"OK, you could tell yourself that, after the March 1 smoking ban, you’re never stepping foot in one of those 18-and-over, smoke-’em-if-you’ve-got-’em eateries that defied prevailing local opinion and stuck to their guns. No more dinner with a side of tar for you, thank you kindly. But then how would you sink your teeth into such curious treats as deep-fried creamed corn or deep-fried Angus sirloin bits, served with your choice of dipping sauces. Sometimes you have to brave the cover bands and the crowds just to get a taste of what the locals are eating.
The place to get these gut-busting concoctions is Shiggs’ Diggs, on South Madison, a karaoke lover’s paradise with plenty of neon signs, Colts memorabilia and NASCAR footage to keep just about every sense engaged. The night we dropped in, a guitar-bongo duo was inviting a woman in a tiara to come up on stage and provide some rhythm for a song. But she giggled her way out of drumming duty and back into her raucous crew of merrymaking cohorts. Hardly a table was available at this popular weekend hangout, the latest incarnation of a strip-mall club now named for owner Shaun “Shiggs” Peckenpaugh.
You might not expect much emphasis on food at such a place, but the menu has some clever creations, even a couple that aren’t fried. Dinner salads, though crowned in cheese, were crisp and plentiful with tasty dressings such as hot bacon and bleu cheese. Those corn nuggets ($4.50) were disarmingly delicious: crunchy out and sweet and creamy within. But just how does one “fry” a liquid like creamed corn? We pondered that conundrum only as long as it took to dig into the deep-fried steak bites ($8.95), which Diggs calls “Chislec.” Super tender and juicy, if a bit greasy, they took to just about any sauce on the table.
Pork tenderloin “squares” were just a big tenderloin cut into squares, but they were tasty enough, and a toothpick eliminated the need for utensils. Despite the din of the crowd and the requests coming from neighboring tables, our amiable, unflappable waitress was forthcoming with recommendations, extra dipping sauces and all the Styrofoam boxes we needed to cart our deep-fried extras home with us.
Bourbon Street on Meridian Street?
I’ll be honest: My first visit to the French Quarter wasn’t all that auspicious. No, not “that” French Quarter. No flesh was exposed, no beads exchanged. “This” French Quarter, housed in a renovated storefront on Indy’s near Southside, does have bona fide New Orleans natives for owners, as well as a cheery Bourbon Street feel about it, despite its unmistakably rustic environs. Stray dogs roam about the low-slung houses in this working-class neighborhood. But don’t expect a parade to break out on old Meridian Street.
Passing the place after another Southside dinner back in July, some friends and I dropped in for a drink. Admittedly, things were just getting underway at this watering hole. Bar offerings amounted to a few domestic beers and standard liquors. But the bartender offered to make us his specialty, a riff — a stiff one at that — on the NOLA classic he termed a “Slurricane.” Somehow, we should have seen it coming. With practically nothing but alcohol, all of it well, this drink practically blurred our vision with one sip. Glancing at the menu, we saw little that might bring us back: gumbo, perhaps, but tenderloins and pizza? We staggered out into the night, confident we’d never return.
But subsequent reports assured us that, foodwise, this was the real deal. Reliable sources swooned about the gumbo. A second try was definitely in order. This time, things did seem a bit more in order. The menu was still quite small, but daily specials included a giant Cajun burger for $5 and a Friday rib basket for $2.99. Signs announced upcoming open-stage events, including a weekly open-mic on Thursdays at 8 p.m. Monday football nights include a live lingerie show.
Fortunately, my informants didn’t do us wrong. The folks in “our” French Quarter definitely know their way around a bowl of gumbo ($9.75). While “crab legs” advertised on the menu amounted to a single crab “finger,” the broth, though a tad salty, had a distinct richness of seafood and a good smack of spice. A couple of fat shrimp, tender bone-in chicken and a bounty of smoked sausage completed the mix. Jalapeño corn muffins were a little timid and wee, with little heat from the chiles. But our waiter gladly substituted them for plain crackers.
Red beans and rice ($7.95) also came nicely seasoned, with a big, smoky sausage split around the rice — another authentic taste of the Big Easy. Side dishes and appetizers are fairly scarce here: jambalaya, dirty rice, an onion ring platter. Asked if they had any dessert, our waiter said, “We’re working on it.” The place seems to be working on a few things, but for right now, it’s definitely worth the drive for the gumbo — and for the life this little place has brought to the neighborhood.
The French Quarter
2137 S. Meridian St.
Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-1 A.m.
Food : Three and a half stars
Atmosphere : Two and a half stars
Service : Three stars
5905 Madison Ave.
Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-3 A.m.
Sunday 11 A.m.-midnight
Food : Three stars
Atmosphere : Two and a half stars
Service : Four stars