"Tie Dye Grill surprises with home-cooked eats
I was born in 1970, smack in the middle of the hippie movement. Growing up, I eschewed haircuts and wore my fair share of psychedelic duds. One Day-Glo orange T-shirt I remember sported a squat, stoned-looking frog lazily catching flies. I can’t exactly say I pine for the styles of the era, the bellbottoms and mile-wide lapels, but I sometimes get nostalgic for the Velveeta and Miracle Whip concoctions my time-crunched mother whipped up for weeknight dinners. What I wouldn’t give for one of her tuna “bunsteads,” frankfurter buns stuffed with hot tuna salad.
So it was with thoughts of the homey, oft-processed foods of my youth that I drove some adventurous friends out to the Eastside to the Tie Dye Grill, which plenty of others had assured me would provide some culinary surprises. What a place like this is doing in an old stone-sided office building off Shadeland is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps even more baffling is that this place is no short-order snack shop where a bunch of canned and frozen ingredients are thrown together for the sustenance — but not especially the delight — of the customers. A quite modest prep station at the back of the joint looks a bit more like an oversized family kitchen than one you’d expect in a restaurant. From the old Kitchenaid mixer to the diminutive refrigerated cooler, you know these folks are preparing their food on the small scale, insuring that what you’re eating is fresh.
While the owners have done a number of things to give this place the groovy look and feel of the late ’60s, the restaurant has too much of the chaos of a friend’s haphazardly decorated den. Tabletops sport tie-dyed tablecloths and vases of smiling velvet flowers. A big screen TV in the corner plays extended sets of the Grateful Dead. Beaded curtains conceal bathroom doors. But the restaurant’s beloved matron, Jan Dye, who operates the place with husband Shayne, has her office desk and computer right out in the open, and shelves of take-home boxes and condiments lend too much of a cluttered disarray to the place.
The menu is huge, and loaded with just as many references to the ’60s: Woodstock, Yoko, Garcia and Joplin. But beware of asking for recommendations. The staff, many of them family members who rightly adore their mother’s cooking, will recommend just about everything on the vast list of salads, panini, dogs, spuds and four-square dinners (served only after 4:20 p.m.). They’ll tell you how they hand cut the steaks only when you order them, how they braise their own corned beef and how, save for the honey mustard, they mix their own dressings for the salads.
One unfortunate throwback to the ’70s that appears far too often on dishes here is Cheez Whiz. It might be authentic on the Philly steak and cheese, but it’s a little gloppy on the chili cheese fries ($5.95), especially when topped with additional grated cheese. Nonetheless, we easily put away a big plate of the fries with a very tasty, clearly homemade chili. More for curiosity’s sake, we ordered a cup of Tie Dye stew ($3.95), a version of which our waiter assured us was vegan. This was more a hearty soup than a stew really, and while it did lack the richness of a meat-based stock, it provided the vitamins we needed after putting away those fries.
Of all the sandwiches, the Roopert’s Classic Reuben ($7.95) came with the most exuberant endorsement. This one certainly does contend for one of the city’s best. Even the most respectable of Reubens will have a touch of gristle in them. Here, the meat was as tender as it gets, nearly melting like the surprisingly light touch of Swiss cheese. A special kicked-up sauerkraut and homemade Thousand Island dressing completed this sublime sandwich on marbled rye. Equally impressive was the Sgt. Peppers beefsteak and cheese ($7.95), with similarly tender ribeye cooked in house. Here, the Cheez Whiz worked well to make this huge Dagwood of a sandwich a messy delight with peppers, onions and mushrooms. An 8-ounce “Right On” ribeye steak dinner ($12.95) had one of those hand-cut steaks grilled and served straight up without any fuss or top-heavy saucing. A baked potato in foil and broccoli with yet more Cheez Whiz accompanied. Unfortunately, the salad included with this dinner was all iceberg, despite a deliciously tangy house-made dressing flecked with feta cheese.
Desserts allowed for some delightfully over-the-top creations only a fun-loving family like the Dyes could dream up. Homemade granola bars weren’t available, but a brownie ($3.50) of epic proportions was. Fudgy but not too dense, this one came topped with both marshmallows swirled with groovy colors and a ganache laced with peanuts. Somehow, despite all of this, it was delicate and light. A more straightforward, moist cake with a topping of Butterfinger candy bars had the unmistakable stamp of a mother on it, even down to the presentation with part of a second slice attached.
Frankly, the food here was better than the hominess of its surroundings. With so many original, fresh dishes on the menu, the Dyes deserve a spiffier, less obscure locale for their cuisine, as well as less clutter to distract from the care they take in what they put on your plate. Sure, the hippies made it OK to wear tie-dyed shirts with tweed jackets, but food this elegant deserves a fashion more forward thinking and less far out.
Tie Dye Grill
1311 N. Shadeland Ave., Suite B
Tuesday-Thursday 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 10:30 A.m.-9 p.m.
Food : Three and a half stars
Atmosphere : Two and a half stars
Service : Four stars