"Trio of new eateries foretells neighborhood’s culinary future?
Standing at the corner of Westfield Boulevard and Broad Ripple Avenue, you can’t help but think about change. Sure, the crowds are still bustling on the patio at La Jolla, knocking back plenty of Coronas, and down the main drag, the usual mix of tattooed youth, locals out for a stroll and raucous merrymakers at nearby watering holes still mark a typical summer evening in one of Indy’s liveliest neighborhoods. But peering into the darkened windows of the old Mezzaluna site, soon to be the third installment of Boulder, Colo.-based fast-food pasta franchise Noodles & Company, you get a premonition of this district’s culinary future. Gone is one of Indy’s first really innovative Mediterranean restaurants — as well as its lively al fresco dining patio. Yet another chain encroaches on the local dining scene.
Among Indy’s preeminent restaurant neighborhoods, Broad Ripple has always been one of the most diverse and wide-ranging, with international and vegetarian-friendly eateries, chic bistros and plenty of homegrown spots. More and more, however, Broad Ripple restaurants seem oriented around quick, cheap meals or late-night snacks for the throngs that flock to area bars on weekend nights. And not all of it is locally owned.
I, for one, am always ready for more inexpensive sustenance — especially when it involves a short order cook and a spatula. So I was excited to hear Biscuits Café had opened in the strip mall next to the high school. Diners are typically no-brainer, no-frills affairs. This one, however, takes some time to get your read around. Retro advertisement signs and shiny chrome barstools scream of their 1950s prototypes. But the gargantuan menu derives more from south of the border than Middle America. Sure, you can get a breakfast plate with corned beef or sausage gravy, but the menu has several pages of flautas, tostadas and chilaquiles.
The Friday night we dined there, the place was deserted; only one other customer stopped in for take-out. When we asked for recommendations, our sometimes confused but otherwise attentive waitress mused, “I’ve tried a lot of things. Nothing’s gross.” Indeed, nothing was gross, from chicken taquitos ($8.50), thankfully not covered in cheese, to the breakfast platter ($6.50) with straightforward over-easy eggs, a meaty sausage link, hash browns and a signature biscuit. The biggest surprise was a long list of ambitious chicken dishes, among them the tasty chicken Cardinal. It wore a bit too much flour, but a lobster sauce with several big juicy prawns, a big twice-baked potato and California blend vegetables browned on the griddle briefly were definitely not what we’d expected. This place needs to get its service down and manage so many menu selections, but it’s definitely offering something different to the area.
Also new to the neighborhood is Dagwood’s Deli, in the old Ben & Jerry’s spot. IU grads will recognize this Bloomington basement institution. I did eat there when I was in grad school at IU, but I never made it a haunt. Going into the one on Guilford, I was hoping for a few innovations, though I don’t suppose they served chipotle mayo or foccacia back in 1992. The menu seems largely unchanged, from the Dagwood Supreme to the hot steak and cheese. Even the service had the same sort of distracted, all-too-laid-back feel of a college campus. The Vinny Pancini ($6.54/combo) certainly satisfied, as did my friend’s Reuben ($8.14/combo) with a huge pile of corned beef and toasted marble rye, not fried. But maybe this place’s timelessness is its point. Would Dagwood have put artichokes or field greens on his late-night masterpieces?
Of all the recent additions to the Broad Ripple snacking scene, none are as quaint or quirky as the Village Kitchen, which I breezed by one night, only to catch sight — and then my breath — of poutine among their sparse chalkboard offerings. This gut-busting day worker’s lunch of gravy-covered cheese fries tops the menu at just about every corner “resto” in Montreal. They even serve it at Burger King. I knew I’d be back.
Opened just a couple of months to the side of the Jazz Cooker’s patio, the Village Kitchen is the brainchild of former Ambrosia manager Chris Evans. It promises to give you a “fair fix” long after the summer is over. They’ll even deep fry a Snickers or Milky Way bar for you. Though the fair wasn’t done, I enlisted a friend to help me try an assortment of the Kitchen’s summery victuals. The quickie burger ($4.50) had all of the charm of one at a friend’s barbecue — satisfying though not the most succulent you’ll find. A breaded pork tenderloin ($5) was better — crispy if a bit low on the meat.
But this was all just warm-up for the poutine ($5). In all honesty, the stuff I’ve had in Montreal has disappointed: fries wan, cheese curds leaden, the gravy thin and suspiciously canned tasting. Here, a generous basket of crisp fries came with just enough melted mozzarella and rich, russet, clearly homemade beef gravy. One could disparage the disappearance of Broad Ripple standards or local eateries in general. But with funky late-night snacks like this one — the Kitchen’s open until 4 a.m. weekends — there’s plenty to assuage your disappointment in a neighborhood that will long continue to be delicious.
1035 Broad Ripple Ave.
Monday-Friday: 6 a.m.-9 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday: 6 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dagwood’s Deli & Sub Shop
6332 N. Guilford St.
Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sunday: noon-5 p.m.
The Village Kitchen
927 Westfield Blvd.
Friday-Saturday: noon-4 a.m.