This holiday season, don't forget to eat

The streetlights were blinking red and green. But no snow fell on this drizzly December day. Dodging holiday shoppers at Circle Centre, we ducked across Meridian to the 3 Hour Deli at Morrison Opera Place, a new lunch joint that opened just a few weeks ago by St. Elmo's. High ceilings, brick walls and reproduction turn-of-the-century light fixtures offered the vintage charm you'd expect from an offshoot of one of Indy's most beloved restaurants. The food at 3 Hour Deli has a St. Elmo's flair with a twist.

The food had a St. Elmo's flair as well, with some fun twists. Despite being pre-made, salads are fresh and attractive. Topped with chopped egg, oranges and crunchy candied walnuts, the spinach ($4.95) was crisp and delicious under a rich, hot, bacon vinaigrette.

Among sandwiches, the counter clerk suggested the prime rib, something St. Elmo's should know a lot about. Thin slices of almost silken prime rib were piled high with sweet caramelized onions, but the bleu cheese mayonnaise was a little tame, and everything seemed too cold. Served warm on rustic sourdough, this sandwich could become legendary. Unfortunately, the promised side of potato salad or carrot chips was missing in action.

Daily hot offerings such as chicken pot pie and lasagna constitute "Chef Bert's Creation" on Fridays. This week's creation was roasted chicken in a light, slightly sweet bourbon sauce with garlic mashed potatoes. The chicken was juicy and crisp without too much sauce. The potatoes were tepid but hearty enough. In the sweets department, Chef Bert's brownies ($1.50) offered almost more molten chocolate than chewy cake. A macadamia nut cookie ($1) was a little dry but packed with nuts.

While these offerings were clearly several notches above your typical takeout lunch, prepared by a chef not afraid to play around with deli standards, our food came in flimsy plastic trays too reminiscent of airplane food or frozen dinners. Add to that the eerily quiet setting, with wall-sized monitors projecting the day's news, and it was a somewhat dissonant lunch environment. Maybe everyone was too busy shopping, or maybe the word isn't out just yet. With a few adjustments in the food and presentation, the lively crowds typical of any St. Elmo's enterprise should be soon to follow.

3 Hour Deli

47 S. Meridian


Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Food: 3 1/2 stars

Atmosphere: 3 stars

Service: 3 stars

Saddle up

It may seem as though you've driven all the way to Montana - just for lunch. But you're actually in the posh confines of the new Clay Terrace Mall in Carmel. Ted's Montana Grill is no makeshift tavern in a one-horse town. Co-founded by media mogul Ted Turner and restaurateur George McKerrow Jr., this Atlanta-based franchise is planned down to the wee crusty dinner rolls reminiscent of hardtack and the soap powder in the bathrooms. Apparently, no true cowboy would use liquid.

Milk glass lamps hanging from a pressed-tin ceiling lend a soft glow to the dining room. Thankfully, Ted's carries its theme past the racket of most loud chains. Only one silent TV plays above the bar, and TV Western themes and frontier tunes such as "Happy Trails" provide cheery background entertainment.

Brown paper adds bucolic charm to tabletops, and diners are presented with thick-cut, salty cucumbers as a sort of wagon trail amuse bouche. Of only three appetizers, the onion rings ($3.29) are lightly breaded, allowing the sweet onions to shine, and a dipping sauce reminiscent of ranch has a mild kick of horseradish.

True to form, the menu at Ted's reflects the rustic simplicity of Old West cookery. Dishes are pretty much limited to items in one of four categories: bison, beef, chicken or salmon. Bison comes in the form of steak, tasty burgers with endless topping variations or homey meatloaf. The meatloaf ($9.69) has a sweet crust and a tasty but not too heavy brown sauce. The meat, 100 percent of it bison (you can eat yours at the bar under a bison head wearing a Santa hat), was a little too finely ground, making for a quite solid loaf. But a side of "Aunt Fannie's" squash casserole with plenty of pepper and a crusty bread-crumb topping was a nice departure that rendered the timid garlic mashed potatoes almost superfluous.

Salmon, basically the only seafood offering, is roasted on a real cedar plank, filling the place with an aroma somewhere between a campfire and your grandmother's closet. The fish was suffused with the same smoky flavor, but its texture was a little mealy and overcooked. Atop the "grilled" salad ($9.29), however, it worked well with plenty of crisp greens, chopped veggies and generous hunks of crunchy, thick-cut bacon.

An outsize snickerdoodle ($1) our waitress fetched from a glass jar made for a chewy, not too heavy finale, just enough to send us back out into the cold to discover untold bargains on the fashionable prairies north of Indianapolis.

Ted's Montana Grill

14490 Clay Terrace Blvd.



Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Food: 3 1/2 stars

Atmosphere: 3 1/2 stars

Service: 3 1/2 stars


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