Monday, February 28, 2011

Bosphorus Turkish Breakfast

Bosphorus Turkish Café has been an integral part of the downtown Indianapolis dining landscape for the past several years, serving up delicious Turkish cuisine such as adana kebabs, gyros, and the city’s best hummus. Not content with lunch and dinner, the restaurant recently decided to expand its menu and its dining area (into the adjoining building) to create the new Bosphorus Turkish Breakfast. Does the spin-off live up to the original? Read on, gentle reader!

Entering the recently renovated building made me feel more like I was walking into someone’s nicely appointed house rather than a restaurant. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. The entryway is a bright, cheery room decorated with Turkish furniture, rugs, and lamps. In fact, the hostess/server told us that everything in the restaurant comes directly from Turkey. From the entryway, you head up a few steps to the dining room, which is furnished with several tables, a few booths, and a coffee bar. Of course Turkish music was playing, which helped to wake me up on a lazy Sunday morning.

After we were seated at a sunny booth along the windows, our server asked us if we wanted to try a cup of Turkish coffee (a strong, thick coffee prepared by boiling crushed-up coffee beans in water). I was not in the mood for something that heavy, though, so I ordered some American-style coffee instead, which was very good. A glance at the menu revealed that the restaurant serves several types of Turkish-style eggs for breakfast as well as a variety of omelets, French toast, pancakes, and crepes. We decided to order two different kinds of Turkish-style eggs, one kind that came scrambled with onions and potatoes and one kind that came sunny side up with broken yolks and soujuk (which is kind of like Turkish pepperoni). As an added kick, I asked if I could get some feta added to the scrambled eggs, which they were happy to do.

Once we ordered, it was just a few minutes’ wait before our food came up. Both kinds of eggs were well cooked and flavorful, although the scrambled ones were my favorite. They had basically been mixed with some good ole Hoosier fried potatoes, which were delicious and onion-y. The feta made them salty, as well, which I enjoyed. Next time I’ll probably leave the feta out, though, so I can better taste the potatoes. The sunny-side-up eggs were good as well, although the slices of soujuk were just kind of sitting on top of them instead of mixed in. Both dishes came with rolls, which were surprisingly good, warm and soft.

Overall, I enjoyed my experience at Bosphorus Turkish Breakfast. The food was tasty, the surroundings were comfortable, and the staff was friendly and eager to please. At times, I did feel a little like I was eating in a nice, European B&B instead of a restaurant, but I’m okay with that. I will definitely be heading back soon to try either the beef pastrami omelet or crepes filled with feta, both of which intrigue me.

On the weekends, Bosphorus Turkish Breakfast opens at 8:30 a.m. On weekdays, they don’t open until 3:00 p.m., although they serve breakfast all day in addition to other Turkish dishes (such as börek [a filled pastry], pogacha [a puff pastry], and guvec [shrimp casserole]), soups (such as tomato/pumpkin), and sandwiches (such as soujuk paninis, falafel wraps, and even hamburgers). The restaurant also offers free Wi-Fi.

Bosphorus on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bjava Coffee and Tea

More so than at any other coffee shop in Indianapolis, the baristas at Bjava Coffee and Tea treat their profession as an art, really striving to brew the perfect cup of coffee. This ain’t no Starbucks where disinterested high school kids brew pre-packed espresso while chatting about their weekend. From the way the coffee looks to the way it smells to its texture to its taste, the employees at BJava take their job seriously. Sometimes the place seems more like a laboratory than a coffee shop with baristas experimenting using new and unusual techniques to brew their drink.

Which is not to say that you can’t just cruise through Bjava to get your on-the-go wake-up cup of Joe. You can. In the mornings, the staff here brews a couple of different kinds of traditional, drip-brewed coffee, which they call “commuter coffee,” for those in a rush. Last time I was in, for example, they had organic Costa Rican and Sulawesi Toraja coffees on offer. If you have a little more time, you can get your coffee brewed fresh using several different methods (French press, Chemex, and so forth). You can get fresh-brewed coffee throughout they day, too, although the commuter coffee disappears around noon.

Of course, Bjava serves the traditional espresso drinks as well (Americano, macchiato, cappuccino, and so on). Their traditional lattes are simply fantastic. They also offer a few signature drinks such as the Bumble Buzz, the Shagadelic Shooter, and the Honey Lavender. My personal favorite drink at Bjava is the Bumble Buzz, which is a double espresso extracted over spices, sweetened with honey, and topped with textured milk, fresh nutmeg, and orange zest. As their name implies, they also serve a variety of teas, including chai and chai lattes. Bjava also has food (including breakfast sandwiches, paninis, muffins, scones, bagels, cookies, and from-scratch soups), although I have not yet had a chance to try any of it. Next time!

As an added bonus, the folks at Bjava roast their own beans twice a week using a nearly completely manual roaster (as opposed to the automated machines that most places use). The roast master in charge of roasting the beans is a chemist at Eli Lilly and Company, so you know she knows what she’s doing! One of the roasts usually happens on Saturday, and the friendly and knowledgeable staff is open to explaining the process and letting patrons watch the magic happen.

B Java Coffee & Tea on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Irvington Iris Tea Room is a-bloomin'.

The Irvington Iris Tea Room began serving tea, sandwiches, soups, and sweets last November as an outgrowth of the Bloomz Flower Shop. As the name of the tearoom implies, the shop is located in the Irvington neighborhood of Indianapolis just a few miles east of downtown on Washington St. The tearoom features loose-leaf, 100% organic teas from Peace Leaf Teas, but also serves soups and sandwiches during lunch. “Local” is the name of the game here because Miranda (the shop’s friendly owner/operator) tries to buy only food and drinks from local establishments and hopes that the tea room will be a gathering spot for her Irvington neighbors (hosting book clubs, game nights, writing groups, speakers, and so forth). The shop also displays and sells prints and original art by local artists.

The tearoom is housed in a brick-fronted strip mall on S. Audubon Rd. The interior of the space is decorated in a very traditional style with lots of floral prints, doilies, stained glass lamps, and fresh flowers on the tables. Basically, it’s the kind of environment where my mom and grandma would feel very comfortable. Yes, it’s girly, but that’s not necessarily a problem; this probably isn’t a place that “the guys” are going to want to go to get a brewski before the big game. It’s more of a space where you can go have a quiet cup of tea and relax.

The tearoom serves pots of tea from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and lunch from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Sandwiches include chicken salad; hummus, avocado, broccoli sprouts, and provolone; shaved turkey or ham with cheese; and grilled cheese, and come with a salad of fresh greens, seasonal fruit, and piece of tea bread. You can also add a cup of soup for an additional $2. Aside from lunches during the week, the shop also holds two reservation-only high teas (which includes a tower of sweet and savory treats) on Saturday afternoons, one at 2:30 and one at 4:30. You can request high tea service on other days of the week as well, if you make arrangements in advance. The shop always has a selection of sweets (scones, cookies, pies, and so forth) from Irvington’s Roll with It Bakery.

After you’re seated and place your order, you get to choose a teacup and saucer from a wide selection of China stored in a cabinet, which I thought was a nice personal touch. I chose the manliest teacup I could find, an unadorned black one. For my drink, I decided to be traditional and avoid the flavored teas, settling on a pot of the Belfast Blend black tea. The tea was brought to me in an antique-looking teapot so I could pour myself refills as I drained my cup. For lunch, I ordered the chicken salad on a buttery croissant, which was served to me with a small slice of banana bread, a lightly dressed salad, and a bowl of grapes. Everything was good, especially the chicken salad, which was laced with pecans, chunks of apples, and mandarin oranges. After eating my lunch and emptying my teapot, I was full, although I was certainly tempted to try a dessert. On the day I was there, Miranda had mandarin sponge cake, cherry pie, shortbread cookies, and sticky buns on offer. I ultimately decided not to have a sweet, but I kind of regret it. That sponge cake sounded really tasty….

One word of warning – the tearoom is a pretty small place with a minimal number of staff members. So, if you're planning on coming as a large group, you should probably call ahead to make sure they’re ready for you.

Irvington Iris Tea Room on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 7, 2011


Despite the fact that Agio has been open for nearly ten years, I had never eaten there before this weekend. Partly that’s because I don’t hear much about it from my friends or other food fans. I thought maybe the lack of buzz was just because the restaurant is no longer the hip, new thing. After dining there, though, I think it’s probably because the food is simply average, which is a little disappointing given the relatively high prices.

From the outside, the restaurant itself is not very noticeable, blending in with the other shops, restaurants, and theaters surrounding it on Massachusetts Avenue. There appears to be a rather prison-like outdoor seating area, though, which might make spotting the entrance easier in summer. After finding our way inside, we were seated in the bar directly beneath a wall-mounted TV set. We didn’t ask to sit in the bar and we would have preferred to sit in the restaurant itself, but, well, there you go. I didn’t see a coat check or a coat rack, so I had to put my coat on the back of my chair. That’s usually not a problem, except the chairs in the bar had half-circle backs, which meant that my coat kept falling off onto the floor. I noticed that the other diners appeared to be in their fifties and sixties, a little older than at most of the places that I eat. Not that there’s anything wrong with an older clientele! It’s just an observation. So far, I wasn’t feeling Agio, but I was still hopeful that the food would turn things around.

Because nothing puts me in a good mood as quickly as alcohol, I decided to order the drink special, which was a flight of 3 beers (Fat Tire, Upland Wheat, and Sun King Cream Ale). I’d had all of those beers before and liked them, so I knew I would be okay. And I was. The beer was delicious. As I drank my beer, our server brought us some complimentary bread and olive oil. Usually I’m a bread guy, but I was not a fan of this at all. First off, the bread was stone cold and tasted like it just came from a bag. If it had been toasted or at least warmed, it would have been more palatable. Secondly, the olive oil was flavored with herbs and contained a bit too much garlic for my taste. When I dip in olive oil, I like to taste the olive oil, especially if it’s good olive oil. Give me some fresh, warm bread and some Divina, for instance, and I’m in heaven. I was not in heaven here. In fact, I barely ate any of the bread.

We decided to split an appetizer of fried calamari to put the disappointing bread/oil behind us. The calamari came quickly, which was nice, and it was well cooked (that is, not chewy), but the breading wasn’t very crisp. Still, the soggy breading didn’t ruin the dish for me, and I ate my half. We also tried the artichoke, olive, and cheese tempura skewer, which was basically a shish kebob of green olives, Mozarella cheese cubes, and artichokes dipped in tempura batter and then deep-fried to a golden brown. When this arrived we both chuckled because it looked like fair food. Despite the “fried Oreo” appearance, though, it tasted good. The saltiness of the olives paired well with the mozzarella cheese. Unfortunately, some of the cheese cubes were still cold in the middle, which was surprising.

As entrees we chose the beef cutlet (Parmesan style) over spaghetti and the veal scaloppini in Marsala sauce. The beef cutlet was cooked crispy and wasn’t overly breaded. The red sauce on top of the beef was a little sweet, which I liked. I’d say this was the best dish of the evening. As for the veal, the heavy Marsala sauce and mushrooms kind of overwhelmed the flavor of the meat for me. I felt like I was eating a mystery filet drenched in brown gravy. The risotto that accompanied the veal was a little stiff, too, reminding me of mac and cheese. Both entrees were large, though, which is saying something, I suppose.

For dessert, we split the apple crumble tart. I only had a bite and wasn’t inspired to eat more. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t have me jumping up and down either. Which sort of describes my overall experience at Agio. It wasn’t terrible, but it doesn’t make me want to go back. Given the relatively high prices, “just okay” is not good enough for me. If I'm going to pay $50/person for dinner, I expect innovative, fresh cuisine, not average fare. Unfortunately, for me, Agio didn’t deliver.

Agio on Urbanspoon