Saraga and Sunflower Markets tempt shoppers with in-store cafés Terry Kirts
Sunflower Market offers customers delights in a festive setting.
When I finally calmed down from my astonishment at all I could find at Saraga International Market, I realized they sold prepared food as well. By food court standards, the one at Saraga is spare, with just a few neon yellow tables. But with Korean, Japanese and Chinese food, and Mexican and barbecue on the way (pending inspections), few food courts around are as quirkily international. Both times I ate there, I was greeted by the jolly head chef who later introduced himself as Korean-born Thiger Ree. Though I had trouble with the math, Ree told me about all the years he’d spent cooking in Kansas City and New York before coming to Indianapolis. He’s the perfect match for this eclectic conglomerate of eateries. Given Ree’s heritage, the best bet here is the Korean food. In fact, the Chinese and Japanese foods currently available are quite Korean in approach. Sushi at the Japanese station comes in the form of kimbap ($6.50), with not raw fish but ham and pickled daikon in rice and seaweed. Ramen ($5.55) is a notch above what you’d make in your dorm-room hotpot, and tonkatsu ($7.40) is a little chewy and drenched in sauce. A salmon combo ($11.95) is better, with a tasty, if overcooked, salmon filet, fried dumplings, a crunchy egg roll and somewhat spongy shrimp tempura. But tempura sweet potatoes and pumpkin are unusually good, as is a lacy cabbage salad with ginger-peanut dressing. Among Korean dishes, a sandwich of bulgogi, sweet grilled beef, on a hoagie roll with cheese seemed a must-have Asian-American dish. But Ree met my request with cries of “no bread” both times. Fortunately, the dolsot bibimbop ($9.45) is the real reason to dine at Saraga. Served in a lightning-hot earthenware bowl, this consists of a hearty mix of beef, sprouts, bok choy and other veggies with a raw egg that cooks as the rice continually fries in the dish. Appropriately, Ree rushed out to implore me to add a spicy sauce from a red ketchup bottle. Just as the market puts Indy hoppers in touch with foods they never could have prepared before, Ree wants diners to have an experience just like they’d have in his homeland. Good natured savings?
Step inside Sunflower Market in Broad Ripple just once, and you’ll agree this is a top-notch purveyor of gastronomic products with easy-to-browse aisles, gorgeous produce and some of the friendliest features around. You can pay with your finger, for Pete’s sake! But, with our own homegrown grocery chain on the auction block, do we really need another franchise, and what niche will this one fill that the other can’t? As a restaurant critic, I turned first to Sunflower’s French Meadow Bakery and Café. One of the flyers for it features a photo of a woman in a centuries-old white head scarf conjuring images of Monet’s Normandy. In Indy, I’m happy anytime I’m reminded of France. But would this do-it-yourself counter of breads, coffee drinks and pastries really live up to its exotic name? To test the “café,” I strolled in for a few unusual comestibles for the next day’s lunch. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be eating these anywhere near a haystack or a cathedral, but at my desk. Nonetheless, I perused the shelves where customers can slice and toast their own breads and bagels and help themselves to anything from Jamaican ginger cookies to dense, fudgy hempseed brownies that, sadly, have no THC. While the store’s motto is “good natured savings,” I was immediately struck by the prices of deli items. Tubs of hummus and baba ghanouj were upwards of $7, sandwiches rarely dipped below $6 and modest salads ran around $8. Good natured, perhaps. Savings? I wasn’t convinced. I did finally put together a basketful of treats for the next day — even a sandwich for a friend to sample. A container of “Southern Italian lentil salad” ($2.96) came full of nearly raw, crunchy lentils with onions, much softer carrots and a gossamer dressing with bits of parsley. A spinach and cheese scone ($1.99) was chewy and more bread-like than classic scones but delicious nonetheless. An organic bosc pear ($1.04) was one of the sweetest you’ll find anywhere in a Hoosier winter, and a bottle of Izze sparkling blackberry juice ($1.29) made my usual Pepsi seem like dishwater. My lunch came to $7.28, before tax, though I did feel I’d eaten healthier than most days. My friend reported that his sandwich ($5.99) contained tasty rare roast beef but only a hint of the promised wasabi sauce and somewhat unimpressive ciabatta bread. Accompanying greens had a quite neutral balsamic dressing. Healthy, too, but not exactly worthy of allusions to 19th century France. While Sunflower isn’t yet revolutionizing lunch in Indianapolis, it does provide a great alternative to other less good-natured noontime options around town. Saraga International Grocery 3605 Commercial Drive 317-388-9999 Food Court Hours: Monday-Sunday: 11 a.m.-9 p.m Food : 3 Stars Atmosphere : 2.5 Stars Service : 3.5 Stars French Meadow Café at Sunflower Market 1021 Broad Ripple Ave. 317-465-0164 Hours: Monday-Sunday: 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Food : 3.5 Stars Atmosphere : 3.5 Stars Service : 3.5 Stars