One of the many joys of dining in this town, and several others of its size around the country, is the almost constant sense of discovery, not at the high end of the scale but at the low. Unlike, say, in Chicago or San Francisco, where fine dining establishments come and go faster than Italian parliaments, Indianapolis tends to experience only two or three major restaurant openings a year. In fact, over the past 12 months, things have slowed down enormously here, with fewer openings than expected, and established restaurants losing ground not only to the economy but to the chains. In this town, I"m increasingly finding that the real excitement is to be found in the plethora of great little ethnic eateries that have sprung up all over the place, and continue to do so unabated.
Vere Ryan and Marlon Gill serve up the Caribbean Flava.
Recently, as long-suffering readers are doubtless all too aware, I"ve been sampling rather a lot of Indian food, which is perfect fare for the summer months and certainly varied in terms of style. I"ve also run into quite a few Caribbean-Island-Cajun-style joints that have produced meals of varying quality at radically varying price points. Last week, on the advice of our ¸ber-photographer, Jason Yoder, I tried this nifty little establishment, situated about half way between Keystone and College on 46th Street.
If you drive much over 35 mph, you"re likely to miss Caribbean Flava, as I did at least twice before performing the by-now-standard series of U-turns and detours that seem to accompany many of my forays into ethnic restaurant territory. The public dining part of the restaurant occupies a space about the size of the average broom closet. If, that is, your broom closet seats eight. The dÈcor, which I have not bothered to rate, is largely inconsequential, although the dining area is spotlessly clean and moderately inviting. The service is affable and to the point. Essentially, you go to the counter, ask for some food, get your food, pay for it and then eat. As you might have surmised from the above, the food here is really the thing.
A word of advice before venturing out to Caribbean Flava: Call ahead to make sure they are open and plan to dine at least one hour before the published closing time. Because of the nature of the food here, long-cooked curries, stews and rice dishes, some of the items tend to run out before the end of the day and cannot be prepared to order. On my recent visit, I had the following dishes, each of which came in a portion size of about a cup and a half: chicken curry (boneless), chicken curry (on the bone), beef curry and oxtail stew. In addition, I purchased a similar-sized portion of red beans and rice, an order of macaroni and cheese, a loaf of house-made carrot cake, a loaf of house-made sweet fruit bread and a really rather delicious soft drink made in house from tree bark, whose name temporarily evades me. The total cost for this feast (that more than fed three adults) was $21 and change.
As for the quality, each of the dishes was really quite fine: The beef curry was distinctly spiced, but by no means excessively hot. The red beans and rice, although a bit on the bland side, was significantly improved when mixed with the meat dishes and fortified with a splash of Melinda"s XXX habaÒero sauce. Unfortunately, I arrived shortly before closing, so only managed to secure some of the fattier-end bits of oxtail, which almost no amount of cooking can fully render. Although good, I would have preferred some pieces from higher up the tail.
Excellent as the meat dishes were, the real star of the show was the carrot cake. Rich and sticky, as well as being quite sweet, this was a perfect accompaniment to the slightly spicy chicken (boneless) curry. The combination reminded me of the Indian custom of serving sweet pickles with spicy dishes. I"m not sure if this is how you"re supposed to eat this cake, but it certainly worked for me. The kitchen also turns out a banana bread, about which I"ve heard great things, but missed on this occasion.
On the weekend, Caribbean Flava serves goat, but again it"s probably worth calling ahead to confirm its availability. For excellent grub on a budget, this place is tough to beat. I"ve already got my next visit planned.