change anything about it, I might add a little more spice, but I’m kind of a spicy fried chicken girl. Other than that, the execution was pretty spot on.

My family has become a bit snobby about fried chicken, but everyone was onboard with this one. And I am going to figure out how to get it freshly cooked and I bet it will be a total knockout. I’m assuming if I am willing to wait, I can make this happen. I am going to find out.

Let me know if you have tried it (or if you do based on this). Would love to hear about it.

Marsh Supermarkets
(Various locations)
Indy, IN

Monday, October 17, 2016

B Spot-- Revisit

The other day the family and I headed back to B Spot. The first time we sort of hit or miss, and we attempted to make it work better this time. One of the things that bothered me the first time was that the bun got really soggy. 

So I got the “Thin Lizzy” ($8.99) again because I wanted to perfect my experience from last time and I generally like the toppings on it. I had them add lettuce to the bottom to hopefully prevent it from getting so soggy (I was thinking it would work as a barrier between the mayo and juices and the bun). It comes with griddled onions, cheddar, pickles and mayo. Sadly, it didn’t really work. It still suffered from the soggy problem. The beef and the brioche buns taste good—they are good quality-- but the burgers are a little too fat for my preference and I hate how soggy the bun gets still.

Hubby went with the bacon cheeseburger, which is pretty straightforward—it’s a beef patty with melted cheddar and bacon ($9.99). My son got the same, but off the kid’s menu.  Because their burgers had no kind of sauce on it (mayo, etc.), they held up much better. They both really enjoyed their burgers. Hubby said if I didn’t want my bun to get soggy, I need to order something like this. However, I like sauce (at least mayo although I typically prefer something more interesting) on my burger.

My daughter had a turkey burger topped with provolone cheese, cilantro and a Sunnyside egg. It was a beautiful egg, and they do manage to keep the turkey fairly moist, but honestly, I thought it had a bit of a gamey taste to it this time.

I really like the “Lola” fries they do with rosemary ($3.99)—they have a nice deep rosemary taste to them and they cook them nice and crisp. We also all enjoy their onion rings ($6.99)—they’re battered and very tasty. Honestly, the sides are my favorite part probably.

The kids loved their chocolate banana marshmallow shake ($6.99) and they do a good job with milkshakes for real. Love the crispy slightly blackened marshmallows on top.

The server was very nice, and it was very efficient--this place seems to have lost a lot of the business it had the first time I went. Honestly, I am wondering how they are really doing. People were into the celebrity chef thing at first, but I’m wondering if it has staying power based on the crowd (or lack of) that I saw. Who else has been lately? How was the crowd? And I can’t say the food wows me enough to make me even think about it when I am looking for a place to go. Anyway, look forward to your thoughts.

B Spot
2727 East 86th Street
Indianapolis, IN 46240

Monday, October 10, 2016

Meridian - Revisit

It had been ages since hubby and I had been to Meridian. It was one of those nights where we were struggling to figure out where we wanted to go. It seemed like a good time to go back.

The place is a very nice interior. I have to say, not very crowded these days—there were people there, but for a weekend, it was not that busy. Our server was very nice and they bring you warm toasty rolls pretty quick, which are soft, and maybe just a little sweet, and very delicious, especially with the totally soft butter they bring as well.

We started with a couple of appetizers—the fried oysters ($16), because, well, I guess there’s a reason they’ve been on the menu since the dawn of time (or at least the dawn of Meridian). They’re quite good. There are several small oysters fried very well and crispy. They’re still doing a play on Rockefeller with creamed spinach underneath, dots of hollandaise sauce and a large dot of Sriracha as well They then top the oysters with crumbles of bacon. These have pretty much always been good, and still are, but make me wonder if maybe a little variation would be good.

We also had the current version of the beef tartare, which they have had some version of the last few times we’ve been. This one was described as a poke, which I associate with a slightly larger dice. This one was still pretty fine I think, but it’s just semantics I guess. We were intrigued to get this one because of the flavorings with it—it was seasoned with lemongrass, ginger, mint, pickled shitakes and served with fried wontons. It was really good. I really enjoyed the pickly taste and even softer texture of the mushrooms. I liked the Asian flavors as well. This was a very well executed dish.

We then shared a Brussels salad ($10). They split it in the kitchen for us, which was nice, and it wasn’t ridiculously huge, which was also nice, but I wasn’t wowed by the salad itself. It was shaved Brussels sprouts, apple slices, radicchio, golden raisins, pine nuts, manchego and gastrique.  Many of the sprouts themselves were sliced a little too thickly, making them too tough to eat, since they were raw. The other ingredients were fine, but the salad just didn’t really come together as a cohesive whole for me.

We were more lured in by the apps on this night, so we just got two more for our dinner. We had the pork belly ($12) and the smoked trout ($16). These were both fine, but neither were as good as the first two we had. I appreciated that the pork belly was cut into nice cubes, giving you the full range of the pork without giving that overly gelatinous thing that sometimes happens with pork belly. These were more like a nice cube of bacon. The bread cubes were a little much with it though. There was remoulade all on the bottom of the plate, which was fine. The fried green tomatoes seemed to get a little lost, and that acid would have been nice. 

The fish was really pretty mediocre—the fish was dry and didn’t have a lot of flavor. Loved the little baby quail egg deviled eggs, but that was about it here. Honestly, I didn’t eat much more than a couple of bites.

Oh, but the side of mac and cheese was really delicious—totally worth ordering—super creamy and with a nice buttery crumb topping. This was worth taking the extra home. And it’s a big portion, so there will likely be some left.

Even though I know I said I liked the older dishes on the menu the best, I still feel like Meridian may be in need of a bit of some menu updates. They need to do something to distinguish themselves again if they want to stay up there with the nicer restaurants around town. There’s a reason we don’t think of it very often when we have a date night, and it’s that it just doesn’t have an interesting menu, particularly since it hardly changes… just my two cents.

5694 N. Meridian
Indy 46208

Monday, October 3, 2016

Road Trip: Duck Duck Goat and Au Cheval--Chicago, IL

Quick weekend to Chicago and we ate so damn well. After stopping in Lafayette and having lunch at Heirloom we got into town and had an early dinner at Stephanie Izard’s new place, Duck Duck Goat, which the menu describes as “reasonably authentic Chinese cuisine.” At least when you have to take a 5:30 reservation in Chicago, it’s actually 6:30 in Indy. Anyhow, we were with our friends who love to share and we ordered a bunch of stuff.

They just kind of bring you things as they are ready. One of the first things we got were the soup dumplings. These were super tasty and tender dumplings filled with a light pork and crab flavored broth. They also serve you a seasoned soy sauce to put with them. We were not in agreement as to which way was the best to eat them—with or without the sauce—but we all agreed they were delicious. You kind of have to take a bite out of the top of them and eat them in a couple of (messy) steps.

We also had the shrimp toast. I love to make shrimp toast, but this one was quite different from most I have had or made. It was a full piece of bread topped with the baked minced shrimp. But what made it stand out were the pickled veggies on top—I really enjoyed the briny taste on top of what is typically a pretty rich dish.

Next was crab Rangoon ($13). These were good, but maybe were my least favorite item just because they weren’t that exciting. They were done well though and I liked the sweet-ish sauce with them. Not the neon red sweet and sour sauce typically found in Chinese restaurants. It was housemade and had more texture and depth of flavor.

The wood-fired char siu ribs though? Those things were off the chart good. And these aren’t typically my favorite types of items because I often find meat like this dry and flavorless. These had the right amount of fattiness and great flavor between the smokiness and the salty sauce. Everyone loved them.

We also had the mapo doufu (my choice). I really enjoyed it but I am guessing others at my table didn’t like it as much as I did. There were lots of hunks of tofu and lots of little shreds of pork coated in a spicy Sichuan sauce. It had a secret kick from the peppers that you didn’t taste at first, but slowly grew until your mouth was a little numb and tingly. It was even better once we got our pork-fried rice (in future, I would make sure to ask that the mapo doufu came out at the same time as a noodle or rice dish). The rice had different kinds of rice—white jasmine rice but also a type of red wild rice that gave it a really nice texture. With the creamy tofu, it was a great combo. Everyone loved that rice. It was inhaled. I mean there were chunks of pork belly and sausage in there so you couldn’t really go wrong.

Finally, we had their version of Peking Duck ($59)—again another thing that I probably wouldn’t have typically ordered (the beauty of having multiple people with you) but it was outstanding. Everyone was talking about it for days. The duck was taken off the bone perfectly-there wasn’t a sliver of bone left over. And the skin was super crisp. They gave you a whole platter of seasonings and sauces to use with it and little pancakes as well. It’s a big dish, and it’s expensive, but it’s worth it if you have at least 4 people. They only make a couple an hour though, so if you want it, tell them right away. The cool thing is, they are also opening a little street food window attached to the restaurant where you can walk up and get various items. That would be such a cool place to have around for lunch.

Anyway, we really liked it and I want to go again and try more things. You have to love the cheesy movie-set like quality of the decor too. Just kitschy enough.

Also, quickly—the next day we went to lunch again at Au Cheval. Our friends had never been there and we knew they needed to try that burger. They were not disappointed—I mean that might be the best burger ever (although this time we got the egg on it. I think just the straight up burger without the egg or bacon is the best way to experience it). We also had the fries with mornay sauce and aioli and an egg as well. Oh, and this time we tried the hash browns were were stupendous. They were super thin and super, super crisp. Totally worth ordering.

And then, because our server felt that our service was slow (we were fine) she brought us a free dessert. I really, really didn’t need dessert after all that food, but oh my god. Now I don’t know if I can ever not order it. At it’s core was a blueberry muffin. That doesn’t sound exciting I know, but it was the best damn blueberry muffin ever. And then they give you this super soft salty butter with it. Those two items alone were amazing. But then, somewhat incongruently, there’s chocolate ice cream and warm dark chocolate sauce in a little pitcher too. Both are good, but not so much with the muffin. The muffin needs nothing but that butter. But you can make yourself a nice little side sundae.

Au Cheval doesn’t take reservations, so get there early if you want to have lunch on the weekend. They open at 11:00 and we got there about 10:40 and got in line. We were seated in the first round as they opened the door at 11:00. The line went halfway down the block by 11:00.

Two great places—both are places I would (and will) easily return to in Chicago.

Duck Duck Goat
857 West Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607

Au Cheval
800 West Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60607