Bridging the burger gap 

‘New’ Alcatraz a lot like the ‘old’ Alcatraz — plus burgers

Halfway through writing a review of the new high-end burgers at Alcatraz Brewing Company, musing, in my usual rambling prose, about the virtues of pairing food with beer, I suddenly thought, what if I’m focusing too much on those burgers? After all, with all the imports, microbrews and small-batch beers available these days, the idea that only one or a small range of foods pairs with beer is fairly absurd. Google “food” and “beer,” and you’ll get such esoteric recommendations as what beers to drink with lobster bisque (Kölsch), falafel (Alt) or lemon meringue pie (Hefeweizen). Next to these dishes, the typical burger-and-beer combo seems downright pedestrian.

In truth, I was a little puzzled at the direction Alcatraz had taken the last few months. I love a good burger, especially when they involve Kobe beef or braised short ribs, as the new ones at Alcatraz do. But to turn a large rectangular bar menu into a decidedly limited square featuring burgers, a couple of salads and flatbread pizzas is a pretty radical move for a brewpub. To charge upwards of $16 for those burgers is a move liable to cut your clientele in half.

But change is one way to keep a restaurant interesting, and that’s what Tavistock Restaurants, LLC, the California-based group of boutique, limited-range franchises, felt Alcatraz needed. They took one look at this place, which has anchored Circle Centre Mall almost since its inception, and said, “What can we do to make it more unusual, to give it more character, to make it new again?” The answer was burgers, at least temporarily, and a new menu was launched in mid-March with great fanfare that ushered in such bun-gilding concoctions as the French burger ($15.75), made with American Kobe beef, brie and a balsamic reduction served on a croissant. Vive le hamburger!

Dropping in last week, however, a friend and I were shocked to see that the rectangular menu was back, as were many of the items familiar to Alcatraz regulars pre-burger revolution. Pizza, salmon, ribs — why the place actually looked like a restaurant again instead of a gourmet burger emporium. Sadly, the delectable Cajun shrimp burger has already been retired. But the “Hoosier,” Alcatraz’s spiffy pork tenderloin, is still there, albeit it without pancetta and fruit-flavored sauces. Seems burgers alone weren’t exactly the ticket to restoring this restaurant’s former buzz, and Fishers-born Chef Jason Hinton has steered the menu back from the one he inherited from Chef Bobby Varua, whose extensive culinary experience was tapped to give Alcatraz more impact.

So, what’s to say about Alcatraz now that it’s a more typical brewpub again? First off, the burgers are good, excellent even, succulent and flavorful, with their own individual characters. The utterly juicy French burger definitely trumps the others, even when medium well instead of medium rare as ordered. The California ($13.75) has the most piquant of condiments, including wasabi. The Alcatraz ($14.50) has a slow-roasted quality to it that gives the meat a definite depth of flavor many burgers lack. A trio of “slider”-sized burgers ($14.50) allows you to sample all three.

Basic fries are excellent, but sweet potato fries are especially good — and surprisingly crisp. An upcharge of $2, however, and a cloying cinnamon sauce more suited to ice cream are inexplicable. We substituted horseradish aioli, which surprisingly brought out the savory complexity of the sweet potatoes. Also very good are the ginger-spiked onion rings ($4), light and judiciously battered, with onions cooked through. Ginger and cinnamon, as well as tangy chimichurri, add more heat than sweetness.

Non-burger items, unfortunately, aren’t faring so well. A Margherita flatbread ($10.50) had a crunchy, almost tough crust, with rather bland mozzarella and a drizzle of somewhat watery balsamic. A beef kabob ($12), new since the burger menu, was also overcooked and a tad gristly with subtle flavor at best and giant, undercooked onion wedges. Macaroni and cheese ($4.50) swam in an oddly brown cheese sauce under far too many breadcrumbs.

Desserts also need attention, though an almost too moist carrot cake ($6) is definitely better than a somewhat dry berry trifle ($5). Thankfully, the berries were excellent in the latter. Prices have leveled off somewhat, and, should you actually be silly enough not to order a burger, you’ve got a lot more beer-compatible food to choose from again.

Alcatraz Brewing Company
49 W. Maryland St., Suite 104
317-488-1230

Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sunday: noon-9 p.m.

Food: Three stars
Atmosphere: Three stars
Service: Three and a half stars

Nonsmoking, Handicapped accessible

Recommended dishes: Burgers, sweet potato fries, onion rings, calzones

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