Monday, August 30, 2010

Tulip Noir

With a rare chance for a weekend brunch, we decided to give Tulip Noir a shot.  We'd heard they were vying for best brunch in Indy so expectations were high.  Upon walking in, we were greeted by the finest Ikea-wear around.  This place practically screamed modern, minimalist design -- a real oddity in our little midwestern town.  The staff keeps it impeccably clean and obsessively straightened.  We were seated immediately and Ozzy's fears were calmed at once after he was informed that yes, they do have pancakes. We should say that 3 of the 4 of us were seated as we had to flag down a waiter and specifically ask for a high-chair for our 11-month old. 

As we had both already had our coffee for the morning, Fred ventured into Tulip Noir's impressive tea menu and settled on the Tie Kuan Yin Oolong  while Libby decided on a pomegranate-blueberry juice & banana smoothie to share with Stella.  While we thought the presentation for the tea was cute, if a bit pretentious, it became obvious that TN was not going to be known for it's service.  We can understand that perhaps this tea is meant to be enjoyed sans sugar.  But being uncouth hoosiers, it might have been a good idea to ask if we would like some sweetener if it is not provided as a matter of course.   Also, how is one to drink a smoothie with no straw?  We were forced to flag down another server to request both.

The smoothie was a disappointment.  Not only was it slimey in texture, it was too thick and slightly bitter.  It seemed as though the bananas were not ripe enough.  Having said that, Stella did not mind one bit and quite enjoyed it.

As is usually the case when we review a breakfast place, Fred chose the Eggs Benedict while Libby went with the "Dreamy" french toast.  Ozzy chose the buckwheat pancakes rather than the "pancakeys" after hearing that the later came with only honey rather than syrup.  Bold move, son.  Stella was very happy to have bits of everything.

As our food arrived, we realized we had made a dreadful mistake.  It became obvious that Tulip Noir's menu is a la carte.  It would have been nice if the waiter had mentioned this fact after noticing that none of us ordered any sides.  In fact it never occurred to us as the side dishes on the two-sided brunch menu are on the back below the "Salads and Sandwiches".  Not exactly where we would go looking for breakfast side dishes. 

Regrouping, we were pleased by the visual appeal of all three entrees.  Fred's eggs looked picture-perfect.  Too bad he couldn't cut into them as he had no silverware.  Time to flag down another waiter.  Joy.

Upon his eventual first bite, he found the hollandaise to be spot on and the eggs were cooked perfectly.  Unfortunately the canadian bacon seemed lifeless and off as was the untoasted english muffin.  While we don't expect even a high-end brunch place to make their own canadian bacon or english muffins (although that would be fantastic!), it would be nice if they purchased quality products.  The otherwise well-prepared dish was brought down dramatically.

Libby's french toast was indeed dreamy.  She had to remind herself to keep the moaning to a minimum as it is a small establishment and in this atmosphere that would be frowned upon.  Stella greedily filled her mouth to maximum capacity with berries and bits of toast.  Unfortunately our uptight waiter felt it appropriate to offer Stella a plate as the messy table was paining him.  Even after we politely informed him that she would just shove it onto the floor, he froze in position with the plate out-stretched for several seconds.  While there were plenty of other children in attendance that morning, our waiter was visibly uncomfortable with a messy table.

Ozzy was obviously torn throughout the meal.  On one hand he was very hungry and had pancakes with yummy syrup in front of him.  On the other hand, these were not Aunt Jemima.  No son, these are buckwheat pancakes.  For what they were, they were good.  The fruit was nice and the blueberry-pomegranate syrup was fresh and tasty.  Unfortunately, Ozzy's reaction was, "Mommy, I think they forgot some ingredients. These aren't good."   But hunger prevailed in the end and we noticed that at least 3/4 of the pancakes were still consumed.

Wrap Up

Price-$$$, Very much at the high end of the breakfast scene.   
Atmosphere-****, We really enjoyed the modern decorSomething fun and different for Indy.
Service- Zero*s, Wow. Can we give a negative *?  This was easily the worst service we've had within the Indianapolis city limits.  It bordered on insulting.

Fred- D-, The only saving grace here was the french toast.  It really was excellent.  But "Competing for Indy's Best Breakfast"?  You MUST be kidding me.  For the price they charge, I would expect outstanding service.  I've had a more attentive waitress at Waffle House.  On top of that, the food was only mediocre.  What, exactly are we paying extra for here?!?  If you want an amazing brunch in Indy, go to Hoaglin To Go on Mass Ave or Zest in Broadripple.  They blow this place away.  And from the relaxed attitude and warmth of the waitstaff, they appear to do so effortlessly.
Libby- B-, Although our server had his personality quirks, I found the whole scene quite entertaining.  Fred was visibly upset. Ozzy was visibly upset.  Stella was busily enjoying her breakfast, as was I.  But sadly, I won't be experiencing the dreamy french toast again.  Although I'm pretty sure the vanilla challa french toast at Hoaglin To Go will suffice.  I also wasn't aware at the time exactly how much we were paying for this breakfast or my experience would have been lessened.
Ozzy- D, We really can't blame Tulip Noir here.  If there is a next-time, we might have to explain to Ozzy the full breadth of his ordering decision.
Estelle- C, While the girl really enjoyed herself and provided for lots of smiles from the other patrons, it was obvious she wasn't welcomed with open arms from the waitstaff.

Tulip Noir Café on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mug N' Bun

Having heard for years from our Speedway friends that they have the greatest drive-in around, FLOE eventually succumbed to our need for grease and made the drive up to 10th street.  Just off 465 right before the industrial center of Indy, it's a genuine throw-back to another era.  We decided to stay true to the drive-in vibe and stayed in our car.  As the signed helpfully explained, you turn on your lights (day or night) to signal that you'd like service.

Deciding that we basically wanted to order the entire menu, picking only a "few" items was a challenge.  After much discussion, we decided we would share everything and graze our way through the menu.  The lil' reviewers came up front with mom and dad to share in the bounty.

As soon as we rolled the window down for our tray o' health, that wonderfully familiar fried drive-in smell wafted into the car.  This was going to be good!!! To start, we ordered one regular root beer and one diet, unwisely choosing the 24 oz size, missing out on what we later learned was a frosty mug for the 16oz or a collectors cup if you order the 32.  Dag nabbit!  Rookie mistake.  After several sips of each, we were happy to find that we actually preferred the diet.  It's much heavier on the root beer flavor and visibly darker than the regular.  Not that anyone enjoying Mug N' Bun is watching their figure, but at least we wouldn't have to add even more calories to the meal next time...

Fred's first pick, the catfish sandwich, was spectacular.  It had a great fry on it with no hint of fishiness.  Even Stella's eyes perked up with a quick taste.  Of course the Oz would have none of it -- Boy just doesn't know what good is...

Libby decided for two "main" dishes, a single burger with cheese and a regular dog with sauce & cheese.  The burger, while basic with only ketchup& mustard (lettuce or tomato are $.40 extra), was exactly what a greasy spoon should serve.  Nice 80/20 patty straight off a flat-top.  Perfectly cooked and juicy, it made Fred openly wonder how the fast food restaurants can stay in business serving patties from a factory.  There's just no comparison.

The dog was also simple.  Either boiled or steamed, it was nothing special but still solid.  Libby would have liked the sauce/chili to be a little sweeter, more like a coney.  But it was just right for Fred, who prefers a chili dog to a coney. 

For sides, we chose the Buffalo chips, seasoned fries, zucchini sticks, hot pepper cheese balls, and mac & cheese wedges (Ozzy's, of course).

The mac & cheese wedges were really the only miss for the entire meal.  Ozzy just didn't get it and ended up picking out the macaroni from inside them and then moving on to the rest of the deep-fried evil.  The rest of us agreed that they were edible, but certainly not up to the level of the other greased up grub.

The fries were solid as were the buffalo chips (battered &fried silver-dollar sized slices of potato).  The hot pepper cheese balls were interesting, especially with a quick dip in some ranch sauce.  They had a nice heat that only hit you at the end.  But seriously, how can deep fried cheese be bad, especially if there's some spice to it?

The real star of the sides had to be the zucchini.  The fry was much lighter than the other items and they still had a hint of crunch to the veggie itself.  Perfect in the horseradish sauce!  Unfortunately for mom & dad, Stella found these to be her absolute favorite, finishing off 3 of the 6 sticks.  Rats!!

After dinner we decided we couldn't do a review of a drive-in without sampling the shakes.  So on went the headlights!  One vanilla, one chocolate please! No idea the level of prep, we decided again, these are solid shakes.  Not over the top, but definitely the sweetness you crave after a savory trip down memory lane.  Next time, must do the float action and try the tenderloin!

Wrap Up

Price-$,-Definitely cheap eats.  Our smorgasbord came to a grand total of $35 with a good tip.
Atmosphere***-Just what you expect and remember from any drive-in...only thing missing was roller skates!
Service***- A fast, feisty waitress told Ozzy how it is..."Life lesson--Mug N' Bun=Fried"
Fred- A, Dammit, now I have to try each and other every one of the frieds on the menu.  Excellent zucchini!
Libby- A-, Good burger, good dog, excellent catfish, great root beer.  I like my fries a little toastier and I was jonesin' for a coney sauce rather than a chili.  The menu just says "sauce." Really enjoyed this and look forward to a future family date with carry-out Mug N' Bun at Tibbs Drive-in!
Ozzy- A, Other than his confusion with the fried mac, Ozzy was a happy camper.  While enjoying his vanilla shake, he exclaimed,"This is soooooo good!!!"
Estelle- A, Daddy is still kinda peeved that the girl scarfed down half of the zucchini. ;)  She happily sampled whatever we would let her try.

Mug-n-Bun Drive-in on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

West Coast Tacos

Have you ever had a cosmic dining coincidence?  Have you ever just wanted to eat something so bad that the universe actually lead you there?  Well, either FLOE is in good with the stars or the luckiest SOB's in town 'cuz that is EXACTLY what occurred today.  We were driving to the Children's Museum and started to muse about how much we would love to try that beloved taco truck we have heard so much about.  We had no idea where to look, then was right there before us!  On one of our favorite dining spots, Mass Ave.!  *angel chorus*

So psyched to stumble into some kind of wonderful, we grabbed a nearby parking spot and rushed into the stifling heat to the short line at the corner of Mass Ave, Delaware and New York.  There was no menu, but Fred felt confident and all was cleared up when the young man at the window announced these simple words..."We have three meats today, chicken, pork or beef, and a green or red sauce...what would you like?"  Well, that was simple enough!  Three beef with red and three pork with green and a chicken sans sauce for the kids...well, for Stella.  Great!  Back to the car to enjoy our cosmic treasure!

As if we were meant to be comfortable in the swelter, a breeze blew through the Element and allowed us to take it all in.  First, the pork with green sauce...light, fresh with hints of cilantro and onion(and that was ok).  Just delightful and refreshing.  Piled on two corn tortillas it was a light bite and as good as we had hoped.  Then, there was the beef with red sauce.  Libby actually moaned a little.  Could it really be this good?  Fred, while feeding Stella bits of chicken that her mouth gaped open for, was unable to speak. But his eyes spoke volumes...yes, yes, yes!  How could something so delicate and simple from a truck be so incredible?

After Fat Dan's, we are beginning to wonder if this uncomfortable weather thing and incredible eats just go hand in hand...Sadly, Ozzy had no interest and was holding out for his dear mac 'n cheese at the Children's Museum cafeteria...whatever.

So, in summary, this is a must experience.  The much revered West Coast Taco truck moves daily.  You must either facebook, tweat, or be guided by the fates to enjoy this light, zesty lunch.  You won't want to miss out on this Indy phenomenon!

Wrap Up
Price-$, $5 for three small tacos that will knock your socks off.
Atmosphere-?-Kind of depends, but they picked a nice shady spot for us! ;)
Service-****, For a lunch truck, they were accommodating, polite, and fast.  Works for us!  They were even so kind as to break a large bill at the beginning of the lunch rush.

Fred-A, I've been happily burping it up the rest of the day!  Both red and green sauces were awesome and the seasoning on all three meats was superb!  No hiding anything here with cheese, sour cream, lettuce, or tomato...just perfectly cooked, incredibly seasoned meats in wonderful sauces. 
Libby -A, I could eat the beef with red sauce all day!  Actually, all of it was can't go wrong here.
Ozzy- no vote...amateur. This kid has no idea what he is missing!
Estelle-A+, Stella chowed on a bit of everything and was only to happy to get another bite, and another, and another.

West Coast Tacos on Urbanspoon

Big Guys BBQ

Disgusted that the best BBQ we'd found on the south side was a chain (Famous Dave's), FLOE was excited to hear of a home-grown place that had opened up in Center Grove.  Big Guy's BBQ shares a double-wide strip mall location with Hula Bean coffee, an ice cream place and a doughnut shop.  All not only under the same roof, but at the same counter & cash register.  Tres bizarre.  Upon entering, Big Guy himself, Chris Sullivan explained that we needed to step next door to order at the counter.  Sounds good.  On our trek to the counter we were able to pass a table display of some of their specials, not wax food, but real smells...good advertising.

A small menu made it easy to narrow down what's for dinner.  Definitely two combo platters to sample 4 meats and 4 sides total.  Fred decided on the pulled pork, pulled chicken, cole slaw and ranch beans.  Libby went with the Kielbasa, brisket, green beans and potato salad.  Ozzy was delighted to have a combo made almost just for him, a pb & j and mac 'n cheese!  Grammy came along for the ride and went with her own combo of the brisket and pulled pork with cole slaw and homemade chips.

It was slow at the time we arrived so seating was easy.  It was very cool to be served by the owner and chef himself, who was quite surprised to be asked for a pic for the blog.  No idea who or what we were, he played along.  Big question for Big Guy now is how exactly is the BBQ?

Fred was very worried when he first bit into his pulled chicken.  It was lukewarm and dry.  But then the pulled pork!  Luscious.  Perfectly smoky with beautiful juicy bits.  If we wanted to show a foreign visitor what pulled pork was supposed to taste like, this would be it.  The beans were also a pleasant surprise.  Not just a bunch of chili powder mixed into some beans but a great jalapeno bite and a dash of smokiness to round out the flavor. 

Libby was pretty happy with the brisket.  Some dryer parts but also some extremely tender, melty fatty bits that altogether had a great smokiness.  The sides were good.  A creamy potato salad that wasn't over the top in tang and the green beans were mild and had some sort of meat addition Libby couldn't identify.  But the star of this show had to be the kielbasa...holy smoked sausage!  So tender, with the perfect amount of char.  It almost melted in your mouth and had so much flavor!  Even Stella, with only her third tooth coming through bit into a skinless piece like it were softened butter!  Her expression said it all.  More!

Big Guys only offers 3 sauces, regular, spicy and mustard.  The flavor of the regular and spicy were about the same, with only a bit more heat on the latter.  Both were good but nothing to write home about.  The mustard sauce was heavy on the vinegar with mustard to the extreme.  Perhaps it would have worked well on the kielbasa, but who on earth would want to cover up any of that wonderful flavor?  This place is definitely meat-first with sauces as an after thought.

Ozzy's pb&j was served on a bun rather than bread.  Mom & Dad thought that was a bad choice, but Ozzy loved it...devoured every morsel!  There were even a few "mmm's" overheard throughout the meal.  Oddly, he did not find the mac to his liking.  It was of the baked variety rather than boiled, so it was "too hard" in his opinion.  The rest of the dinner party quite liked it.  It did have some peppery overtones, so perhaps our finicky boy had a legit kid complaint.

Stella was right at home and seemed to be the entertainment of the evening for the few surrounding diners.  She lapped up the attention along with a good portion of pulled pork, chicken, kielbasa and texas toast.   Wow, what is this?  A child eating meat?

Wrap Up
Price-$-$$, Cheap even by bbq standards.

Atmosphere-* 1/2, Confusing ordering and decor.  Nothing about the place said stop and stay awhile.  FLOE will be happy with take out in the future.
Service-**, Order at the counter, you're brought the food and that's all she wrote.

Fred -A-, The only downfall was the pulled chicken which was fine once sauce was added.  I just wish I had gotten the chance to ask if the kielbasa was house made since it was so amazing.  North siders, it is worth the drive just to get a lick of that!
Libby -A-, Loved my kielbasa...that's right, MY kielbasa. ;)  And the brisket was pretty delish too.  Sides were not show stealers, but the potato chips, whether crispy or floppy, were straight up awesome!
Ozzy- A, Definitely no complaints and it didn't hurt having a kick butt bakery attached for dessert!

Estelle- A, Couldn't get enough of any of the bbq.  The girl was chowin' down.

Big Guy's B-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Little Mexico

We recently took a trip to Little Mexico for a review but held off on writing it as we had been invited by some friends to meet there for a second visit.  The moment you walk in, the amount of colorful, carved wood is overwhelming.  Beautiful and over the top.  It's hard to imagine how much work went into the walls, windows, booths, tables, chairs and bar of this restaurant.  Everything is a carved, colorful piece of work.  You'd never think you were in a strip mall.

We were immediately met with the usual chips & salsa.  In this case a very mild, but fresh salsa with good chunk to liquid ratio and a heavy dose of fresh cilantro.  We couldn't decide whether or not the chips were house-made but regardless they were a good salsa delivery device.  On our second visit, our friends asked for a spicier one and the kitchen sent out a habanero sauce that kicked their socks off.  Even a 50/50 mix with the regular salsa was a bit too much. 

Fred ordered burritos on both occasions.  First was the Chile Verde followed by the Chile Colorado.  Each was served alongside a salad with sour cream and guacamole which went untouched on both occasions.  Each burrito was stuffed with slow-roasted pork, rice, sauce and then smothered in queso blanco.  The pork was perfectly cooked and juicy but both the red and green sauces seemed a little tame.  The flavor was there, it was just begging to be kicked up a notch.

Libby's first night demanded the Pollo Mole Poblano.  A very good mole with well prepared chicken, corn tortilla's and the same salad with sour cream and guac went down too easily.  It seemed a crime to leave one drop of that mole on the plate.  Definitely a meal that will make you hate yourself in the morning.  The second night would only top this one with gourmand-ish proportions, the Special Dinner; which is too big to fit on one plate and encroaches on other people's space at the table.  Embarrassed by the insanity, she did quite enjoy it overall.  Although the tamale was dry, it was saved by the pleasing enchilada, chile relleno and chalupa.  Two margarita's could have skewed perceptions a bit, but hey, when pronouncing the name of the town on the back of the menu gets you one for 25 cents...well, turning down another libation sounds ridiculous, right?

 Little Mexico seems to have immediately become one of Ozzy's favorite restaurants.  The little man even liked the salsa?!?  Amazing.  But really, what's not to like for a carbivore?  Too many chips, followed by a cheese quesadilla with fries & rice??  Sounds like Oz-heaven to us. 

Stella was also right at home.  Not only are the walls decked out in incredibly loud colors and interesting authentic Mexican carvings, but the noise level and general commotion about the place kept her interest throughout.

 Wrap Up
Price-$-$$, Nothing out of the ordinary for Mexican... 
Atmosphere-****, Wow.  This place POPS and when you hear everything was custom made and shipped in from the owner's home town in Mexico, definitely a 4-star showing.
Service-**, It's a big plus in the food dept when the servers barely speak English, but both service and the kitchen were slow on both occasions. 

Fred - B-, Ida know.  I wouldn't mind going back, but I'm certainly not going to seek it out.  Everything was solid (especially the salsa) but nothing had the kick I was looking for.  Just too bland throughout the meal.
Libby -B+, The first night presented an excellent mole, the second night was hit or miss but also a very pleasant experience.  And now that I know I can pronounce the name, I'll definitely take another $.25 margarita!
Ozzy- A+, Kids everywhere, carbs to munch.  And he even tried (and liked!) salsa for the first time.
Estelle-A, At home and entertained.  What more can you ask for with a 10-month old?

Little Mexico on Urbanspoon