"Trio of barbecue joints make summertime eating easy
Now that summer is nearly half over, it’s time to take stock of your warm-weather dining to date. Have you had your fill of field-ripened tomatoes, honey-sweet ears of corn and Hoosier muskmelon sprinkled with salt? Have you dined al fresco, lakeside, on the rooftop or on the well-shaded patio of your favorite haunts? More importantly, have you used that shiny new grill you bought back in May, promising yourself you’d take your barbecuing prowess to new heights in the months ahead? Sure, you wanted to win “Grillmaster of the Year,” but who among us has the time or the inclination to slow-smoke a slab of babybacks over hickory for the requisite six hours? Thankfully, Indianapolis has more than enough pit masters willing to put in that labor of love, and three of the more recent contenders are serving up some very respectable summertime eats.
Their first dollar hadn’t been framed yet, and renovations were hardly complete. But while Honey’s Bar-B-Q, in the landmark Tin Star location on Broad Ripple Avenue, had been open just five days, this was no fly-by-night operation. Barbecue aficionados will recognize the food as that of BBQ Heaven, a neighborhood institution and winner of accolades at plenty of area festivals. While bright orange paint and funky lamps may seem strange at this formerly Old West-themed eatery, which used to serve up Hoosier tenderloins to diners in jail cells in the basement, rest assured that they’ll be keeping the cells.
For those who want more of a sit-down experience, this is a great place to experience the meaty ribs and tender chicken BBQ Heaven has long been known for. Unfortunately, a little inconsistent microwaving meant ribs took forever to cool and chicken was lukewarm. Sides were also a bit lackluster, especially a watery, overly sweet slaw. But pies are a must here, especially the custardy chess pie — a fittingly sweet ending for a meal at a place called Honey’s.
Hank’s Smoked Brisket
While Indy has no shortage of rib and chicken joints, you don’t find a lot of brisket, that undisputed king of Texas barbecue pits, at local smoke shacks. So, just when you were going to avoid the intersection of 38th and Martin Luther King Drive all summer because of the traffic snarl, you’ll want to find an alternative route to Hank’s Smoked Brisket, a tidy, albeit barebones, takeout specializing in this primal cut of beef. Calling ahead for large orders would be wise, but counter service does its best to be swift, and you can catch the latest episode of Project Runway while you wait. Owner Haymond Fields has put together a streamlined menu of classic barbecue dishes with a few surprises like carrot cake and potato latkes. Your Jewish bubba will be happy.
True to the shop’s name, the brisket is as tender and flavorful as it gets. You won’t need the barbecue sauce, but you’ll find it hard to resist this exceptionally silky, tangy sauce. Just come hungry — bulk brisket comes no smaller than a full pound ($9). A pork loin sandwich is sliced, rather than pulled, and redolent of mesquite from the smoker; juicy chicken falls off the bone.
Sides are quite good here, too, especially a very cheesy mac and cheese, as well as sweet baked beans, a clearly homemade potato salad with plenty of relish and some of the best caramel-apple pie you’ll find anywhere in the city, topped here with a crunchy sweet crumb topping.
Warning: Don’t fill up on the samples they’ll be glad to give you at the counter at Ruben’s Que on Lafayette Road. When we asked, “What’s good?” we got free tastes of a succulent fried chicken drumette, creamy mac and cheese with a good hit of pepper, surprisingly aromatic and smoky baked beans, deeply flavorful but not overcooked greens and some of the tastiest green beans we’d tried in a long time. We had to stop them so we could actually order. They’re no less generous with the food you actually do order. This is definitely a place for ribs and rib tips. Huge portions big enough for a family spill out of Styrofoam containers; sides allow for plenty of sharing. The day we stopped in, they even threw in a slice of luscious caramel cake.
This is mostly a takeout spot that fills up with regulars late in the lunch hour. A few tables outside make for suitable dining if you don’t mind the heat — and can’t wait to dig into the food. Just ask for plenty of napkins. They definitely sauce up the ribs here. Be warned of the “hot” barbecue sauce — does it come straight out of the Tabasco bottle? Not surprisingly, we wore some saucy emblems of our meal home on our elbows and clothes.
1904 Broad Ripple Ave.
Monday-Wednesday: 11 a.m.-1 A.m.
Thursday-Saturday: 11 A.m.-4 a.m.
Sunday: Noon-8 p.m.
Food: 3 stars
Service: 3 stars
Hank’s Smoked Brisket
3736 Martin Luther King Drive
Tuesday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Food: 4 stars
Service: 3.5 stars
2440 Lafayette Road
Tuesday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sunday: 1-7 p.m.
Food: 4 stars
Service: 4 stars