Thursday, January 22, 2015

Rook - Revisit

One of the good things about having my birthday around Christmas (ok, and pretty much the only good thing) is that my birthday lunches manage to get spread out over a few weeks because people are busy and all those damn snow days didn’t help either. But on the brightside, my birthday was like 3 weeks ago and I’m still enjoying the benefits.

My friend Suzanne took me to Rook, because I had been itching to try their ramen. You know I have been complaining about why Indy doesn’t have a ramen bar for months now (even if according to David Chang, ramen is dead, I prefer Peter Meehan’s take. “Long live ramen!”). Anyhow, at least for now, you can get your fix at Rook. (They say they will be changing their menu routinely, so no guarantees how long they’ll have it).

We started with the mushroom dumplings ($5), which have been on the menu for a while, and which I saw on another visit, but did not get to try. I have been wanting them ever since. I was not disappointed. The dumplings were tender, but with a really nice seared side that remained crisp because it wasn’t soaked in the sauce—the sauce was in the bottom of the bowl. It was a “san bai su” sauce, which is a soy-based sauce that tasted also of vinegar and ginger. It also had a touch of sweetness and a slightly smoky taste as well. After we had eaten the four dumplings, I did not hesitate in picking up the bowl and dumping the sauce directly on my last one. The dumplings taste nice and meaty, even though they are filled with mushrooms.

I ordered the ramen tonkatsu ($14), or ramen with pork cheeks. It’s a darn tasty ramen with a truly silky (as the menu says) pork broth. The broth is the big deal with ramen and this one is done really well—lots and lots of flavor. There was a nice little bit of fat on top of the broth adding to that richness. There were two big hunks of very tender pork cheeks in the soup--I appreciated how tender it was, you could pull it apart with your chopsticks. This has not always been the case with pork I have had in ramen. Of course, I loved the 5-minute egg in there. It was super delicious and if you want to talk about something that was silky, that egg yolk certainly was. It was also drizzled with a sauce—guessing this was the black garlic soy. There was corn in there, and sautéed veggies (cabbage and carrot) and some pickled mustard greens. I liked getting a crunch from the greens and the sautéed veggies. The only part I wasn’t sure about was the corn.  I guess it is often in ramen, but I just couldn’t decide how I felt about it. Maybe if it were super fresh right off the ear super-crisp. I couldn’t decide if it added anything for me. And of course, there were the noodles, which are my favorite thing about the whole dish (well, next to the egg) and which were plentiful and had soaked up lots of that delicious broth. A perfect lunch for a cold winter’s day.

Suzanne had the bulgogi rice bowl ($13)—it was served in the style of a bibimbap with a bowl of rice topped with flank steak, pickled cucumber, kimchi, avocado, bok choy and pork cracklings. You can also add an egg as well (and who wouldn’t? You’d have to be crazy) ($1.50).  This was also a really good dish. The only thing I have about dishes like this is you really gotta mix them up and dig in to get all the flavors together. The bite I had with some kimchi was nice and spicy with a bit of crunch—and I loved the pork cracklins sprinkled on top giving it a surprising crunch but without the use of nuts, which was kind of nice. It also gave a nice salty kick. I also thought the avocado was a nice touch, as you may or may not know, I view avocado as a nearly perfect food. The flank steak is cooked a fair amount, but with a nice caramelized crust to it. It’s a very good dish as well. It’s hard to say which I would have liked it better based on the couple of bites of it I had,
but I would happily eat either.

I was happy to see the varying menu Rook has for lunch—I was also happy to see table service, the artwork on the previous white walls, and the fact that the place was jammed. Most of the time we were there, pretty much every table was full. The service is fast though and the tables tend to turn over pretty quick. I love all the creative dishes being served, and now with the alterations to service and décor (and the fact that they have beer AND wine), I look forward to trying it, and the even more expanded menu, for dinner.

719 Virginia Avenue
Indy 46213

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Over break, the family and I found ourselves up in Carmel running an errand, and it was lunchtime, so of course, I wanted to go somewhere new. I remembered that Coalition had opened nearby, and a couple of you guys had liked it, so we decided to give it a try.

This is a place where you walk in and order at the counter and they bring you your food. There are a lot of menus hanging on the wall so you don’t have to stare up at one menu with a bunch of people. They also have beer and wine, which is always a plus in my book. It was really, really cold in there, which was my only gripe about the experience (and to their credit they did say they would turn up the heat when I asked). The people working there were very nice and seemed very knowledgeable about the food when I asked a few questions about what was in certain things.

I wasn’t really sure how much to get and I didn’t realize they potentially have a lunch option with a smaller pizza, but hubby and I just ended up getting our own pizzas, which was fine with me because we tend to go to opposite sides of the pizza menu if left to our own devices. For instance, I went with “The Athenian” ($10.50) which consisted of a pizza with roasted Indiana Amish chicken, kalamata olives, pine nuts, mozzarella, feta cheese and pesto sauce. Ok, there’s supposed to be roasted red peppers too, but they aren’t my favorite items in general, so I had them leave them off. It was really very good—the crust was thin and crisp but not at all burnt and even though I was worried there might be too much on the pizza, it was portioned just right. I appreciated the meat option with the chicken, but honestly, I think it would have been just as good without it. I really liked the crunch of the pine nuts giving the whole thing a great texture—and there were plenty of olives, which are one of my favorite things. There was a fair amount of cheese, but not so much that you lost the flavor of the pesto and toppings. It was really quite good. Both hubby and my son really enjoyed it as well.

Hubby’s pizza, on the other hand, was “The Teamster” and was topped with red sauce, sliced of meatballs, mozzarella and giardinera ($9.5). This was an interesting combo as well—it was unique and I liked the kick both in spice and acid from the giardinera (which is an Italian mix of pickled veggies that often include peppers to give it a little heat). The meatballs are also housemade and were pretty tender, even after being heated again on the pizza. Again, meatballs aren’t typically my favorite things, but these were seasoned pretty well and were good with the giardinera. My only complaint about the pizza was the crust didn’t hold up as well to these toppings—not sure if it was the sauce or the heavier ingredients, but it got a little soggy towards the middle. Hubby loved it though and went back and forth about whose pizza he thought was better.

My daughter had a pasta dish—the baked macaroni ($7.50). This is their version of mac and cheese. It was actually fusilli pasta—you know the corkscrew shape—and it was in a cheesy sauce. It’s described as baked with a breadcrumb crust, but I would guess this was just pasta that was tossed in the cheesy sauce and then topped with some breadcrumbs—it just didn’t have that crustiness that comes from a pasta that is baked. It was okay, but didn’t really meet up to the expectations I had in my mind. It’s an easy dish to get kids to eat though.

My son had the kid’s portion of the pasta rosso ($5)—which is your basic spaghetti with red sauce and is topped with some shreds of mozzarella. They do make their red sauce in house, and it isn’t bad. I didn’t eat a ton of it to really analyze it, but there was certainly nothing negative about it that jumped out at me. It’s a good-sized kid portion and he seemed happy enough with it.

All in all, other than having to wear our coats the whole time we were in there, we were pleasantly surprised by Coalition. Hubby commented that if it were near us, we’d put it into our pizza rotation for sure. I am intrigued by the sandwiches too. Anyone tried one of them?

365 West 116th Street
Carmel, IN 46032

Coalition on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sunrise Café - Revisit and New Location

On those occasions when hubby and I wake up after a long night and really want a good greasy breakfast, we often debate where to go—it’s frustrating in this town because often, on the weekends, breakfast places tend to be so dang busy.

For years, my extended family routinely went to Sunrise Café over by the Fashion Mall. A couple of years ago, the space was taken over by First Watch. After a few months of being displaced (although they have other locations around town), Sunrise re-opened at 71st and Shadeland. My parents now frequent the new location regularly, but for some reason, hubby and I have only been a few times, and I have to say, the last time was just ok. The food is very much the same as the original location, I’d say. The interior suffers a bit compared to the all-wood sports theme of the last locale, now being a large space with fewer tables, and sparse décor. And the few wood-based sports items they brought from the old locale, just look strange now on the stark walls (and are generally pretty well worn). The service is still friendly and fast, and there’s never been a wait at the new location. So, we appreciate that we can pretty much always go get that kind of breakfast whenever we want.

On this past visit, hubby and I both had the basic breakfast—two eggs (we both like them over easy), bacon (ok, or sausage, but I always get bacon), hash browns, and your choice of homemade toast ($8.99).  This place has cooked a few eggs in their day, and cooked our eggs just right—nice and runny. I’ve had some ups and downs with the bacon here, but this bacon was really tasty. Crisp enough and more importantly, had that salty bacony flavor. There is nothing worse to me than tasteless bacon. And you see it a touch too much. The hash browns are well, hash browns. They're my favorite breakfast potatoes and not many people do them around town. They were crispy and I was happy. I like their toast as well—I go for the sourdough. They pre-butter too, although I question how much “butter” in actually in there.  Like I said, this place qualifies as a greasy spoon type breakfast, but I like it.

If you’re looking for a straightforward breakfast without a wait, this is a good place to keep in mind. It’s not going to blow your mind, and it isn’t trendy, but it’s solid.

Sunrise Café
7387 North Shadeland Ave
Indianapolis, IN 46150

Monday, January 12, 2015

Hellas Café

When I go to a silent auction, the first things I always gravitate toward bidding on are restaurant gift certificates. I snatched up the Hellas certificate because it is close to my house and believe it or not, I don’t think I have ever been there. It’s been open forever, but somehow I just haven’t managed to get there.

I love the way they have taken an old school Pizza Hut building and turned it into a Greek restaurant—and other than the dropped ceiling inside, you would never know based on the interior. It’s cute and warm—it has a nice ambience—darkish (hence, the somewhat blurry pics) and with some mellow live music on the evening we were there. Our server was very friendly and other than one mix-up with the kitchen, she was very efficient.

We started with some hummus ($7.25) and Saganaki ($7.65). Both were good. The saganaki was probably the table favorite, my kids also being fans of the show you get when they light the cheese on fire (OPA!). The cheese was nice and melty, as it is after being set on fire, and had a nice kick of lemon from the lemon used to douse the flames. As a side note, they have great pita, grilled perfectly so it’s just slightly crisp on the outside but still soft and warm inside. I think they grill it with a bit of oil, or even butter, because it has a little extra flavor on the outside. It was also good with the hummus, which had a nice flavor—it was a thicker version than many, which isn’t a bad thing—just depends on what you like. You could really taste the garlic though, which makes me happy.

I ordered an appetizer for my main dish—the spanakopita ($7.45). Honestly, this was the only dish that was a little disappointing for me—and this was the dish that took a little longer to get. I think I threw them off, ordering an app for a main. They apologized profusely and offered a free dessert. Anyhow, it was a large piece—like a square piece of pie—instead of the smaller pieces I am accustomed to. Because it didn’t have all the sides and corners of a smaller piece that is wrapped around itself, the phyllo on the outside wasn’t as crispy and crunchy as they sometimes are. The flavor of the spinach and cheese was good; I just missed more of the crunch.

Hubby had the lamb kebab dinner ($20.75) and it was really, really good. Quite possibly the best lamb on a stick I have ever had. You could taste the herby seasoning and the lamb was cooked to order—exactly medium rare, just as hubby asked. It was tender and delicious and not chewy at all. We were both impressed with this meat. The sides were also quite good—they had those roasted Greek potatoes that are cooked with lots of olive oil and garlic and have nice crispy, browned exteriors. The insides practically melted in your mouth. It also came with a small Greek salad that was simple but tasty--a nice acidic vinaigrette with a fair amount of feta. 

Both kids had gyros—one had the kid’s version ($5.75), which comes with fries, the other the adult ($8.65) (pic is the adult portion). They give you a ton of the meat, which you can see being shaved just through the kitchen window. They both really enjoyed it—it was very tender and juicy. My daughter commented it depends on how you like it—some people might like it with more crispy edges. This one is not that type. The toppings, which she asked for on the side, were fairly minimal as far as sides go (one slice of tomato, a sprig of parsley and some chopped red onions), but they gave a nice little cup of tzatziki that was really delicious—one of the brightest and freshest I have tasted. Maybe more lemon than most? In any case, it was possibly the best I’ve had.
We all really enjoyed this place and look forward to going again. (P.S. Kids eat free on Tuesdays.) The people working there were very friendly. I will try something new for dinner next time, but I’m pretty sure hubby will be ordering that lamb. Do you guys eat there? What are your favorite things?

Hellas Café 
8501 Westfield Blvd.
Indianapolis, IN 46240

Hellas Cafe on Urbanspoon