Monday, June 27, 2011

Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant

I’ve been a fan of Abyssinia Ethiopian restaurant since it opened in a strip mall on West 38th Street several years back. Since then, that area of Indianapolis has become something of an international food lover’s paradise—but I still find myself, more often than not, passing up the newer arrivals in favor of Abyssinia.

If you’ve never eaten Ethiopian food before, prepare yourself for a cultural experience. First off, you can choose to sit at either a Western-style table or a traditional Ethiopian table made of grass blades called a messob. Why not go all the way and choose the messob? Either way, though, don’t look for utensils when you sit down; diners eat with their fingers, using thin, spongy sheets of flatbread (called injera) to scoop up the various stews.

At my most recent visit to the restaurant, I started with an appetizer of yesega sambusa (a fried, triangular pastry stuffed with seasoned beef) and a bottle of Bedele Ethiopian beer. The pastry wasn’t that special (and, in retrospect, rather unnecessary given the amount of food you get with your meal), but I enjoyed the Bedele, a pale, golden lager with a hoppy, honey-ish taste.

If you can't decide on one dish to order, you can go with a combo or a “Taste of Abyssinia.” We opted for the Taste of Abyssinia 2, which included cooked spinach, lamb stew, yellow beans, and three dishes made with spicy berbere sauce—chicken, beef, and lentils. I’m happy to say that everything was delicious; we didn’t leave one dollop. Be warned that the dishes made with berbere sauce can be very spicy, so make sure you have plenty of Bedele (or water, if you’re not a beer fan) within reach! Also come prepared to get your fingers dirty; they provide you with plenty of napkins, but your hands will probably smell like spices for a day or so afterward. They’ll also bring you more injera, if you need it, so don’t skimp on the bread. Oh, one other warning—be careful of bones in the chicken and lamb.

Abyssinia is open every day except Monday. Their hours are from 11:00 to 9:00 (Tuesday-Thursday) and 11:00 to 10:00 (Friday and Saturday).

Abyssinia Ethiopian on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 20, 2011

I've Died and Gone to Bar-B-Q Heaven

Bar-B-Q Heaven has been serving up slow-cooked, made-on-site barbecue in the heart of Indianapolis since 1952, making it a bona fide Hoosier institution. And yet, I just ate there for the first time last week. What the hell’s wrong with me?

The menu at Bar-B-Q Heaven includes all of the classic barbeque items like spare ribs, pork chops, chicken, and rib tips. They use hickory, apple, and cherry wood to roast their meats right inside the restaurant. Side items include macaroni and cheese, greens, baked beans and homemade chili. They also offer desserts like sweet potato pie, chess pie, and cheesecake.

For my initial visit, I decided to try the pulled pork sandwich (which the folks here call “pork on bun”). They offer a choice of three homemade sauces—hot, mild, and sweet. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to order the hot sauce. Usually I find “hot” sauces to be “not so hot.” But, the hot sauce at Bar-B-Q Heaven actually brought a little heat! It certainly wasn’t unbearable, but it was good and spicy. The pork itself was delicious, tender and flavorful. To counteract the heat, I also ordered a side of potato salad. It did the job of cooling down my mouth, but otherwise it was just pretty standard mustard-based potato salad. It wasn’t bad, but nothing great. I also ordered some sweet tea, which I assumed would be brewed in-house. To my dismay, I was handed a bottle of Gold Peak tea. It wasn’t undrinkable, but it was a far cry from freshly brewed.

Be advised that this is not the kind of place where you’re going to have a seat and dine-in. For one thing, there are no tables or chairs. For another, the walk-up ordering area is pretty small, so there’s not a lot of room to dilly-dally.

Overall, I was quite pleased with the food at Bar-B-Q Heaven. The barbecue itself was delicious and the sauce was tangy and hot. I’ll definitely be back for more before another 59 years go by! Next time I’ll probably just make my own tea at home, though.

Bar-B-Q Heaven on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 12, 2011

3 Days in Paris

The good folks behind 3 Days in Paris have been whipping up Parisian-street-style, hand-held, sweet and savory crêpes at farmers’ markets across the Indianapolis area for over a year now. Lucky for us downtowners, they finally opened their first permanent location inside the central atrium of the historic City Market this past February.

The menu at 3 Days in Paris consists entirely of crêpes—but they offer a wide variety of the very thin pancakes. Some of the savory varieties include Green Eggs and Ham (egg, ham, mozzarella cheese, spinach, and pesto), Buffalo (chicken, buffalo sauce, bleu cheese, mozzarella, celery, and ranch dressing), and BLT (bacon, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, and jack cheese). If you have a sweet tooth, they also make crêpes stuffed with things like Nutella, bananas, apples, and so on. Or, if none of those appeal to you, you can even create your own.

At my recent visit, my two friends and I decided to try as many different varieties as possible. To that end, one of my friends ordered the Pic Nic (chicken, BBQ sauce, bacon, jack cheese, onion, and cilantro) and the Black & Blue Moo (beef, blue cheese, mozzarella, onion, dried cranberries, spinach, and roasted raspberry chipotle sauce). Yeah, he’s a bit of a pig. My other friend got the Market St. (mushroom, onion, sundried tomatoes, red bell pepper, cheese, buffalo sauce, celery, and spinach) while I opted for the Harvest (ham, apple, dried cranberries, havarti, spinach, and roasted raspberry chipotle sauce).

After we placed our orders, we waited. And waited. Be warned that this can take a while if you get at the end of any line whatsoever. When I was there this past week, for example, they were only running two hot plates. Given that each crêpe takes several minutes to cook, they can get backed up very quickly. I waited at least fifteen minutes for my crêpe, which is pretty slow for lunch. Still, if you're not in a rush, it’s kind of fun to watch them swirl the crêpes.

And, thankfully, the food was worth the wait. And cheap! The crêpes cost (at the most) just $6.50 apiece. And they are extremely filling, large and stuffed with high-quality ingredients. In fact, my friend who ordered two couldn’t finish his second one. None of us had any complaints. I wasn’t totally sold on the apples in mine, but they weren’t a showstopper. Next time I’ll be ordering the Pic Nic, though. That one looked amazing.

3 Days in Paris is open Monday through Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Thursday and Friday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

3 Days in Paris on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 6, 2011

Saffron Café

A couple of friends and I recently decided to grab lunch at Saffron Café, downtown Indianapolis’ only Moroccan restaurant. I had eaten there once before (and had some mediocre paella), but this was the first visit for my two chums. Would my second visit be better than my first? Read on to find out!

It’s hard to miss this place from the outside; the sides and back of the building are beautifully painted in bright, bold colors that bring to mind exotic North Africa. Oddly enough, the front of the restaurant isn’t much to look at thanks to a black tent that allows outdoor seating even in inclement weather. Inside, the dining room is very classy with white tablecloths and waiters in suits. Don’t let all that opulence fool you, though, the place is a bargain—especially at lunch.

As soon as we were seated (there was no wait), our server brought us a generous helping of bread, which I used to dip in the olive oil already on the table. Both the bread and the oil were fine, but nothing particularly noteworthy.

My absolute favorite Moroccan treat is pastilla, a crisp honeyed phyllo dough pie stuffed with chicken and cinnamon-roasted almonds that combines sweet and salty flavors into one delicious dish. From my first visit to Saffron Café, I recalled that their version was quite good, so I tried to order one as an appetizer for the three of us to share. Unfortunately, though, they only serve pastilla at dinner. So, if you visit the restaurant for dinner, don’t pass up the opportunity to get one of these meat pies.

But enough about the one dish they didn’t have at noon. What is on the lunch menu? Quite a bit, actually. They offer a variety of soups (harrira, bissara, carrot ginger, lentil, and so on), a few different salads, kabbabs (all served with saffron rice or roasted potatoes and vegetables), quite a few types of tajines (slow-cooked stews served in colorful, traditional Moroccan pots), as well as some pastas and sandwiches. One of my friends opted for the lunch house salad and soup special, choosing harrira (cilantro soup with tomatoes, saffron rice, and chickpeas) as his soup, while my other friend decided on the ginger chicken tajine. I chose the honey-pear chicken tajine.

The food came out quickly, which is always nice at lunchtime. My friend who ordered soup and salad loved both. I had a bite of his soup and it was very good. My tajine was delicious, too, sweet and savory at the same time; the chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender and the cooked pears added a nice burst of flavor. There was a thin layer of grease floating on top of the stew, which was a little unappetizing, but probably unavoidable. Also, my potatoes were a little undercooked, but not terrible. My friend who ordered the ginger chicken tajine enjoyed her stew as well, although she was ultimately jealous of mine, digging on the pears. If you order a chicken tajine, be aware the chicken is served skin-on and bone-in. That made it a little difficult to eat, causing me to feel like I was wasting some of the meat because I couldn’t find it! The bread came in handy, though, working as a sponge to soak up the remaining juice from the tajine.

Overall, I enjoyed my second visit to Saffron Café more than the first. I will definitely be back. Next time I’ll make sure I come for dinner, though, so I can get some pastilla.

Saffron Cafe on Urbanspoon