Monday, March 28, 2011

Bub’s Burgers and Ice Cream

Bub’s Burgers and Ice Cream in Carmel has been getting quite a bit of publicity lately – primarily because it was featured on that show where the overweight guy eats lots and lots of unhealthy food. So, when a friend of mine who lives in Carmel invited me out for lunch last week, I suggested that we give the place a try. She had never eaten there either, so she was game.

From the outside, Bub’s looks less like a restaurant and more like a quaint, little house. As you walk around the side to the main entrance, however, you realize that the house has ruptured out its backside so it can stretch across a city block. As we stepped inside, I was surprised to find that the interior looked pretty much like a typical, grungy burger joint, similar to ones you can find in any college town (such Marvin’s in Greencastle or Nick’s English Hut in Bloomington), complete with tacked-up pictures on the walls and servers in t-shirts and baseball caps. The friendly hostess greeted us and then showed us to our table.

Our table was situated in a hallway directly across from the bathroom doors, next to an ATM, and under a TV blaring ESPN. At least our proximity to the bathroom was convenient in case one of us had an emergency! Looking around the hallway, I couldn’t help but notice the numerous framed pictures of little leaguers staring down at us as well as some discarded goldfish crackers decorating the carpeting in the corner. As soon as we sat down, our server (who was very nice, by the way) brought us a taste of their soup of the day in little plastic cups. The idea of a soup shot was kind of off-putting, I thought, especially since the taste of white-bean chicken chili was getting cold and clumpy by the time it reached me. Each table also gets its own roll of paper towels, which , y’know, is classy. Yeah, so far, I wasn’t feeling this joint.

But it’s all about the food, baby! The food!! I’m using extra exclamation points because I have to make the menu seem exciting somehow. Basically, the menu consists of food that you can get at a Dairy Queen or one of its generic knock-offs. That is, they serve burgers, hot dogs, fries, waffle fries, corn dogs, milk shakes, chili, etc. The only unique thing that I saw on the menu was the elk burger. I asked our waitress what kind of beer they had on tap and was surprised that they have none. Only bottles. For a place trying its hardest to look like a college hang-out, I was surprised to hear that. I ordered an iced tea, instead.

My friend and I asked the waitress what people liked. Since we weren’t crazy hungry, she advised us to order “settle for less than ugly” 1/4-pound ground Chuck burgers with everything on them and some “sloppy waffles” with chili on top. We agreed to her recommendations, but decided to split one order of sloppy waffles instead of getting two. I ordered my burger medium, and it came out just right with quite a bit of pink in the middle. It tasted good, although no better than burgers at many other burger joints. My friend ordered her burger medium-well, and it came out more on the well side and was chewy. She was less pleased with her burger than I was. So, that’s one “pretty good” for the burgers and one “not so good.” As for the fries, we were both firmly in the “don’t like these” category. They were soggy and mushy, coated in a fluorescent orange cheese sauce that seemed to come straight from a can (or the ballpark). Thank goodness we only asked for one order because we only ate about half of them between the two of us.

So, bottom-line, this place is fine if you just want some typical burger-joint vittles and maybe some ice cream for the kiddies. I can understand how folks walking on the Monon Trail might enjoy stopping in for an ice cream cone in the summer, but I certainly can’t see going out of your way to eat here. I guess they do have a gigantic novelty burger you can order, though, so they’ve got that going for ’em!

Bub's Burgers & Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 20, 2011

South of Chicago

As soon as you enter South of Chicago, the new pizza/Italian place on Virginia Avenue in the heart of Fletcher Place, you’ll notice the mouth-watering aroma of baking pizzas. In fact, following your nose might be the best way to find this brand-new eatery because they don’t yet have an official sign (although the green and white, branded awning has just arrived).

Inside, South of Chicago is a laid-back, no-frills kind of joint furnished simply with white, round tables decorated with red, glass candleholders. All the sodas are in cans, all the plates are paper, and all the cutlery is plastic. The interior looks like a Chicago sports fan’s rec room with painted-over wood-paneled walls, a flat screen TV playing sports, and decorations such as Bears banners and White Sox signs. Taken as a whole, the place seems like it was airlifted directly from the Windy City to the Circle City. It’s definitely authentic.

And that authenticity extends to the food as well. The menu is fairly simple. They offer 14- and 18-inch thin-crust pizzas and 14-inch deep-dish pizzas plus several different kinds of sandwiches (Italian beef, meatball, and BBQ beef) and a few family-style meals (lasagna, Italian beef, and meatballs).

On my recent visit, my friends and I took a seat, ordered some drinks and some breadsticks, and asked the owner what kind of pizza he recommended. He suggested that we try a deep-dish sausage and pepperoni pizza, so that’s what we ordered. As we waited the half-an-hour for the pizza to bake, we tried the breadsticks. They weren’t traditional, rounded breadsticks – they were more like sliced, crispy strips of garlic bread – but they were quite good nonetheless. They were served with a chunky, tasty red sauce that boded well for the pizza. By the time our bread was gone, the red sauce was all soaked up, too.

When the pizza arrived (sooner than expected, actually), we were not disappointed. Simply put, it was awesome! The crust was excellent, good and thick throughout, firm at the edges, but still moist and delicious inside. The toppings were great, too, especially the sausage, which was spicy and fennel-y. I complimented the owner on the sausage and he told us that he actually drives up to Chicago every week or two to buy it directly from the makers there. This guy definitely takes his Chi-town roots seriously!

South of Chicago is open Mondays through Thursday from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., Fridays from 11:00 a.m. to midnight, and Saturdays from 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. Alas, they are closed on Sundays. They also cater and offer delivery (317.203.7110). I have a feeling I’ll be calling them for a delivery soon. I must try their thin crust pizza. And their Italian beef. And their lasagna.

South of Chicago on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 14, 2011

Red Habanero

On the recommendation of a friend, I recently tried lunch at Red Habanero, a local place that is trying to emulate the success of Qdoba and Chipotle in the fast-food burrito game. The location I visited is in a strip mall on 96th Street in Fishers, a northern suburb of Indianapolis. Both on the outside and the inside, the place looks like one of its two national rivals, utilizing a similar walk-up-and-order set-up. The only difference is, the design, logo, signage, etc. all seem less professional at Red Habanero.

As I entered the restaurant, my nostrils were assaulted by the smell of some sort of industrial-strength chemical cleaner, which gave me an instant headache. At least I could assume the place was clean! Because my friend and I arrived around 1:00 (kind of late for lunch), there was no one in line. Unfortunately, that did not mean we were going to get in and out quickly. Instead of taking our orders, the two employees chose to busy themselves with cleaning (hence the smell) and prepping chicken. Around 10 minutes later, one of them finally came to see what we’d like to eat.

I decided to get a shredded beef burrito. The guy warmed my tortilla (just like at Qdoba and Chipotle), asked me what kind of beans I wanted (just like at Qdoba and Chipotle), and then asked me to point to whatever other ingredients I wanted in it (just like at Qdoba and Chipotle). So far, so good. When I got to the cash register, though, I noticed he rang me up and then hit the $0.50 button an extra two times. I asked him why I was just charged an extra dollar and he said that I asked for two extra fillings. I explained that I was not aware that I had asked for extra fillings, at which point he told me that I only got four filling choices and any more were an extra 50 cents apiece. Then he grimaced and pointed to a tiny 4”x4” sign that he claimed should have warned me. I gave up and paid him the $9 - a couple of dollars more than I would have paid for a similar burrito at Qdoba or Chipotle.

When I got to my table, I noticed that the staff had gone to the extra step of grilling the outside of my burrito, removing the pillow-y texture of a tortilla and replacing it with the texture of brittle sandpaper instead. Having not asked for the burrito to be burned on the outside, I was a little surprised. As I bit into the wrap, I noticed that it now tasted like a “Grilled Stuft Burrito” from Taco Bell – certainly not a good sense memory to invoke if you’re trying to serve authentic Mexican cuisine. As an added bonus, the guacamole in the burrito was all in a clump at one end instead of spread throughout. Given that the guacamole tasted sour and spoiled, though, its positioning actually turned out to be a good thing. I didn’t care for the taste of the shredded beef either, so I choked down half of the burrito and tossed the rest away. The burrito also came with chips (perhaps that’s how they justify the rather high prices?), but I am not a big chip fan, so I tossed them, too. Wish I could have traded the chips in for a dollar off or something….

So, overall, this was a very bad dining experience, indeed. The staff was rude, the food was bad, the price was high, and the atmosphere was not-so-great. I’m usually a defender of local businesses, but this place just can’t compete with the two national chains that do this sort of food much more quickly, cheaply, and tastily. I definitely won’t be going back to Red Habanero. In fact, I’m thinking I might need to cut ties with the friend who recommended this place to me in the first place! I’m kidding about that last part. Kind of.

Red Habanero on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 7, 2011

Brunch at the shelBi street caFe & Bistro

Located in Fountain Square on Shelby Street, the shelBi street caFe & Bistro spells its name with an "i" instead of a "y" and makes use of some unorthodox capitalization rules. The story goes that the owners of the restaurant bought the letters for their sign from a now-defunct flower shop in the interest of recycling and saving a little cash. There was no "y" in the flower shop's name, so the restaurateurs improvised. Thankfully, such cost-cutting measures do not seem to extend to the cafe's food, which was, by and large, high-quality and delicious on my recent brunch visit.

As you can probably tell from the picture above, finding the entrance to the restaurant can be a little bit tricky. You need to head into the famous Fountain Square Theater Building through the Shelby Street entrance and then turn to the right. If you turn left you'll end up in Imbibe (a bar) and/or the Smokehouse on Shelby (a BBQ place). The interior of the cafe is vibrant and colorful with plenty of tables and booths. It has a laid-back vibe that I really appreciate, especially on Sunday mornings.

The Sunday brunch menu consists of breakfast items such as French toast, waffles, a selection of gourmet three-egg omelets, a quiche of the day (which included ham, roasted red pepper, and spinach on my recent visit), eggs Benedict, and a smoked salmon plate plus lunch items like green salads (spinach, caesar, etc.), a chicken salad sandwich, and a grilled portabella sandwich. They serve coffee from Indianapolis-based Hubbard & Cravens as well as the usual complement of espresso-based drinks.

After studying the menu for a while, my two friends and I made our choices. One of my friends went with the "Good Morning Combo," which comes with three eggs cooked how you like them, choice of meat, a side of roasted potatoes, and your choice of bread. He chose to go with sunny-side-up eggs, bacon (ordered crispy), and wheat toast. My other friend decided to try lunch, ordering a chicken salad sandwich on a croissant with a bowl of fruit on the side. I opted for the eggs Benedict, which, I find, is always a good "test dish" for brunch spots.

I am happy to report that none of us was disappointed. My eggs Benedict was delicious, the eggs nicely poached and the Hollandaise sauce buttery and a little lemony. Instead of ham, the chef used bacon, which I found I prefer. I usually see this dish served with ham, but I may start requesting it with bacon instead. The "Good Morning Combo" came out just as ordered, including the crispy bacon. My friend regretted not ordering an English muffin instead of toast, but that was his own fault! As for the chicken salad, it was just okay. There was nothing wrong with it, but there was nothing remarkable about it either. The award for best chicken salad in Indy remains safely with Hoaglin to Go. Still, my friend ate up the whole sandwich. He says he'll try something else next time, though. The fruit that came with the sandwich looked nice and fresh, at least! The service was uniformly good. We never ran out of coffee.

The shelBi street caFe & Bistro serves breakfast on Saturdays from 9:00 to noon and brunch on Sundays from 9:00 to 1:30. Lunch is Monday through Friday from 11:00 to 2:00 and Saturdays from 11:00 to 5:00. The restaurant also serves dinner Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 5:00 to 9:00. For a great view of the city, you can even eat your dinner under the stars on the roof of the Fountain Square Theater Building (from Memorial Day to Labor Day). I'll have to post a review of that experience at a later date!

Shelbi Street Cafe Bistro on Urbanspoon