Sizing up the bounties of the season

 

Spring ushers in soup, tapas, new deli options and more

There’s nothing like spring to get a gourmand’s heart going again. Sure, you made do through those snowbound months with your stews and root vegetables, your Top Chef marathons, your back issues of Gourmet and Bon Appétit. But what lover of fresh food doesn’t hold off on really ambitious culinary endeavors until warmer weather sets in? “Spring will be here soon enough,” you tell yourself, dog-earing old cookbooks and scanning backyard garden plots for tufts of green.

Well, now that the season is in full simmer, it’s time to cast off the parkas and head out to enjoy all that is popping up not just in area gardens and produce stands but on the restaurant horizon as well. And what a season it promises to be around this city, with everything from new markets to a big crop of new restaurants to new menus to reunions with dishes you thought were lost to the annals of culinary history.

Some recent openings have already stirred the spirits of local diners. Longtime lovers of one of Indy’s great soups, aush from the old Kabul location on 86th Street, can stop Googling the recipe online. The exact recipe isn’t there, and you know you could never make as good a version at home. Thankfully, this tangy, aromatic, downright enchanting elixir full of everything from tiny meatballs to noodles to beans to yogurt is available again at Kebab Korner (6066 E. 82nd St., 317-577-9610), a new, if somewhat more modest restaurant opened by the old Kabul owners. Stay tuned for more on this place.

Two new eateries channeling the spirit of fire have opened on the Northside. Rocky River Grillhouse (5910 E. 82nd St., 317-595-0094), a new concept of Darden Restaurants, Inc. (which brought local diners Smokey Bones Barbeque and Bahama Breeze), is open, serving a host of fire-grilled entrées — and warming guests at two open-hearth fires. Boasting 80 beers and 50 hot sauces, Hotshotz (4705 E. 96th St., 317-818-9510) is open, serving suds-friendly eats ranging from spicy oyster shooters to a “Hot Flash” brownie sundae topped with red hots.

Several long-awaited openings around downtown have set opening dates in April and May. Most promising, though most frustrating because of repeated delays, is the scheduled opening in May of Barcelona Tapas (corner of Delaware and Ohio streets), the first franchise of a suburban St. Louis-based tapas restaurant. Offering everything from gazpacho to a true Spanish tortilla (a potato and onion omelet), this place promises not only to deviate from the downtown bias toward steak but also to push dining options into somewhat uncharted territory east of the heavier traffic areas. It’s a risk that foodies are hoping will work. Speaking of steak, Capital Grille, the Atlanta-based steakhouse chain that has for weeks been building on the gravesite of onetime avant-garde eatery Restaurant du Soleil at the Conrad, is set to open April 30. St. Elmo’s new concept restaurant Harry & Izzy’s will rejuvenate the corner of Maryland and Georgia streets on April 16, the date of its scheduled grand opening.

Market lovers received some bad news recently regarding the planned expansion of fresh produce options at City Market, the renovation of which is already behind schedule. Hoosier farmers’ cooperative I.FaRM has pulled out of its planned lease with the market to operate a year-round retail produce market. City Market’s popular annual outdoor farmers market, however, will open May 2, with more vendors than ever.

One place that is definitely open and doing a fairly brisk business on a stretch of Keystone Avenue not known for its fresh options is Big City Deli (5341 Keystone Ave., 317-251-9463) at the new Kahn’s Fine Wines & Spirits Superstore. It’s definitely worth a taste the next time you have a mainly liquid diet in mind in the spacious shelves next door. Much more a classic deli than the Kahn’s in Carmel, the cozy spot with buttery yellow walls and comfy booths offers up overstuffed sandwiches and soups. The Cuban ($7.99) is definitely something to deal with, crammed with Boar’s Head ham and provolone, as well as the requisite yellow mustard and pickles. It’s almost piled too high, so that the sandwich press can’t render it quite the crunchy, bubbling sandwich made famous in Miami. An Asian sesame chicken salad ($5.99) has plenty of quite tender chicken and crunchy fried noodles, though greens were a tad bruised and wilted and dressing comes from a bag. Potato salad ($1.69) aspires to be something a bit bigger than a salad, with bacon, scallions and, surprisingly, shredded cheese. Unfortunately, this doesn’t pack as much flavor as you might expect. White chicken chili, the “soup” of the day for Thursday ($1.99), has some of that same tender chicken in more of a brown than white broth with a good kick of heat from chiles. Definitely some warmth in keeping with a very promising season.

Open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, the deli hopes to be open later soon on weekend nights, and it plans to expand its menu to have more items at different price points.

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