Occupying the space vacated over a year ago by Agio, Ralston's is a most welcome new addition to the burgeoning Mass Ave food corridor. Named after the Scottish architect who laid out the original plans for Indianapolis, Ralston's combines hearty beers with robust cooking in a convivial, slightly old-worldish atmosphere, complete with giant flat-screen TVs and a generous outdoor dining area which is bound to become a destination in warmer weather.
The food here is bold, the portions are generous, and the prices almost unbelievably reasonable. Owned by the folks who brought us the excellent Chatham Tap(s), there's no doubt that a lot of thought went into the menu and its pricing. Judging from the speed and efficiency with which the food hits the table, I would take a guess that they are going to make up in volume what they might lack in margin.
As for the menu itself, it's pretty short, with a handful of appetizers, mostly priced in the $12 range and intended for sharing, and a roughly equal number of main courses, priced somewhat lower (around $8) and better suited for one. I'm never quite sure what to make of photos of food included in a menu, as they all too often remind me of a Chinese take-away, but here they serve to intrigue, rather than discourage.
Seated promptly in the boisterous bar area, we ordered off the excellent beer list which happened to be running Goose Island Bourbon County, as well as a slew of other excellent brews from around the country. The first two dishes we sampled set the bar quite high and came out with surprising alacrity. "El Guapo," a trio of generously-proportioned chorizo-filled corn tortillas (perfectly warm and supple) delivered a pleasant but not overwhelming heat and would happily have served three as a first course.
Next up was The Flying Pig, a trio of little pork shanks, and quite masterful it was. Slow-cooked to the point of almost falling off the bone, then introduced to a very hot pan to sear and crisp up the exterior, this was like pulled pork on a stick. The trio of accompanying cheeses and sauces was brave and unusual, the most successful for me being a hunk of creamy goat cheese with a fig, date and honey compote, which played perfectly on the theme of sweet and savory. Others might prefer the blackberry-champagne sauce, which was brightly acidic, but perhaps a bit too zingy for the pork.
The latter sauce reappeared with a braunschweiger wrapped in a crepe instead of a bun, topped with bacon and served with a honey-mustard dipping sauce which had the eye-wateringly pleasant bite of Coleman's English mustard. The blackberry sauce was perhaps a bit de trop, but if you were eating this with a full-throttle smoked porter, it would probably have been right on the money. A very photogenic dish of cinnamon waffles with breaded chicken strips and all the trimmings was full of promise, but suffered from overcooking. I look forward to trying this one again.