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Rook, Rudisell's new bahn mi joint, impresses 

click to enlarge Rook's namesake sandwich pairs chicken liver terrine with Vietnamese pork roll. - MARK A. LEE
  • Rook's namesake sandwich pairs chicken liver terrine with Vietnamese pork roll.
  • Mark A. Lee

Something is happening in Indianapolis - and has been for few years now. Indy's diners continue to spurn focus-group approved menus and servers bedazzled in flair, heading instead to more authentic, locally based eateries. Add to that list Rook, a Bánh mì sandwich shop that opened this June in Fletcher Place's Hinge Building. Simple as its menu and mission may be, Rook is just as important to a strong culinary community as once-a-month or -year fine dining experiences.

Rook is the third offering from Ed Rudisell, who co-owns Siam Square and Black Market. His small shotgun-style shop offers his take on the Bánh mì, a traditional street food popular in Vietnam that came into fashion during the French occupation of Indochina during the late 19th century. The name refers to the bread used: a thin-crusted baguette that has a slightly airier consistency than versions found throughout Europe.

Rook offers nine sandwiches on an average day, each named after a different bird, each anchored by a different protein. The menu is written on a suspended roll of butcher paper adjacent to the counter at the back of the slender space.

We selected the namesake Rook, the Magpie and the Black Wing, all offered at the same $8 price point. Adding an order of Pork Cracklings and Shrimp Chips ($2.50 each) and a few tangerine Jarritos, we took our seats along a simple wooden bench that runs the length of the shop and is paralleled by a few worn canary yellow metal stamped chairs. Our food showed up soon after on stainless steel trays that could've been lifted from a military mess hall but didn't seem at all out of place.

The Rook's cool chicken liver terrine plays nicely against its other protein, a Vietnamese pork roll made to order for Rook by Goose The Market that's flavorful but not overpowering. The Magpie is built around cold marinated ground chicken; we were amazed by its light, coherent and complex flavors. The Black Wing's beef-peanut curry is moist without being messy and portioned perfectly. The peanut dominates the first second of the bite, while the curry waits in the wings to add an appreciated intensity.

Equally impressive is Rook's sense of restraint when it comes to toppings. Each baguette features the same accoutrements - pickled Korean radish and carrots, cilantro, mayonnaise and jalapeños. Taken together they could easily serve as strong side if left just as a slaw. Again, like the main course, nothing overpowers; each of the ingredients used in the toppings pops up randomly on your tongue like a whack-a-mole. We never knew which would present itself with each bite and the anticipation was marvelous.

It's rare, happy thing to eat subs of such size without feeling like a glutton afterwards. Even after the fried pork cracklings (overdone and burnt on our visit) and shrimp chips (our collective favorite) we still had room to finish up with a sampling of desserts from two local artisans. Marcarons, created daily by Cindy Hawkins of Circle City Sweets, are available in four flavors - lemongrass, matcha green team, black sesame and wasabi (named in order of their enjoyment). And generous tiles of Frittle, peanut butter brittle topped with sesame seeds, are provided by Carrie Abbott of Frittle Candy.

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