The marriage of music and food is certainly no modern innovation. Exclusive concert venues on Indy’s Northside, however, are a little more recent, especially ones that book such edgy acts as the Scissor Sisters and offer such thoughtful menus as the one at Music Mill.
The Xango Roll-up Sweet Bar ($5.95) was a freshly homemade creation of decadent proportions
Billed in its publicity as a “venue” rather than just a restaurant with live music, Music Mill wants to be a funky, one-of-a-kind space to accommodate just about any private function. The owners have done their best to turn the exterior of the place, a former Discovery Zone for kids, into a shrine of Bauhaus simplicity, painted utilitarian gray. Inside, they’ve banked on the longevity of orange as the color du jour, but the décor is appropriately restrained, with tastefully contrasting fabrics, cool white lighting and a vibrant bar. Few dining rooms in the city rival Music Mill for chic. You might not expect a place so geared toward private functions and A-list concert crowds to care much about the selection and preparation of the food. Indeed, crowds at the Scissors Sisters concert grumbled about long bar lines and no coat check. Thankfully, the operation of the restaurant seems somewhat independent of the “venue,” and the dining room is secluded across a big round vestibule from the music. The relative quiet has allowed the kitchen time to think about what it puts before customers. Appetizers include gussied-up standards like shrimp cocktail and cheese fries, as well as a couple of curveballs. Yuzu sesame fries ($2.95) offered a revelation in lightness: ultra crisp fries with a whisper of sesame seeds and the lightest drizzle of syrup made from the lemon-like yuzu, the chic fruit that lends its flavor to the famous Japanese sauce ponzu. It makes ketchup seem like mud. Pulled up, presumably, from the same fryer, sweet corn fritters ($3.25) didn’t sing in quite the same key. They lacked the delicacy of the fries, but they had a nice cake-like interior with whole kernels of corn. A heavier treatment with maple syrup left us wondering if this lead act wanted to be the finisher. But we soon found the bottom of the plate. Salads occupy the largest section on the menu, suggesting hipsters and concertgoers should eat healthily. But a house salad ($3.25) was a bland mix of torn and shredded romaine with what seemed like pre-sliced mushrooms along with some other vegetables. A grapefruit-balsamic vinaigrette sounded better than it tasted; that familiar bitter tang ached for a little more sweetness. The “boutique” vegetable soup ($2.75), on the other hand, was a designer version of your grandmother’s. Only some mushy snap peas detracted from the rich, brothy soup, and pastry “chips,” basically overgrown croutons, provided some nice crunch. As with the décor, entrees were artful and unassuming. The Mojito Mahi Mahi ($14.25) wore just a light coating of grilled pineapple, the sweet juice of which made the most gossamer of sauces for the well-charred, flaky fish. Sweet potato fries, more home fries than shoestrings, were crisp, and a mélange of grilled vegetables included nicely snappy carrots and green beans. Nothing took the lead or really dazzled, but the execution was expert, the harmonies flawless. A honey glazed butterfly pork chop ($9.50) was much the same, with only the memory of honey on a well-done but tender chop. Kudos to the kitchen for the grill marks! Roasted potatoes weren’t waylaid by garlic, and a few slices of spiced apple made for a nice contrast with some caramelized onions atop the chop. Among sandwiches and panini, the “Elvis Impersonator” ($6.45), with Canadian bacon, peanut butter, muenster cheese and tomatoes, seemed too gut-wrenching to turn down, but the “suzzas” ultimately got our vote. A riff on thin-crust pizzas, “suzzas” are 9-inch pies stuffed with chunky ingredients and baked until crisp. The Imperial Chicken suzza ($7.50) was a curiously cross-cultural concoction. Chicken and stir-fried peppers hid inside the double crust with only a little jack cheese to anchor them there. Parmesan and a surprisingly spicy sauce bubbled on top. One member of our party called it a “Chinese fajita.” Though a bit unwieldy to eat, it was the most flavorful thing on the table. Our waitress seemed a bit uninformed about which desserts were made in house and which came from bakeries. But the Xango Roll-up Sweet Bar ($5.95) was a freshly homemade creation of decadent proportions. It’s basically two kinds of cheesecake deep-fried in pastry. Enough said? A giant scoop of ice cream was more like ice milk or vanilla sorbet, but coupled nicely with the warm roll. Sadly, we’d barely mined the riches of Music Mill’s diverse menu. Almost every item — from a coconut-crusted grouper sandwich to the Cubano wrap — showed careful consideration. Just like the concert schedule — funk legend George Clinton played Monday night — this place seems determined to mill out a steady stream of surprises.
Music Mill 3720 E. 82nd St. 841-4930 Sunday-Thursday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Food: 4 stars Atmosphere: 4 1/2 stars Service: 3 1/2 stars