Usual location, unusual menu 

Just when you get used to the old menu categories of appetizers, salads, entrées and desserts, along come a few clever restaurants trying to reinvent the meal. Then again, you can start to expect that your favorite eateries will be in the same place year after year, and that changes too. Aren’t their any constants in the culinary world? If you haven’t been to the Parthenon in Broad Ripple recently, you may be surprised to know that this Greek mainstay has been given a makeover — and a new name. Other than the old Greek salad and the hummus from the Parthenon, the Usual Suspects is completely updated, all the way from new lighting and pristine, cleaned up décor down to the quirky menu with such items as an overstuffed BLT and toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. But trying to get your head around the concept at the new place can be a little tricky. In lieu of appetizers, perhaps, or maybe suggesting light meals, the menu offers a full list of quesadillas ($7.95), as well as six “sharing platters” ranging in price from $6.50 to $12.50. You can get a tortilla stuffed with bacon chicken salad or meatballs and parmesan cheese. Or you can feast on a plate of blackened tilapia bites or zucchini straws. But would you get just one or both? Would you share or keep them all for yourself? Add to this the additional noshing option next door at Clarke’s Deli, the Usual Suspects’ ancillary snack shop, opened just this past Thursday. In the space that used to sell falafel to hungry patrons of the Casba Bar downstairs, now you can get juicy mini burgers and bags of chips after 10 p.m. Why not just skip dinner altogether and pick up a sack on the way to the bar? Is this the new direction of dining or just another Broad Ripple eatery capitalizing on the throngs of hungry bar crawlers? It’s not that you can’t get a well-balanced meal here that would make Mom smile, and that’s just what we attempted to do on a recent spring evening, taking advantage of a mostly empty patio for a quite relaxing meal. An intriguing wine list with vintages at $5, $7 and $9 a glass allowed for a nice spicy Spanish red, and the bar inside also provided a frothy espresso martini on special ($5). For an “appetizer,” we took our waitress’ advice and split a chicken Cordon Bleu quesadilla, her favorite. Rather than a gooey, cheesy affair, this was a rather substantial tortilla sandwich with a grilled chicken breast, ham, Swiss cheese, and a slathering of Dijon mustard. While tasty, this was more a light dinner itself than a starter. For entrees, we went for the salmon cooked in parchment ($16.50), the menu’s most ambitious dish, and the penne à la vodka ($11.50). With the salmon, we upgraded to an endive salad. This was smart. Whereas the house salad is a lifeless homage to iceberg, the endive ($7.25) mixes fresh, crisp endive and plenty of colorful radicchio with sweetened walnuts and bleu cheese under a tangy balsamic oregano dressing. Buttery, grilled garlic bread came on the side. Light and flaky with a tasty treatment of cherry tomatoes and sweet laces of onion, the salmon “packet” made for an elegant presentation. Tarragon butter allowed for rich, fragrant dipping. “Signature hash browns” were more like roasted potatoes than the typical breakfast side, and while a few were undercooked, the best were golden, crunchy and delicious. The penne wore a light, slightly spicy sauce and a dusting of parmesan. The pasta might have been better on the side of something else or with some chicken or veggies. But with another slice of that garlic bread, this did make a decent light meal. Maybe the place is suggesting you should stop after a sharing platter, but its list of desserts is quite spare. While our waitress made no pretense about the chocolate pecan pie, suggesting it was purchased at a local grocery store bakery, big chunks of chocolate and plentiful nuts made for a perfectly fine finish. What about those cheeseburgers? Well, when a waitress mentions to a restaurant critic that they’ll soon be serving some of the best mini-burgers in town in bags of 2, 4 and 6, that’s like telling an antique collector there’s a free set of Chippendale chairs out on the corner. I had to go back. My zeal must have given me away: I was their first customer. But when beefy little burgers with crispy charred edges are at stake, you have to set subtlety aside. The burgers come on buns surprisingly reminiscent of the ones at that other late-night burger place. But these are much better. If the grease on my steering wheel is any evidence, I may just have been won over to this new style of small meal snacking. Usual Suspects 6319 Guilford Ave. 251-3138 Hours Tuesday-Saturday 5-10 p.m. Sunday 5-9 p.m.

Clarke’s Deli
6317 Guilford Ave.

Hours Thursday-Saturday 10 p.m.-3 A.m.

Food : 3.5 Stars
Atmosphere : 3.5 Stars
Service : 4 Stars

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