Avalon heats up the Northside with island touches
In Arthurian legend, Avalon is the island paradise where Arthur was sent to convalesce from battle wounds. On this tropical utopia, crops purportedly grew up untended; men lived a century or more in excellent health. Avalon's mystique has fueled the imagination of moviemakers, club owners and restaurateurs alike. An Internet search reveals that nary a city is without an Avalon, even such un-tropical spots as Portland and Toronto. The special ($11.95) combined chicken with crisp broccoli and peppers over penne.
Now Indianapolis has its own Avalon, with upscale ambitions and an eye toward Miami. A former Bob Evans at the busiest intersection in town might not seem the ideal location for a South Beach-themed supper club. Indeed, the trademark squared-off façade remains, albeit behind a coat of white paint. But vibrant neon lights, two outdoor patios and beach-style landscaping show that someone here has paid attention to details.
Curvaceous chrome handles shaped into an "A" open glass doors to the spacious foyer. Inside, a corner cabinet features a stunning collection of vintage cocktail shakers. Plush banquettes in purples and greens add funky sophistication. The bar, thoughtfully separated from the dining room, is the more stylish section, with a stage for live music and an impressive 400-gallon fish tank.
Beyond these elements, however, the restaurant fails to keep its theme afloat. Coconut shrimp and some seafood entrées recall the warm Floridian coastline, but the menu is, unfortunately, too much like its predecessor's. We couldn't find a drink list with any mojitos or rum rickies, though the bar was happy to make anything we requested. Asked for a wine list, our waiter, who provided a surprisingly candid running commentary throughout our meal, demurred, admitting it was nothing special. Thankfully, a Penfolds Bin 2 Shiraz Mourvèdre was perfectly potable, though considerably marked up at $32.
An appropriate soundtrack with favorite crooners like Rosemary Clooney gave way to the sounds of Tropical Zoo, one of many local acts that play almost nightly and during Sunday brunch at Avalon. This was a nice distraction from two utterly unnecessary TV screens in the dining room. One hovered on the wall above us, seated by the bathrooms despite the nearly deserted restaurant. A golf-themed video game in the corner eventually drew two adolescent boys, who shot putts while we ate.
Against our waiter's advice, we ordered the coconut shrimp and the beef tenderloin tips as appetizers. The shrimp ($9.95) were golden and paired interestingly with a side of orange marmalade. Juicy bits of sautéed tenderloin ($10.95) arrived with a fairly timid but rich horseradish sauce.
Soups and salads, included with entrées, brought mixed results. French onion soup came with a slightly wilted slice of mozzarella atop a salty broth clogged with croutons. A tomato-garlic soup, however, was a silky elixir with a nice balance of tomato and spices. Though somewhat heavily dressed, the Caesar was comprised of crisp romaine with plenty of parmesan. House salads consisted mostly of iceberg lettuce but did have some fresh veggies and a good choice of dressings, some apparently made on site.
Entrées are divided between surf-and-turf favorites and a long but rather typical list of pastas. Seafood includes grouper, tilapia and salmon, though they're given pretty traditional treatment on beds of rice with lemon. Diners can request broiled or blackened treatments, but the blackened grouper came with a rather caustic red-pepper coating and was cooked to the point of being rubbery. The tilapia ($13.95) fared much better, though it, too, was a bit over-seasoned.
The waiter glowed about the pesto cream sauce, prevalent in both the pasta special and on the mushroom ravioli. But while the special ($11.95) combined chicken with crisp broccoli and peppers over penne, the ravioli were gummy, with a filling only slightly reminiscent of real mushrooms. Pork chops with mango chutney were tender, if a bit dry. Undoubtedly the best dish was a perfectly medium-rare filet mignon with a liberal skewer of grilled shrimp, earthy mashed potatoes and snappy green beans. At $21, this was the bargain of the night.
Ever frank, our waiter didn't exactly brag about the desserts, none of which are made in house. A colossal slice of key lime pie ($4.95) - more a cheesecake - had a rather artificially creamy texture and seemed to have picked up some funky flavors during its time in cold storage. Drizzled with a gelatinous neon green sauce, this was a far cry from what you'd get in the Keys.
The place was starting fill up as we left, and the bar was fairly packed as Tropical Zoo started a second set. Clearly, more patrons see Avalon as a late-night hotspot than a restaurant. After all, it's open until 3:30 a.m. on weekends. The snowy parking lot and traffic on Allisonville didn't exactly conjure images of Little Havana, nor did Avalon really resemble a Miami salsa club. Its aspirations are right - and much needed in landlocked Indianapolis. It just needs to work on the follow through.
8340 Allisonville Road
Tuesday-Friday: 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.
Saturday-Sunday: 11 a.m. to 3:30 a.m.