Bobby Joe’s Beef and Brew surprises with seafood, sweets
Sometimes the best stories start at the end. That said, the apple crisp ($4.95) at Bobby Joe’s Beef and Brew is a gooey, caramel-thick, comforting concoction of epic proportions, topped with a thick crunchy-sweet crumble topping, a mammoth scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and whipped cream. It’s worth the drive to Southport. But we didn’t expect such a finish going in.
“The chef’s ‘signature’ dish was not red meat at all but the rather uncommon pub offering of paella.”
Bobby Joe’s is the sort of low-lit, seat-yourself joint where the clientele speak to each other with a cool camaraderie. Inside, neon signs glow suggestively with menu options: pasta, steak. Omnipresent TV screens broadcast the day’s news. In the summer, you can sit outside by a retention pond and listen to the soothing sounds of the interstate. Trying to evade the curling wisps from smokers’ tables, we asked the waitress if they had a nonsmoking section. “Not on Sundays,” she told us. Sure enough, a chain barred customers from sitting in a walled-off section of nonsmoking booths. But Bobby Joe’s is also the sort of place the locals know, that motorists on I-65 return to time and again and where first-time foodies will find themselves surprised by the fresh touches of Chef Bill Price. Inspired by the late Bob Collins, the legendary sports editor for The Indianapolis Star, the restaurant was conceived by Bob’s wife Kristin as a much-needed place for adults to escape for a good meal right in their own backyard. That wasn’t something diners could easily do a few years back on Indy’s Southside. What portended to be a ho-hum meat and potatoes affair turned out to be more of an elegant feast. And, while a steady stream of steaks flowed out of the kitchen, accompanied by foil-wrapped russets, the menu was certainly not limited to items that formerly roamed on hooves. Surprisingly, three of four specials for the evening were seafood, and lo and behold, the chef’s “signature” dish was not red meat at all but the rather uncommon pub offering of paella. Just how far south had we traveled? Our waitress began with a pitch for appetizers. When we heard “fried green tomatoes,” our eyes grew with visions of summertime harvests. These, however, disappointed. While they wore the right amount of a golden, crispy batter, they lacked all but the subtlest of flavors, even salt. And the cucumber dill sauce added a clashing flavor scheme that nearly obliterated the light lemony tang of the tomatoes. Salads showed signs that someone backstage cared. A house salad was more romaine than iceberg and came with some fairly red tomatoes for winter, as well as apparently homemade croutons and Italian dressing. The “San Francisco” took the notion of “side salad” to new heights. Most of a head of Boston lettuce crowded into a bowl with blue cheese crumbles, walnuts and mandarin oranges that were unfortunately out of a can. While the lettuce wedge nearly capsized under the overdose of a sweet, creamy dressing, the salad could have made a tasty meal. A cup of split pea soup ($2.50) was rich with nice bits of bacon throughout. Topped off with soft wheat berry bread and sweetened butter, this second course signaled our meal was taking a turn. Entrees continued the upward trend. A seafood special ($15.95) arranged tilapia, flounder and the lesser-known escolar under a saucy trio of dried berries. The fish was meaty and broiled just to light brown but not overcooked. A twice-baked potato on the side bore a sweet tang of sour cream flecked with chives, and the top was artfully decorated and browned without too much cheese to mask the potato’s flavor. The paella ($18.50) was equally satisfying. If perhaps a bit soupier than typical paella, it was redolent of saffron and spices, studded with fat scallops and shrimp, and surrounded by technicolor bell peppers. A butterflied boneless chicken breast sprawled on top, making it a chore to eat. But it was an unexpected treat executed well in an unlikely environment. But Bobby Joe’s is about challenging expectations. The waitress lamented that some dishes were lost in a recent menu change, something you might not expect at a neighborhood eatery. One casualty of past menu changes was the deep-fried cheesecake. But nothing, deep-fried or not, could top that apple crisp, a conclusion we were sorry we didn’t try first.