HonestIy, I didn't have much hope for Fire by the Monon. After all, the house at 6523 Ferguson St. in Broad Ripple has seen several restaurants come and go over the years. Tavola di Tosa. Thai One On. L'explorateur. So when a new place opened three years ago in the same out-of-the-way location — and with inexperienced owners to boot — I really didn't expect it to last.
And the original owners, whose vision included a focus on grilled and cold-smoked items, didn't last long. They sold Fire by the Monon to serial restaurant owner Tim Reuter in late 2011, and he, in turn, sold it last year to industry veteran Joe Cominsky. But through all the ownership changes, the charming little restaurant with the eye-catching color scheme has stayed in business. So after three years and three owners, maybe the location has rid itself of the bad mojo of the past.
That certainly seemed to be the case during a recent Saturday night visit. Yes, Fire by the Monon is off the beaten Broad Ripple path. And no, there's not much signage, just one above the front door and some parking signs out front, which is why Cominsky keeps a tree by the deck strung with lights year round. But while it was too chilly to sit out on the deck, the restaurant's outdoor seating is typically packed on warm evenings.
On a recent dinner visit, however, we were seated in one of the brightly painted dining rooms and enjoyed the energetic atmosphere — busy and crowded without being too loud. And when you think about it, why wouldn't it be crowded? Fire by the Monon is locally owned, it's got a comfortable, grown-up vibe, it has a bar without being "a sports bar," and it offers a crowd-pleasing menu.
The restaurant has retained much of its original focus on flatbreads, sandwiches, burgers and entrees, although an update seems likely to keep the menu fresh. Flatbreads are everywhere these days, but they do make an appealing, easily shared appetizer. Or treat them like pizza and get a few for the table — because at least in this case, there seems to be little difference between a flatbread and a thin-crust pizza. The margherita version ($8.95) sampled during a recent lunch visit was just fine — plenty of toppings without overwhelming the thin crust.
Also during that lunch visit, the house specialty fish tacos ($13.95), made for a flavorful, although hard-to-eat option, as the corn tortillas just couldn't contain the hearty filling. The breaded tenderloin sandwich ($10.95), was likewise hard to eat because, in addition to the inherent awkwardness of the requisite oversized tenderloin and tiny bun, once you bit into the sandwich, the crisp breading just didn't stay on the pork. Which is not to say that it wasn't tasty – it was tender, thick enough and nicely cooked, but it just didn't hold up well.
The "tug of war" pulled pork sandwich ($10.95), ordered during a dinner visit also required a knife and fork. The sandwich comes topped with slaw and is certainly a substantial serving, but we just didn't love it as much as we wanted to. Perhaps it was too late in the day for ours, since the pork itself seemed to have spent too much time simmering in the flavorful sauce, leaving it overcooked and lacking in texture. A side of delicious onion rings helped make up for it, however, as did a perfectly cooked cold-smoked salmon entrée ($16.95).
A delightful peach bread pudding ($6.95), made in house and served with ice cream, was plenty for two and provided an excellent ending.
Fire by the Monon is certainly worth a visit. Next time — maybe on a warm spring evening — we'll sit on the deck, order a couple of flatbreads, or maybe try one of the burgers with those onion rings, and enjoy the combination of good food in a great setting.
Jolene Ketzenberger covers local food at EatDrinkIndy.com. Follow her on Twitter at @JKetzenberger.