Transplanted restauranteurs stuff locals with foods of their youth
For some folks, it seems that no matter how close to home you are, you aren’t close enough. These days, there’s a lot of nostalgia in Indy for the street foods, music and sky-high cityscapes of the Windy City. Those three hours up I-65 are an eternity when you’re craving deep-dish pizza, Italian beef, and salad dogs in poppy-seed buns.
The deep dish 'Sausage Classic' at Roselli's
So a few transplants have taken matters into their own hands. One case in point is Roselli’s, “A Chicago Pizzeria,” that’s been serving up Chicago-style deep dish pizza and hot subs in one location or another for around a decade. The brainchild of Chicagoan Steve Roselli, who came to Indiana for college and couldn’t find a decent thick-crust pie to save his life, this place aims to fill a void for those who grew up eating at Uno’s and Gino’s East. After starting out at 86th & Michigan, Steve expanded his enterprise a couple of years ago into a new space further north. Now, Roselli’s ranks among the top 25 caterers in Indianapolis, supplying pizzas, pastas and subs to area office parks and parties. The new location offers outdoor seating, plenty of TV screens, and a bit of polish absent at your neighborhood pizzeria, including some quite soft lighting. Ordering at the counter means thinking ahead. Do you want baby back ribs or lasagna? A meatball sandwich or a calzone? We figured pizza was the way to go here, though we couldn’t pass up at least one hot sandwich. A Caesar side salad ($3.20) was a straightforward starter with plenty of croutons and a garlicky dressing on the side. The Italian beef sandwich ($4.75), however, provided some challenges to both hands and mouth. The counter clerk suggested the mixed hot and sweet peppers, a lightning hot relish of red and green peppers and pickled celery that pervaded every bite. A pile of quite juicy beef turned the once-crunchy French bread into a soggy mess impossible to pick up, and fries could have been a bit crisper. For pizzas, we went both thick and thin. A 10-inch deep-dish “Sausage Classic” offered enough gooey cheese, spicy-sweet sausage, and crust to feed a small army. While the crust was buttery and thick, it was a little dark on the bottom, and toppings like onion and green pepper weren’t sautéed first, leaving them pretty much raw. Surprisingly, the thin crust pizza, a 14-inch “Spinach Deluxe” ($14.45) fared better, with an enviably light, chewy crust and more restraint in toppings. Sauce was a little sweet and ketchup-like, but spinach, tomatoes and cheese were in good measure, and we left thinking Roselli’s knew as much about real Italian pizza as it did about the Chicago stuff.
A taste of Palermo, in Brownsburg
When you put your name on a restaurant, you’d better make sure your food is good. Call your place “famous” and you’d better hope the customers will come. Thankfully, both have been true for Sal Russo, a native Sicilian and long-time purveyor of pizzas and pastas on Indy’s suburban Westside. After starting out in Danville in 1990, Russo has finally settled on two locations in Brownsburg and Plainfield, where the locals have made him famous for his double-crust pizzas and veal parmesan. The Brownsburg site, opened in 1998, is one of those Hoosier highway finds with colorful murals of seaside scenes, straw-covered Chianti bottles, and often Sal himself behind the counter lending the place all the authenticity it needs. A soundtrack of Italian street music was a little too soft, drowned out by the din of the regulars discussing local high school rivalries, but the absence of TVs and a well-contained smoking section made this a rarity among strip-mall eateries. Tall, curvaceous beakers reminiscent of your eighth-grade science lab contained real sprigs of rosemary. Among appetizers, the bruschetta ($6.75), the restaurant’s “specialty,” offered homemade bread more toasted than grilled with plenty of garlic and some rather pale tomatoes — at least for August. A generous topping of feta cheese nearly obliterated the other flavors. A Caesar salad ($5.75) seemed a bit pricey for a pile of romaine drenched in puckery dressing with the strange addition of raw white onions. Pizza, however, Sal’s signature dish, succeeded at bringing a bit of Palermo, Russo’s hometown, to our table. While the “double crust” wasn’t listed on the menu, our waitress said she liked the regular crust better, and a 9-inch “Sal’s Special” ($9.95) wore a deliciously crisp and flavorful crust. Toppings were a bit heavy, weighting down the expert crust, and canned mushrooms seemed an oversight Russo’s grandmother might have frowned at. But sausage and pepperoni didn’t overpower. A vegetarian calzone ($6.99) didn’t have quite the same chewy crust, and promised ricotta was scarce. But with plenty of mozzarella and a side of warm marinara, this was undeniably rich Sicilian comfort food that, not surprisingly, has made Sal famous. Roselli’s 4335 W. 106th St., Carmel 228-9090 Hours Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday 4-11 p.m. Food : 3 Stars Atmosphere : 3 Stars Service : 3 Stars Sal’s 1028 E. Main St., Brownsburg 858-8700 Hours Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Food : 3 Stars Atmosphere : 3 Stars Service : 3.5 Stars