Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sam's Gyros review

After burning some calories at the Jordan branch YMCA, what should I do? Well, I should eat all those calories back in (or more) by stopping for a quick lunch at Sam's Gyros. I really enjoy Greek/Mediterranean food, but I don't typically get gyros. And, from my previous visits to Sam's, I was underwhelmed. But, I wanted to try it again, and figured it would fit the time window I had available.

If you've been through Broad Ripple much, you know Sam's is on College at 54th Street, between the Army surplus store and what used to be Northside News Cafe. It is a well-worn place, welcoming and comfortable.

They have three standard lunch specials - a gyro salad, a gyro special, and a falafel special. On this visit, I went with the gyro special and had the spicy gyro. For one stuffed pita, some fries and a drink it is $7.50 before taxes.

While I was underwhelmed previously, on this visit, I found the spicy gyro really tasty. Lots of heat, and the taziki (sp?) sauce was chunky and decent. The pita bread is pretty thin, and seems to break too easily. But, overall, a tasty gyro. Is it great? No, but a good value. I really love the shwarma at Saffron Cafe as my favorite gyro-like sandwich in the area. This is a few first downs behind Saffron, but it is pretty good. The fries, on the other hand, are a waste. They're an out of the bag variety, which is common, but they are cheap and very unexceptional. For about the same cost, get the full gyro - which is two stuffed pitas. You'll leave much more full.

The verdict: 3 belly rubs (out of 5). Tasty, decent value, a bit better than average.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Closing report

With not being downtown as much now that we've moved a bit north, I find I really do miss downtown... anyhow, noticed today that Taste of Tango on Washington has closed. We went once and had a decent meal, but nothing really stood out. It was rare to find many that talked about this place. So, wasn't terribly surprised it didn't make it. Their website certainly looked nice....

Monday, October 25, 2010

Zest! review

Zest Exciting Food Creations has been one of my "go to" places. In fact, I have often thought of it as one of my favorite local spots. My feelings about it are strong, as I've always thought of it as comfortable, comforting, warm, welcoming, hearty, tasty and good value. I like their approach to slightly upscale comfort foods, and like their use of ingredients. And, typically, I've always thought their prices are very good, with it being fairly difficult to find anything for more than $20 for a dinner entree.

Anyhow, it had been a while since we'd been to Zest, and mom had never been, so we headed there last week (south end of Broad Ripple, on 54th).

One thing I realize as I write this, I think I have typically been to Zest in a type of "seasonal" pattern. We've most often eaten outside, in their odd little "patio" are of the parking lot. And, the other times inside have typically been for brunch on a weekend. While we've been there for supper, I'm not sure we'd eaten inside at supper time. Anyhow, it was a weeknight and very quiet. Apparently in the last month or so, they've changed the evening menu. It is now much more simplified, with only 7 dinner entrees available, plus a few specials. Now I really enjoyed the "full"menu that used to be available at supper time. And, while I realize it makes the organization and planning (and, ultimately overall cost) easier to manage by having less items, I do miss the full menu (which is still available at breakfast-brunch-lunch. So many affordable, tasty offerings there.

We started with the tomato bon bons, which were fantastic. A nice, full-flavored appetizer, but hard to consume in one bite (tho, to the Better Half's displeasure, I did). The sausage-tomato-cornmeal-asiago came together quite well. The bread that comes with your meal is warm, fresh and wonderful. Especially the pretzel bread, but I have a weakness for pretzel bread.

This evening we had three entrees - mom with the braised beef short rib, the Better Half with the Zest take on Chicken 'n Waffles, and for my first time I had (a Zest menu favorite) the Asiago "Fried" Chicken.

Plenty of food at Zest, with large servings that will not leave you wanting more. I'd been out raking leaves and I left some food behind. Now, part of that is that I didn't care for the cooked-down wild mushroom ragout that much, it was a bit overpowering for me. And, polenta is pretty far down on my list after rice, couscous, potatoes, etc.... But, it is a tasty meal, and the quotes around fried just mean that chicken was baked with a bit of a "crust" made of breadcrumbs and asiago cheese.

The upscale version of chicken and waffles was very appealing in name, and it was executed well and hit some soothing, homey notes. The cheddar-scallion waffle didn't sing for the Better Half, but I thought it was pretty tasty.

Mom's slow cooked short rib was enormous, though the amount of meat eventually kind of wore you out on the taste. It felt a bit overcooked, but that is a risk with slow cooked meats.

Overall, satisfying as usual, friendly service, good value (2 of the 7 entrees at $20 or more). But, ultimately, I felt less "at home" at Zest this evening than I have at other times. Ultimately, I really like Zest with their brunch and lunch menu. It feels homey and local, the value is high, the food is satisfying, the ingredients achieve great things at a good price point. Supper here seems more of an attempt at a finer dining experience, and while it is well executed, it seems like a mixed message to how I personally have come to value and enjoy Zest.

The verdict: 4 belly rubs (out of 5). Still a favorite, but not necessarily for the evening meal. Score on this visit bonused some from previous visits with the breakfast and lunch menu.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Miller's Pizza & Sub Shop review

Out on an errand one lunch time, and I figured I'd stop in at The Sandwich Machine over on NE Pendleton Pike (just a bit west of Post Road). When I was a teen and into my first couple of years in college, I worked in construction related jobs in Lawrence-McCordsville-Fortville, and the Sandwich Machine was a favorite. However, one really bad online review had me worried, and when I went by at lunch and couldn't actually tell if it was open... well...... I went about a half mile back to the SW and stopped in for a maiden visit to Miller's Pizza & Sub Shop.
Miller's is a very clean shop, impressively so. The site says the shop has been open since 2002 (and, apparently, the original owners are now back), so it seems the cleanliness is a matter of process discipline and attention to detail, not newness of the shop. That's a good thing.

Miller's has a pizza buffet at lunch. Pizza was not in my mind, but... hey, a pizza buffet... it has to be considered.... So, I ended up doing a bit of a double dip. I asked what their best sub was, and was told that the steak and cheese was the most popular, so figured I'd try that. I did not expect an original Philly-style cheesesteak, but.. was hopeful. I added a slice of pepperoni.

The prices are good for what you get. An 8" sub is $4.69. If you are definitely hungry, you can move up to a 16" for $9.29.

The sub comes on a nice soft, split top roll with a slightly crispy crust to it. The steak is advertised as shaved ribeye, and it is tender and tasty. No grizzle in this batch, which was nice. The provolone was good, though if I go back I think I'd ask to double cheese. There is no mayo, which tends to be a frequent addition to too many sandwiches around here. Overall, much better than expected, tasty, not exactly Philly quality, but I'd go back for it. Quick service, clean place, good price. Thanks, Miller's, that was nice.

Now, I also had a slice of the pepperoni pizza. Um... not nearly as good as the sub. Seemed like kind of the no-name, generic mall pizza you can get in numerous places. My biggest issue, though, was the sauce. It tasted like it was mostly just tomato paste, and I'd have liked a bit more seasoning in the sauce. I definitely won't go back for the pizza, much less the pizza buffet.

The verdict: 2.25 belly rubs (out of 5). Clean, bright and good value. Nice sub, but below average pizza.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Jack's Pizza review

Does anyone feel really strongly about Jack's Pizza? As we've moved up into the Nora area, we drive by the one on 86th Street all the time. So, we decided to finally give them a shot.

So, honestly, I wasn't expecting much from Jack's. As this local chain shares a name with a brand of frozen pizza, it doesn't exactly elevate your expectations. Another frustration for me is that a company website was not easily found. In fact, I didn't find one. I could not find a menu online. The other thing that is a major issue for me is that I just don't like cutting coupons. The clutter just annoys me, and I don't feel like keeping around all these coupons that expire eventually. So, we were ordering sans coupons, and we took a hit on this pizza. We got a medium supreme. Jack's doesn't call it a supreme, but more like the Jack Pot, Full Jack-et,... something like that. There is also a pizza that has all 14 of their toppings, including anchovies, but that seemed a bit overboard.

They have 5 sizes at Jacks', so I assume the medium was the 3rd or perhaps the 4th biggest. You can tell I didn't spend a lot of time figuring this out, as I was ordering without being able to look at anything and talking to guy on the phone.

Anyhow, the pizza we got was pretty tasty. They have a heavy dusting of Italian seasoning flakes on top, and there is a load of toppings. The crust is completely unremarkable, though, so you really need good toppings to ignore the bland crust. And, they only have one crust type available, a thin crust. The supreme has a lot of green olives, which is something we like, but I realize many would not care for. Overall, it was tasty, and the topping mix reminded me of one we get more often from Monical's.

But, the real problem is that the pizza cost us almost $23. What? That is absurd to me, though I paid it cause I wanted to try a pizza place new to me. That is just bad value - especially for just a middle of the road pizza.

Have you noticed Pizza Hut's pricing campaign? We ate in at one just last week, and they've simplified the pricing and basically set it up so that you can avoid coupons. It is a great, simple structure - 3 sizes priced at $8, $10 and $12 ($1 more for a small handful of specialty pizzas). We don't' have to cut or save coupons, and they don't have to print them. Papa John's is similar, as they're pricing large pizzas at $10 with up to 3 toppings. It just makes sense, and best of all they're making it easier on the customer (what a novel concept!).

The verdict: 1.5 belly rubs (out of 5). Decent tasting pizza, below average crust and poor value (also really needs a website).

Friday, October 15, 2010

Gigi's Cupcakes review

I don't know if every cupcake shop in town deserves a review, but... I dropped in at Gigi's Cupcakes over across the street from the Keystone at the Crossing mall on 86th street. It is next to a McAllister's Deli, so if you want to chase down a sandwich with a sugar bomb, you're all set.

Gigi's is a chain, which I didn't realize till I asked them. You can read the owner's story on the web site. Looks like the corporate center might control the daily flavors, too, which is kind of interesting. I assume they allow for regional favorites... like, if Indy was totally into lemon-mustardseed cupcakes with blueberry-salted-carmel, I sure hope they'd serve them often.

What stands out about these cupcakes is the sizable tower of frosting. I am all for a higher frosting-to-cake ratio, but... Gigi seems to have outdone herself with these and actually given you more frosting than even seems reasonable. Hunka Chunka Banana Love is interesting, and I'd likely go back for the Kentucky Bourbon Pie.

Ultimately, sure, they're tasty cupcakes. But, I just like the Flying Cupcake so much more. Even in the style of the store (this place seems so... corporately blingy, if that makes sense).... and, while I'm not anti-chain, for a cupcake, I'd prefer to push the local alternative rather than the chain.

In other news.... the combover abides!

And, this is one of the silliest early 80s music videos I've seen.... I barely remember it... I watched it all the way through, wondering if they'd keep up with the 16 screens... and, they do!... And, they have such obvious linkage of lyric to image that I wondered if I did this in 8th grade.....

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hunting season is upon us....

.... so, if you need a squirrel recipe, here you go.

El Pastorcito review

Boy has it been busy lately. I'm tied in with the sales cycle now as part of my job, and... that can have some serious peaks when we're proposing something.....

So, not much being posted here lately... and, we ate in a bit more, and the eating out we did lately has been more run-of-the mill, or not really stuff that cries out for a review. I will mention two things:

  • Pizza Hut - I still do love your pan crust
  • Rock Bottom Brewery - I keep getting dragged to you with work, and your Sonoma Chicken Wrap is truly miserable. So dry, it was like airport food, but worse. The tortilla is almost as thick as flatbread, and while your wrap is loaded with chicken, the whole thing is so dry, it was like I was grinding saw dust with my molars

Anyhow, went to El Pastorcito for the 2nd time this week, meeting up with a few friends there for lunch. WIBIA and Indianapolis Amy both have reviewed El Pastorcito, and their recommendations of this place got me interested.

First off, this place has an extensive line of tacos. They are the traditional style tacos, it seems, being served on two corn tortillas. Their are about 10 different meat options you can choose from, including flank steak, chorizo, chicken, goat and... brain. On my first visit I had the carnitas, flank steak, chorizo and goat. And, I tell ya - get the goat. That's some tasty protein. Now, I am a gringo that prefers flour tortillas over corn, but the overall taco is very good, and the pico that comes with it is a great, fresh addition.

On my most recent visit this week, one of funny items was from one of my friends who is a British ex-patriate. He mentioned that some of the mad cow issues had come from brains being fed to cows in England (can't confirm veracity). Needless to say, he didn't get the brain taco.

I tried the carnitas in green chile sauce. Good stuff. The meat was tende, but had a nice crust to it, the green chile sauce was flavorful, but not very hot. There was a load of flour tortillas to go with it, and sides of rice and beans for just $6.99. One of my cohorts had the huevos rancheros, and the medium fried eggs had a load of a nice looking, chunky red sauce on it. The other had a burrito, which I think I should go back for. It came with a side of rice and a pile of shredded lettuce, and it was about 80% the size of a Qdoba/Chipotle burrito. And, it is just $4.99. You can pick from any of the meats that go into a taco for your burrito, so lots of choice.

El Pastorcito is a clean, simple little place offering good value and good grub. The tacos are especially loaded with meat. If you're fine with a little taqueria, this place is a good stop. I really enjoy Mexican food in general, but I do trend more towards Tex-Mex than the more traditional Mexican spots.

The verdict: 3.75 belly rubs (out of 5). Great value, quick service, good portion size.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fire at Santorini's

No one was hurt.... and, glad to hear they plan to rebuild after the fire last night at Santorini's Greek Kitchen.....

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tortas Guicho Dominguez y el Cubanito review

I was really excited about this excursion to Torta Guicho Dominguez y el Cubanito. While I was away in Raleigh, the Better Half sent me this review from the Star. I don't think I'd ever had torta from any of the Mexican places we'd visited, so I was excited about trying this version. WIBIA at Would I Buy It Again had mentioned having a super-loaded torta on one of his road trips, so I am wondering what he'll think of this place eventually.

We arrived for a pretty late lunch on Saturday. We had mom in tow, too, who usually makes it quite clear that she doesn't like sandwiches. The restaurant is brightly adorned, well lit, colorful and welcoming. There is seating for about 16 people is my guess, and there was a nice little crowd of about 6 there at the time of our visit. They start out with some salty, shelled peanuts. Then, you have to work your way through the menu. Ultimately, you can pick small variations of their sandwich fixings or... basically get everything in the Cubana (#12).

They bring two salsas and some peppers to accompany your sandwich. The red salsa is very heavily peppery, and the green has more flavor beyond the blunt pepper. The jalapeno/carrot mix is a great addition to go with the sandwiches, and they're more sour than hot.

They have 6 sandwiches named after famous Mexican artists, including Salma Hayek, Shakira and Enrique Iglesias. Suffice to say, I could not imagine having the words "I'll have the Enrique Iglesias" come out of my mouth, no matter what was on that sandwich.

Mom had the Salme Hayek - chicken, ham & mozzarella. The Better Half had the Luis Miguel - smoked pork, chorizo sausage and mozzarella. I had to go for the whole pinata, so I ordered the Cubana.

Everyone enjoyed their sandwiches, which come on soft, slightly sweet bread. These buns are likely 8 inches in diameter, so not a small sandwich. But, the bread is not dense, so you are not filling up on bread.

Now, let's take another look at the Cubana.

The Cubana has: smoked pork, ham, breaded steak, egg, turkey, chorizo, a whole hot dog, headcheese, American cheese, mozzarella, white fresh cheese and pineapple. That is from the menu. Mine also came with avocado which was not listed. That's right, 13 toppings. How do you say "dagwood" in Spanish? I'm thinking it was over 4 inches in vertical height, but luckily you can compress the bread. The chorizo comes cooked up in the egg, and I took some of that off. It was on its own at least a 2 egg omelet. I'm not a headcheese expert (sorry), so I am not sure it was on the sandwich. If it was, that was a first experience with head cheese for me.

It really is a great sandwich, and I want to take some food-loving friends here for the experience. A few down sides, though. The taste of it is kind of overwhelmed by the split and griddled hot dog, though it is a nice tasting hot dog. Too much egg for me, too. Otherwise, it is a great sandwich, fun to order, filling, tasty.

My favorite of our three was the Luis Miguel. It was really cheesey, and a great mix with the pork and chorizo. This sandwich is spicier on its own than the Cubana, and the pickled peppers were a great accompaniment to this sandwich.

Pretty much all of the sandwiches are $5.50, but the Cubana is $7.50. $3,75 for a breakfast torta, which I'd like to try. Very good value all around.

The verdict: 4.5 belly rubs (out of 5). Nice owners, great local addition, tasty, filling, good value. I'm not sure why I'm holding back on the last half belly rub, I guess just because it was the first visit. Please try this place.

Now, the Star calls this a Fletcher Place restaurant, but while you haven't crossed back over the the North-South split of 65, I consider this a Fountain Square restaurant. And, I think it is a great addition to the collection of Fountain Square restaurants. And, really, as I think about it, I really think that Fountain Square, for such a small area, has some of the best collection of restaurants of any of the neighborhoods in the whole city. For my own slant, they have the best Thai restaurant in town (Siam Square), best Greek (Santorini's), best outside seating (Shelbi Street Cafe's rooftop in the summer), and now the best torta! Our only attempt to get to Naisa, it was packed so we went elsewhere. And, Maria's pizza is pretty good, and I like the one that comes with sauerkraut quite a bit. Plus, there is the Murphy Art's Center, Dolphin Papers, and the Wheeler Arts Community (very cool to go to their open house). Discover Fountain Square - way better than Broad Ripple!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Coming attraction: Pei Wei in Indianapolis

While out doing another of our common weekend doubles (Lowes and Target) at Glendale, I noticed that one of the vacant spaces has a sign noting that it will soon be a Pei Wei restaurant. Pei Wei is a new casual dining chain from the PF Chang Bistro Inc. It's theme in the marketplace is Asian flavors, or, as they say - "Eat in five languages: Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese". Some opinions about Pei Wei here.

It is, to me, a great sign that these flavors are becoming more common in the heartland that a chain like this can possibly do well. Maybe in the next ten years we'll see more of the flavors from the Indian sub-continent or the middle-east "chainified"... again, to me, that isn't a bad thing.

Pei Wei menu here.

I don't feel like making big philosophical statements about food on this blog. My approach really is "Taste good? Awright!"

There are, however, a few words that I have no interest in personally. This includes "foodie" and "authentic". While I may possibly have used "authentic" in a review (oops), I just find the notion of authenticity and food so boring (and, honestly, a bit elitist). Our tastes and appetites grow and evolve. So, too, do menus and food preparation techniques. You know what I don't care for all that much? "Authentic" Mexican food. But, you know what I love? Tex-Mex.

Okay, sorry about the mini-rant. Changing topics.... Go Reds!

Spaghetti tacos

I couldn't pick out iCarly from a Mickey Mouse lineup, but... found this a funny little article.... I remember there was once an Italian-Mexican restaurant over on Shadeland Ave on the east side, so... maybe that is a budding fusion potential.... anyhow, apparently spaghetti tacos have gotten popular, at least with kids.....

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Chaintastic Italian restaurants

Over the last 10 days, I've been in some of the upper-middle Italian chain restaurants in the area. It had been a long time since I'd been to a Maggiano's, and then I went twice within 8 days.

My first visit to a Maggiano's, I was in Philly doing some work for the School District of Philadelphia. The highlight of that assignment was going to both Pat's and Geno's on the same night, eating a cheesesteak at each establishment (one with whiz, one with provolone). And, I can't give much of a dissertation, but... I prefer Pat's. Anyhow, another time, I walked over to a Maggiano's and watched some sports in the bar. I wasn't really paying attention to the fact that it was family style, so when my salmon and pasta dishes arrived, it was a lot of food. Anyhow, they no longer serve family style now at Maggiano's, which likely is only news to me. The food is very good, though I'm not especially partial to Italian (I prefer the Pacific Rim flavors). Anyhow, I'd say Maggiano's is definitely above Olive Garden and slightly above Macaroni Grill (tho I prefer Macaroni Grill's bread). I'd put Maggiano's very even with Carraba's for chain-style Italian.

A few things I'd like to mention about Maggiano's, though, if you don't already know this. If you order a classic pasta entree, you get the one for your dine-in meal, and can also select another classic pasta entree to take home. That's decent value. If you have especially big appetites, you can also go the way of the Family Style deal, where you need a minimum group of 4. The family style deal has three levels of unlimited amounts of appetizers, salads, pastas, and desserts. It is quite a bargain if you can eat a lot of food.

We also had a work dinner at Bravo Italian this week. It is pretty tasty, too. Though the Italian salad at Bravo was pretty lame. Just too drenched in dressing, and I wonder if it hadn't sat in a big bowl for a long time, as much of the lettuce was pretty limp and had given up the fight against the dressing. Bravo slates in probably between Olive Garden and Macaroni Grill for me, though all of these chains are pretty dependable. I'd say they are all in the 3 to almost 4 belly rub territory. For a reference, my favorite local Italian place is Mama Carolla's, especially liking their rosemary chicken lasagna and their crab cakes.

I didn't feel like taking pictures at any of the places, but... well... hopefully this isn't too tacky, but the men's room at Bravo cracked me up... I'm assuming this urinal is ADA compliant, but... this area sure seemed narrow!

That reminds me... I've had this idea (likely inspired by Kramer's coffee table book) of a small book full of pictures of urinals. I've seen some whacky ones in my days, and I'm sure most guys have. It might make a good gift book idea, and would be perfect for reading material that you sometime find in someone's bathroom.

Skyline Chili birthday

Tomorrow, October 6th, marks 61 years of Skyline Chili.... so, if you go to one of their local restaurants (or, at least the one on 86th Street near Michigan Road), you can get a cheese coney for just 61 cents. What a bahgain!

Monday, October 4, 2010

USA Today's Best Burger's by State

I am old enough to remember when USA Today first started publishing, and I was definitely old enough to read. It seems like USA Today has always been creating lists, and I think they really helped unearth a lot of male fascination with lists, especially sports lists that you can argue about (My personal top 3 QB's of all time: 1. Elway 2. Manning 3. Montana). Anyhow, Friday's edition had a list of the top hamburgers by state.

Now, I'm not sure how you can pick the best hamburgers in a major metropolis, much less for the whole nation, but... again, the point of their lists never really seems to be about being the authoritative list so much as just being a conversational starter and reason for discussion.

As a proud Boilermaker, I just think it is cool that the Triple XXX Family Restaurant was named for Indiana.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Road Trip: Carolina Barbecue

Went on a quick road trip to Raleigh to see a customer with one of our sales guys. I looked up some friends in Raleigh on Thursday night who are going through some of the highs and lows of life. Their daughter was born about two months ago, but the mom is now going through cancer treatment. So, we stayed in, had a really nice visit. After our sales call on Friday morning, I was hoping for and suggesting finding some Carolina Q. Instead, we ended up at a diner, so I had a very lame salad.

Anyhow, at the airport, I was still craving some barbecue, so... I got a plate full of smoked pork from some chain vendor that was in the terminal.

I spent a lot of time in NC at several manufacturing plants of my employer during an SAP implementation from around 1998-2002. This included a lot of time near the cost in New Bern - which happens to be the birthplace of Pepsi. Carolina barbecue tends to be primarily smoked pork, with a sauce that is much more vinegar-based than in other areas. Even though this was an overpriced plateful ($9.99), the smoked pork was still pretty good. I chose some brunswick stew as one of my sides, and it was really horrible (though, the genuine article from a better place is really good). But, what I found the most amusing was the Texas Pete hot sauce. It is a nice vinegar-based hot sauce, much like Tobasco. But, as soon as I was walking up to the condiments area, I immediately remembered Texas Pete's... which of course is bottled in Winston-Salem, no where near or inside the border of Texas. Anyhow, it must be a North Carolina tradition.

No rating here, especially when I took so little care as to not even remember the name of the place. I was just glad to get headed home, as I get a bit wore out on business travel. But, I do enjoy the window seat still.....

But, while I'm mentioning North Carolina, I'll mention the Avett Brothers (hailing from Charlotte), who I don't think I've placed in a review yet. I like their bluegrassy-folk-rock sound quite a bit. The song below is likely their most well-received, but check out "Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise".