Monday, December 16, 2019


Ok, it’s a chain, but it’s in Ironworks (there are some other central Indiana locations as well), and I had to try it because that’s super close to my house. A friend and I headed over for a weeknight meal. I was surprised it wasn’t busier than it was—usually new places seemed to be packed in this town no matter what they are. But It was probably only about half full.

Anyhow, we settled in and ordered a couple of the barrel select margaritas ($16)—which is their top shelf margarita. It has fancier liquors in it and it also has a fair amount of orange in it. It was a good margarita but maybe just a little too orange for me. I think I would try the house margarita next time. They also brought the obligatory chips and salsa. The salsa was fine—had a mild, fresh taste. The chips were not good.  They were like the cheapest grocery store tortilla chips. And not warm. You can make chips so good (just look at Nada) or go with quality non-homemade chips, but these were disappointing. I guess on the bright side, I was not tempted to eat more than a couple.

It’s also a really big menu (as it seems that most Mexican places are). There is a fair amount of tasty sounding items (I would like to try the ceviches, which I love when done well, but it was just too damn cold out). We settled on sharing the empanada trio ($12). There were three—one with chicken, one with steak, and one with cheese and corn. They served them with a special salsa and pico de gallo. They were all pretty good. The cheese one was nice and rich and I really enjoyed the slightly pickly topping on the steak. I also liked adding some freshness from the pico de gallo. I sort of wished for a light crema or guac but I enjoyed them all. The crust was nice and crisp. Mind blowing? No. Quite tasty? Yes.

We then ordered their street tacos—you can get them in sets of three or order three different ones, which is what we did ($15). I had the tinga chicken, fish, and shrimp (the fish was one of the signature flavors). I will say the fish was probably my favorite—I liked that the fish was in smaller hunks rather than one big piece. This made it much easier to eat. The fish had a slightly spicy chipotle flavor and was topped with red cabbage and a slice of avocado. While I love avocado, this big slice was a little hard to eat (sorta like when the fish is one big piece). Maybe chop it up or use some guac for extra flavor? Same goes for the shrimp taco which was basically the same seasonings and toppings. However, these were whole shrimp and kept spilling out when I was eating it. Again, would love it if they chopped them into smaller pieces to make it less messy. The chicken taco was a bit easier to handle—it was seasoned shredded chicken topped with queso fresco. The menu said crema too, but I wasn’t seeing any. I got some extra pico de gallo and used the lime and salsa with the tacos and they were decent. Most interesting tacos I have had? No. But not bad. I liked the empanadas better and next time I would try something other than tacos. The elote corn on the side was mushy and sort of lukewarm.

Service was decent, but maybe a little slow at the end considering it wasn’t that busy. It took a fair amount of time to get the check. I am sure we will be back at some point considering the proximity to our house…so please send me your favorite items.

Verde (multiple locations)
2727 East 86th Street
Indy  46240

Monday, December 9, 2019

Meet Noodles

Struggling for a place to get a quick dinner on Sunday, I remembered reading about Meet Noodles and so we headed over there. It was impressive to see such a large crowd for a small local place in Castleton on a Sunday. It’s a warm feeling interior—more so than many of the Asian places we like on this side of town. The wood tables are cute, but strangely awkward to sit at if you are on the booth side as you can’t cross your legs under the table. But I switched to a chair and was good. 

So they specialize in ramen and noodle bowls made with homemade noodles. We got 2 of the ramen choices—the tonkatsu ($12) and the shoyu ($12) as well as the lanzhou la-mian with the hand-pulled noodles ($12).  Honestly, they were all good, but if I had to pick a favorite it was probably the shoyu ramen. It was a clear soy-based chicken bone broth base with the classic ingredients—sliced pork belly, corn, bamboo shoots, soft boiled egg, scallions and black mushrooms. I loved the crispy garlic bits that were sprinkled on top. I really enjoyed the salty taste of the broth and even if the noodles aren’t hand-pulled, they are quite tasty. And I preferred the soft-boiled egg to the one that came with the hand-pulled noodles. 

The Lanzhou la-mian was also very tasty—these were the hand-pulled noodles and I liked the slightly different texture to the noodles—not sure how to describe them exactly, but they were a little softer and more delicate. The beef bone broth in this dish was really good—deep and rich even though overall it was a more delicate flavor as well. The thin sliced marinated beef was very tender even though it was thoroughly cooked. It was paper thin. While I appreciate the idea of the soy marinated egg, it was more like a hard-boiled egg and didn’t have that rich creaminess like the soft-boiled egg. I liked the freshness of the bok choy and the cilantro. It needed a little of the chili oil from the table to jazz it up a bit, but it was good. Simpler but good. It was more like a pho than a ramen.

The tonkatsu ramen was similar in toppings to the shoyu but had more of the garlic and was in a pork bone broth. I am not sure why, but this was my least favorite—the broth had a slightly fishy taste maybe? Maybe fish sauce? Maybe from the nori in there? It was just a little unexpected I guess. The rest of the ingredients were really good—and the pork that they use in the ramen is cut very thin, making it easier to eat with chopsticks and a large spoon.

All in all, a really nice addition to the Castleton area which is so notorious for bad food and chains (with some distinct exceptions of course). It’s beer and wine only if that matters to you—and when they say wine, they mean sake and that’s it. The service is fast and friendly and the place is already seemingly very popular.  Who else has been? I am curious about the appetizers… what have you tried?

Meet Noodles
6368-B 82nd Street
Indy 46250

Monday, November 25, 2019

Spoke and Steele

Recently hubby and I were looking around for a good date night spot and I was somewhat uninspired by the menus I was looking at. It’s partly the season and that I didn’t want anything heavy…I just wanted something lighter and brighter even though it was Fall. Spoke and Steele has been a place I keep meaning to get back to try again since I knew that Greg Hardesty had a hand in creating the menu and when I looked at the menu and the abundance of seafood on there, I was sold. 

It’s an interesting menu—there are some definite Hardesty-ish menu items (remember that endive salad that came from Elements and then would pop up on the Recess menu?). And a big hearty burger. But there are also some interesting Asian influences as well as Cajun influences as well. All things that make me happy. The current head chef is Erin Gillum, which is a new name for me, but I like her ideas on paper.

At the recommendation of our server (who was very helpful and professional), we started with the biscuits with Vermont creamery slated butter and local honey ($7 for 2). Loved the creamery butter with just the right amount of salt, but I can’t say the biscuits on their own were super special. I mean, nothing wrong with a solid biscuit, but these could have used some gravy or something to really take them to the next level (maybe on the breakfast menu?). The butter and honey together added nice flavor though. We ended up just sharing one and taking the other one home.

The biscuits actually came out with the lobster and shrimp potstickers ($19), which were the clear highlight of the meal for me. But this course also reminds me of one of the things I would be vocal about when ordering—the timing and spacing of items. The food came out really fast and the salad was one of the last courses, which is not what we wanted. So if you go and you would like a more spaced out meal, I would order one or two things at a time and if there is something you want to start, let them know. Anyway, back to the potstickers—so, so good. There were 5 of them, stuffed with lobster and shrimp in a light wonton wrapper that was perfectly seared on one side. The broth though—wow—full of ginger, miso and soy—and topped with some peppers. I instantly wanted a second order, but hubby restrained me. The only complaint I had about these was I wished they were just a little warmer, but even so, I inhaled them. And then we dipped our biscuit inappropriately into the broth.

The next course we got were the pork belly and shrimp bao ($16). I love a good stuffed bun, but these were a bit of a miss for us just based on execution. They were 4 large buns—2 were filled with a large piece of shrimp and 2 with a small piece of pork belly. The meat quality of both was very good—the shrimp had nice flavor and was plentiful to fill the bun. The pork, while tasty, and perfectly crisped on the outside was way too small for the large bun. There was just one small maybe two inch by two-inch piece in mine and it was dwarfed by the bun and the excessive amount of spicy mayo. These could be perfected for sure. First, the amount of filling should match the bun. So either more filling or less bun. Then, less mayo—just a drizzle would be plenty as it is very rich (I would add a little acid to this as well). And finally, while I really liked the pickled cucumbers—and they are the things that make these little buns to me—you couldn’t really taste them due to being overwhelmed by the other ingredients. But like I said, there is definitely room for improvement. And I appreciate that they are doing something different. 

The next (and originally, we thought last) course was the endive salad ($11) and the broiled oysters ($20). Like I said, ideally, I would have liked my salad in the first course, but maybe that’s just me. The salad is described on the menu as having endive, blue cheese, candied pecans, granny smith apples and white wine vinaigrette. So the heavy drizzle of balsamic was a bit of a surprise but it was fine. You couldn’t really get much of the white wine vinaigrette flavor though. Loved the combo overall though-some of my favorite combination of things in a salad. It was well-dressed and topped with lots of goodies.

At this time we also got the broiled oysters which were 6 small oysters (I so much prefer them on the small side) topped with Cajun butter and parmesan cheese. They gave you a nice juicy piece of lemon to squeeze over them as well, which was the perfect addition. I prefer my oysters cooked, and these were cooked just right. Gave the oysters even a little more creaminess. Totally worth ordering. 

At this point we felt like we could use one more dish, and hubby was forcing me to try something new (because I really wanted more potstickers!) so we went with the “deconstructed sushi roll” ($24) from the raw section of the menu. This was interesting—it was a patty of rice that was seared on the sides like a crab cake, adding some extra texture. It was topped with some slices of avocado (would have loved a few more) and then ahi tuna marinated and cut into cubes. There were two crunchy spicy chili shrimp on the side. There was a bunch more of that spicy mayo on the bottom of the dish as well. Again, the mayo was a little over the top for me—super thick and rich, but the rest of the dish was really good. The shrimp were cooked just right and I liked the other ingredients combined together for a nice little bite.

Our server was excellent as well and knowledgeable about the menu. She also immediately brought a new bottle of wine when the one we ordered tasted off. No questions asked. I appreciate what seems to be a well-trained staff (although I would like the pacing to go just a bit slower). It's pretty loud in there when it is busy (which it was) so we were happy to be in a table near the bar without too many around us).

At this point, we felt like we had enough to eat and we were generally very pleased with dinner. There are so many things I would like to try (along with my potstickers) on future visits. I love all the shellfish on the menu---am intrigued by items like pickled shrimp with pimento cheese and the Brussels sprouts salad with crab and shrimp. Let me know if you have been and if so, what items you have tried—good or bad. I need to build my next order. 

Spoke and Steele
123 Illinois Street
Indy 46225

Monday, November 11, 2019

Los Arroyos

One of my son’s favorite types of food is Mexican. He has his preferred places (La Hacienda, Nada and Livery), but we are always looking for new Mexican places. Recently we tried Los Arroyos which has been open a few years but is new to us. It’s a small chain out of California and Carmel is their first location outside of the west coast. It has a little different feel than other Mexican places—a little more upscale I guess. A little on the sparse side décor wise, and we got sat facing the bus station and kitchen which always makes hubby a little grumpy.

Anyhow, we got our complimentary chips and dip. I like that they give you two different salsas—one is a littler spicier than the other and has a bit of roasted flavor to it, while the other one is fresher and milder. I actually think I preferred the acidity of the fresher one but they were both fine. The chips were just meh—not warm and nothing particularly interesting about them. We started with the queso dip as well, which if I am honest was probably our favorite part. It came with chile and chorizo and once you mixed it all up was quite tasty. The homemade corn tortillas are a nice touch. Drinks-wise, hubby had a Cadillac margarita ($14) and we both thought it was good (you can also buy a margarita here that costs $350 if that’s your thing). I made the mistake of ordering a blood orange margarita ($14), which took about 3 times as long to get and which has this spicy salt mix on the rim that did not go with orange to me. It reminded me of a drink I accidentally got once that was orange juice and pepper flavor vodka. No bueno for me. I would not order this drink again just for the wait, but especially for the taste. I didn’t finish it and I switched to wine at this point.
The menu looks a little more interesting than many Mexican places—I find so many just have the same 5 ingredients recycled into different tortilla formats. This one had various seafood items. Like for instance, hubby had the langostino quesadilla ($18). It was a quesadilla stuffed with three kinds of cheese, langostino lobster, caramelized onions and avocado and topped with chipotle sour cream and guacamole. Sounds intriguing right?—and all things I like. It was good, but nothing that blew your mind or anything. I could have used a little kick or a little acid with it. But not bad. 

I had the tacos Gobernado ($15.50), which were three shrimp tacos sautéed with green chili and cheese and served with guacamole and a green salsa. Once you doctored them up with enough of the salsa and guacamole and some generous amounts of lime that I asked for, these were tasty. The really needed the lime though. The shrimp themselves were well cooked though and I liked the way the taco shells were sort of lightly fried to give them a little texture. 

The kids both had giant burritos—one had chicken and one had beef  ($13.50). They were definitely large and neither finished. I think I would have gone with the grilled chicken or steak vs. the shredded versions they got. The meat was clearly slow cooked and had that kind of stew-like flavor, which if you like, you would like. If it’s not your thing, this is probably not the burrito for you.

All in all, it was an interesting place with some nice variety on the menu. There are certainly more things I would be interested in trying, but nothing I had on this trip really wowed me. And my son doesn’t understand why we ever go anywhere but La Hacienda for a simple Mexican meal. I will agree, you certainly can’t beat their prices. This place is not cheap, but they do use a lot of fresh and unique ingredients. Will I rush back? Likely not, but I wouldn’t refuse to go either. 

Los Arroyos
11503 Springmill Road
Carmel, IN. 46032

Monday, October 28, 2019

Hoagies and Hops

Recently a friend suggested Hoagies and Hops for a quick lunch—it was crazy because it is just a few blocks from my work, but I had never even heard of it. It’s a cute little place that serves local beers as well as Philly-style hoagies, cheesesteaks and hot dogs. The owner (I believe) mentioned to us that it was the Hog Island sandwich that inspired her to open the shop after living in Pennsylvania. They are importing the bread from South Jersey and chips and pickles from Philly.

We shared a pretzel and beer cheese ($2.79) to start. I liked the beer cheese pretty well. The pretzel was good too, but I wish it had been heated up.  I ordered the 7” chicken cheesesteak with fried onions and sharp provolone. They cook it up fresh and bring it to the table. The ingredients were good, but I sort of wish I had gotten the “Philly Special” that comes with banana peppers, tomatoes, parmesan and spicy sauce just to add a little more flavor to it—I was itching for some acidity or something more. I think the tomatoes, onions and peppers would have done it. But I can’t say I am any kind of cheesesteak expert so I would love to hear what others think—I bet for people who grew up eating these types of sandwiches, this would be a welcome sight—it feels authentic, even though I am not really sure due to lack of experience. 

The cold hoagies seemed popular and that is what my friend had. It was the Hog Island that I mentioned earlier. This includes salami, black forest ham, prosciutto, capicola, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onions and oil. I liked the lettuce and dressing to add some of that flavor I was looking for, although I would put a little vinegar or something in there too. Or maybe some of the whole grain mustard they mentioned in the menu. Loved all the fresh onions though. 

Overall though, like I said, the shop seems to be a labor of love to the owner (I think) who it sounds like ate these types of sandwiches in Philly and was inspired to open a sandwich shop. The people were really friendly and the service was fast. There were lots of working people grabbing a sandwich here and I love how close it is to my work. I am sure I will give it another try to see if I can create my perfect sandwich. 

Please share what you think if you have been here.

Hoagies and Hops
4155 Boulevard Place
Indianapolis, IN 46208

Monday, October 14, 2019

Cake Bake Shop Carmel

Cake Bake has clearly been a darling of Broad Ripple since it opened, and it truly is adorable inside. It is one of my now-teenage daughter’s favorite places. I was excited to hear about the expanded menu at the new Carmel location and checked it out the other day with a group of girlfriends. If I am completely honest, I have never thought their cakes were all that, particularly at the price…but I do love a French bistro-style savory menu, and that’s what they have in Carmel (Broad Ripple too but I don’t think it has as much variety last time I checked).

Since there was a bunch of us, we shared a couple of starters—we had crab cakes (it was actually the crab cake dinner that comes with 2 cakes for $32) and the burrata salad ($18). Both were actually very nice. The crab cakes had a lot of crab in them (you’d hope so at that price) and their remoulade sauce had a nice kick of mustard to it that amped up the flavor. I liked the very crispy panko-breaded edges. And I have to say, I am kind of particular when it comes to crab cakes. I would eat these again. 

I also enjoyed the freshness of the burrata salad ($18) which was a nice amount of burrata with fresh tomatoes, basil and extra virgin olive oil. The tomatoes were wonderful end of summer tomatoes and I appreciate this considering the travesty that a lot of places serve for tomatoes in Indiana. This should never happen in Indiana in the summer. They also brought some nice warm French bread with it, which I could have eaten all of, but restrained myself. It was good. 

I ordered the croque Madame for my dinner ($21). If you are unfamiliar, this is a decadent French ham and cheese sandwich covered in béchamel and topped with a runny egg. So they use a nice country bread, stuff it with gruyere cheese, ham, and mustard, add the béchamel sauce on top and broil it I am guessing. If you stop there, you have a croque monsieur. But if you want the proper sandwich, you always add the egg.  Why you would ever not get the egg, I will never know. It is a rich sandwich though—I only ate about half. Ok, I ate all the egg, but about half the sandwich. I switched out my salad side for frites based on the recommendation of a friend who had been there (although next time I would just get both because I was sad not to get to try the salad with the lemon vinaigrette as described. I think it would be a nice addition). The fries are very tasty and you have to love a nice black pepper aioli alongside to dip them in. They were good, but not super hot. My friend who recommended them was a bit sad about this. All in all though, I enjoyed my dinner. 

The same friend who recommended the fries got the chicken and andouille sausage gumbo (a nice little selection of New Orleans-style food as well) ($22 + $8 if you want to add shrimp, which she did). She had raved about it to me the first time she had it and also thought it was also a little disappointing this time—she felt it didn’t have as much flavor as the first time. I tried a bite—I had nothing to compare it to, but agreed, it seemed a little bland. It is homemade though, so maybe it just varies with who is cooking that day? Not sure. I would like to try the shrimp po boy though—they are flying in bread from Nola and I have not found a good one since B’s closed. 

Another friend had the burger ($20), which looked pretty tasty, but I didn’t try it. A little thicker burger version, but with quality toppings. I would like to try it at some point. Another friend had the French onion soup and watermelon, arugula and feta salad for her main. She thought the salad was tasty, but very small. The soup was just average in her opinion.

Of course we had some cake (ok, I didn’t take pictures, but it might be the most photographed dessert in Indy, so easy enough to see if you want to). I really liked the Millionaire cake the best (slice is $13). Dark chocolate cake, caramel and vanilla frosting in the middle of the layers and well as shortbread. I loved the crunch of the shortbread and the cake itself seemed moister and fresher than what I have had here in the past. The raspberry Champagne cake ($13) was also a table favorite. 

Décor-wise, the Carmel location is very nice and much larger than Broad Ripple, but it’s a new building and in my mind, it’s impossible to recreate the charm of the Broad Ripple location. But I do like the menu and the food overall was good. I will take the kids one of these days—it is their kind of menu for sure. And like I said, I want to try that po boy (anyone had it? Let me know).

Cake Bake Shop
800 S. Rangeline Road
Carmel, IN 46032

Monday, September 30, 2019

Common House Supper Club

If you haven’t heard about Common House, it’s a pop-up supper club run by Alan and Audra Sternberg (he was formerly the chef at Cerulean and the founding chef at Field Brewing). Recently they started doing these pop ups (usually at Ukiyo as far as I can tell) and some friends asked us to go. The menu looked good and we bought tickets. If you call it “Simply Summer,” I will have a hard time passing that by. The entire dinner cost about $90 per person (drinks additional).

The first three courses were amazing. Truly. First was a scallop “tamale,” This was so tasty, it was basically a scallop mixture with whole chunks of scallop that was cooked like a tamale (steamed in a corn husk). Loved the texture of this and the delicate flavor, but also the broth underneath with leeks, scallions and corn dashi. This was unique and it was really good. 

Next came grilled squash salad, which if I am honest, was the one I was least excited about, but which turned out to be one of my favorites for sure. There were various types of squash that was lightly cooked with sweet onions and then tossed in a slightly acidic fish sauce-based sauce—at least that’s how I remember it. It was so good—just the right amount of umami. I loved this one.

The third course was tempura skate wing sitting in a tomato butter with powdered ramp powder. I love skate—truly love it. Skate is the wing of a type of ray in case you haven’t had it before. This was the first time I have had it tempura battered and it was fantastic. Super light and crispy. Clearly a great way to do skate. 

The next course was poached chicken with a strawberry miso side, with chicken fat and pine. This one was good but didn’t stand out the way the first courses had. I liked the crispy edge to the chicken though. I also liked the corn stuffed pasta for the next course with octopus slices and tomato, even though by this point, I was getting full and pasta was a tough one!

The next one lost me. I love tuna, but this “ember roasted” albacore with squid ink bbq, carrot and Thai basil wasn’t doing it for me. The preparation of the fish was such that it had a sort of caramelized crust on top, but the fish got so tough that you could really barely cut it. The last savory course was brisket with egg yolk steak sauce and bok choy. Honestly, but this time I was just purely stuffed. I had a bite or two but had to throw in the towel. I did like that sauce though.
The dessert was interesting, but again, I just tasted it because I was so full at this point. It was rice pudding with honeycomb candy, fermented pine honey, and blueberry sherbet. Interesting flavors and I really liked the texture variation from the light, but crunchy honeycomb in the creamy rest of the dessert. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this meal. Would I prefer maybe a 4-5 course meal next time? Yes.  I was losing steam toward the end. But I would definitely do a next time. I hope to see a restaurant in this couple’s future. 

Common House
twitter and Instagram: @commonhouseindy

Monday, September 16, 2019

Revisit: Road Trip: Fireside Inn - Enochsburg, IN

A couple weeks ago we met our Cincinnati friends back at Fireside Inn. I know I have written about this place before, but my love of fried chicken makes me need to remind you about it. Plus it was interesting to learn that there is a fried chicken trail in southern Indiana. Who knew? But Fireside Inn is one of our favorites in the area, and we’ve tried quite a few. 

We started with some fried pickles ($5.95) because these are some of the best I have ever had. They are thin and really vinegary pickles, just like you might get on your burger at an old-school burger place, with a really crunchy batter on the outside. They are clearly housemade—nothing overly uniform about these. They gave us some ranch dressing and we were good to go. These are the best crunchy fried items (besides the chicken of course) they have that I have tried. And I’ve had the gizzards, livers, onion rings and fries. The standard sides don’t seem to be made in house and the gizzards and livers just get a little dry. I will never go to Fireside Inn and not get the pickles.

The fried chicken is why you come though, and theirs is very good. We kept trying the other local places between Indy and Cincy, and we have all agreed this is our favorite. The chicken pieces are small, but generally I think smaller pieces stay juicier. A whole chicken here is $14.50 (hubby and I shared one and brought a couple pieces home). A half is $7.50. This chicken just ticks all the boxes. It’s juicy and tender and has a nice crispy and lightly seasoned crust. And they cook it to order so it is hot, hot, hot. I like mashed potatoes with my fried chicken the best, but they only offer them on certain days and it wasn’t the day we were there, so I just went with a baked potato ($2.45). Like I said the rest of the sides seem pretty food service, so I was happy with my choice. 

The atmosphere of this place is well, pretty bare and unchanged since maybe the late 60s. The bar has a better vibe, but only 4-5 tables, but it is where we always sit. The rest is a lot of fluorescent lighting and worn out fabrics. Our server was awesome though. She was hilarious and extremely efficient. She had the kind of personality that alone would make you come back. 

If you want a dive between here and Cincy with great fried chicken and pickles, this is your place. Preferably without the kids so you can sit in the bar. 

Fireside Inn
2174 County Line Road
Greensburg, IN 47240