There aren't a whole lotta places in Indy with an effortless sense of place, something the French refer to as terroir. That reference is somewhat ironic, since I'm about to introduce Fat Dan's Chicago Style Deli, a perfect setting for that classic Saturday Night Live scene touting 'Da Bears. But it's true. And so is Fat Dan's Chicago style.
Owner Dan Jarman and his manager - just "Jim" - have worked in high and low-end restaurants from here to Chicago, but it's easy to tell where their hearts stayed. You can hear it in the way Jim demands "$5 all day" for one of his restaurant's tasty vittles.
Jarman himself has already likened his nondescript Broad Ripple Avenue nook, where the former Love Phaith boutique hung on, as "the basement of a friend who can cook really well." That does capture the ambience of the darkish place with old neon bar signs, a chalkboard menu and Super Atari racing game in the corner. A couple of flat screens and empty-but-waiting taps further the theme.
And yes, this friend can cook.
My first trip to the deli left me ready to sleep for days by the time I was done. I started with a side - those soon-to-be-famous fat, hand-cut fries, which Jarman soaks in a salt bath and then par-boils to keep them extra meaty and crisp. He sprinkles a little bit of seasoning salt on them, and then they're meant to enjoy right away, as God intended.
But really, you should probably start with something more commonplace, like wings. Jarman smokes his wings for hours - like he does his brisket or pork shoulder, or whatever meat he has on hand - with a dry rub that locks in deep, indescribable flavor. I tasted coconut, macadamia oil, smokiness in these supple, juicy wings. The ingredients he divulged to me included smoked paprika.
And the dipping sauces were mostly homemade, too. I liked the vinegary chile dip, no doubt rendered with butter, but there was also a chunky, tart blue cheese dip for that fan.
If wings aren't enough to sate your appetite, there are plenty of other options. Like hand-dipped corn dogs. But those are often out, due in part to the paucity of popsicle sticks man enough to support the fat 'dogs. So you'll have to settle for some other football-watching-worthy meat thing, like Big Dan's Double Brother Fat Burger piled with fried egg, homemade meat patties, cheese, fries and other fixin's.
That makes the Italian beef sandwich look petite, and I felt downright demure munching on all that Chicago-delivered chipped beef. In fact, the Italian beef is big but not too brawny; the meat is tasty but dry, and the condiments come mostly in the form of Italian peppers, which deliver a nice, tart punch.
Jarman promises the 'straunt will have a hearing soon to get a couple of beers on tap - something local, something light, and maybe even some Delirium Tremens - which will round the great food and scattered flat screens nicely. Yes, folks, this will soon be one of the best kept secrets for watching a Saturday baseball or football game - but hopefully not.