Sunday, August 28, 2011

L.S. Ayres Tea Room at the Indiana State Museum

The L.S. Ayres Tea Room was an Indianapolis institution at the downtown department store from 1905 to 1990. The tea room closed up shop when Macy’s bought Ayres, but folks nostalgic for the restaurant can still visit a full-service recreation of the restaurant inside the Indiana State Museum.

Stepping into the recreated tea room really is like traveling back in time; the dining room is decorated in an old-fashioned style with painted, wood-paneled walls, wainscoting, recessed ceilings, brass chandeliers, and (best of all) the restaurant’s original tables and chairs. They even have backlit, in-scale photos of Indy outside the windows to make you feel like you're eating in the downtown location. Despite the elegant surroundings, there doesn’t appear to be a dress code; I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and no one raised an eyebrow.

The tea room offers two menus—the historically inspired menu and the “today's Indiana” menu. The historically inspired one includes items like baked ham loaf, chicken velvet soup, and a Hawaiian chicken salad served in a pineapple boat. Today's menu features crab stuffed portabellas, salads, and burgers. Because we were eating in a museum in a recreation of a famous locale, my friend and I both opted to order off the historically inspired menu. He decided on a bowl of their famous chicken velvet soup and the baked ham loaf while I chose a chicken salad sandwich on a croissant with a cup of the chicken velvet soup.

The baked ham salad was just what it sounded like—ham salad (like you'd eat on a sandwich) formed into loaves which were baked until they resembled Spam, served over greens, and drizzled with a mustard sauce. He was pleased with it, but thought it needed more mustard sauce. He requested some on the side, and said he liked it much better with that little extra kick. This dish was definitely old school; it looked like something that would feel right at home served with tomato aspic. We both agreed that the chicken velvet soup was very good, smooth and flavorful with chunks of chicken throughout. It was fairly rich, so I’m glad I went with just a cup, although he had no problem finishing off his bowl. The soup was especially good with a bit of buttered roll dipped into it. (As an aside, the folks at the other tables all received rolls with their appetizers, but we had to ask for some. Maybe it was the shorts and t-shirt?) My chicken salad sandwich was tasty, traditional with no surprises, which is fine. The fruit that came with it was fresh and delicious, too.

Our server (who was very good, by the way) told us about several mouth-watering desserts as well, but both of us were stuffed. Next time I’ll have to save room for the bread pudding, for sure.

The prices at the tea room are very reasonable. I wasn’t sure what to expect in that regard, actually, but we got both our meals plus two iced teas for less than $25.

Overall, I enjoyed my meal at the tea room. At first, I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t a traditional English-style “tea room”—someplace where you could get a pot of tea and finger sandwiches/pastries—but I got over that pretty quick. I do still have a hankering for some homemade scones served with clotted cream and strawberry jam, though. The restaurant serves High Tea on Sundays, so maybe I’ll have to give that a try some time.

The tea room is open every day for lunch except Monday (when the museum is closed).

L.S. Ayres Tea Room on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lazy Daze Coffeehouse

Located in the heart of Irvington right off East Washington St., Lazy Daze Coffeehouse certainly lives up to the laid back vibe that its name implies. Outfitted with natty but comfortable furniture that looks swiped from an eccentric great aunt's house, the vibe is student-y and hippy-ish. Those may not be real words, but, hey, that’s the kind of unconventional language inspired by this joint. If you don’t want to sit inside and listen to Wilco on WTTS, there is also an outdoor deck.

The menu at Lazy Daze is fairly typical of most coffeehouses including coffee, espresso-based drinks (cappuccinos, lattes, mochas, etc.), hot chocolate, and a wide variety of loose-leaf teas (and even tea smoothies). They also serve ice cream and milkshakes, however, which sets them apart a bit.

At my most recent visit, I decided to order an iced mocha. Hey, it was hot! The drink was a tad too sweet for my taste; next time I'll order it with half the syrup—and maybe an extra shot of espresso for good measure.

One of my friends who lives in Irvington said she loves the “frapps” at Lazy Daze, especially her favorite, the Milky Way Frapp.

Look, this isn’t my favorite coffeehouse by a long shot, but it’s still a nice place to hang out. It is the center of the Irvington community, hosting weekly open mic nights, featuring local art, and serving as a meeting place for local ghost tours. Best of all, the hours are really good—better than most independent coffee places; they stay open until 10:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and they’re even open Sundays until 9:00 p.m. For all those reasons, I’m sure I’ll find myself visiting Lazy Daze again in the near future.

Lazy Daze Coffee House on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Eagle’s Nest

Perched high atop the Hyatt Regency in downtown Indianapolis, the Eagle’s Nest is one of those revolving restaurants that every city seems to have—and where locals rarely eat. It offers a 360-degree view of the city paired with a menu that changes with the seasons. On my recent visit, my friend and I decided to eat late (9:15) so we could give the food a try while also discovering what Indy looks like from above at night. Turns out—it looks pretty nice! And the food was surprisingly good, too.

As soon as you’re seated at the Eagle’s Nest, they bring you a basket of ciabatta bread with butter. The bread is no great shakes—straight out of a bag and not even warmed. I was a little worried about how the food was going to be, given how underwhelming the bread was. Luckily, our appetizer of crab cakes (pan-seared with Peppadew pepper aioli) assuaged my fears. The crab cakes were excellent, comprised almost entirely of crabmeat.

As a starter, I had lobster bisque and my friend had a romaine salad. My bisque was really good, thick and flavorful with a nice, spicy bite. Unfortunately, it was only lukewarm, which was kind of a bummer. My friend’s salad featured candied bacon, mixed tomatoes, and blue cheese with buttermilk dressing. It was just okay; it was a salad.

For my entree, I had the seared scallops over shrimp and green pea risotto. The scallops were delicious, perfectly cooked (although I did get a little bit of grit). The risotto was really nice, too, loaded with shrimp. I ate every bite. My friend opted for the chicken cordon bleu, which was crispy on the outside, but tender on the inside. He liked it—especially the Dijon sauce that came with it.

Overall, the food was actually quite a bit better than I was expecting. When you eat at a hotel restaurant (especially one with a gimmick), you can never be sure what you’re going to get. I was not disappointed with the meal—although it was a bit pricy, make no mistake. Still, the ambiance was good and you do get an overhead tour of the city, which is cool.

As for the service, our waitress was excellent, friendly and helpful, giving us food suggestions. We even chatted with her a long time about the downfall of Broadripple and the punk band she was in, Action Barbie. I may go back again just so I can talk to her some more!

Be advised that the restaurant does take its dress code seriously. You’re required to be “business casual,” which basically means no tank tops, logo tees, athletic wear, shorts, and so on.

Eagle's Nest on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 1, 2011

Gray Brothers Cafeteria

It seems like there’s always a long line at Gray Brothers Cafeteria, but if you’re craving down-home country-style food, this is definitely the place to eat. And, thankfully, the line moves at a pretty steady pace; it only took my friend and I about 20 minutes to get from the door to the cashier. Not too bad. As I waited, I couldn’t help but notice that many of the people in line with me were over 65. And that most of them were, well, on the larger side of things. Just observations!

Gray Brothers Cafeteria is set up like every other cafeteria in America; you grab a tray, walk along the front of a steam table, and tell the people on the other side of the sneeze guard what you’d like. They start you off with desserts, offering many different kinds of pie (banana, cherry, peanut butter, butterscotch, coconut, chocolate, and so on) and cake (German chocolate, hummingbird, strawberry, carrot, cheesecake, and more). They are probably most famous for their strawberry pie, although I can’t figure out why; it’s just some sliced strawberries in a pie shell with neon red glaze squeezed over the top. Not really gourmet.

At my most recent visit, I opted for the white meat chicken tenders, mashed potatoes with white gravy, corn, yeast rolls, sweet tea, and banana cream pie for dessert. The chicken tenders really lived up their name, moist and delicious on the inside but still crisp on the outside. Of course, the thick, white gravy made them even better! The corn was fine; I'm sure it was out of a can, but it was buttery and peppery—just like grandma used to warm up. The mashed potatoes tasted like homemade, but I suspect that they were a combination of real mashed potatoes bulked up with instant. The banana cream pie was fine, but the bananas were all on the bottom and then covered with banana-flavored pudding. It would have been better if the pudding and the bananas had been combined.

My friend had the chicken fried steak with white gravy, dressing, deviled eggs, unsweetened iced tea, and sugar cream pie. The deviled eggs were good, mustard-y and vinegar-y, but the steak was just okay. It had been soaking in the white gravy for some time, so it’s breading was soggy. The sugar cream pie, on the other hand, was delicious.

The service at Gray Brothers was all around nice and friendly; they even have people in the dining room who bring drink refills. The decor is homey, old-fashioned, and clean. They restaurant also has a separate carryout door/line if you want your food to go, which is nice.

So, yes, I enjoyed my meal at Gray Brothers. Really my only problem with cafeterias like this is that they tend to make me over eat because the portions are way too large. For example, they give you two whole yeast rolls for an order, which is one too many. Plus the food isn’t exactly healthy to begin with. Hmmm. Come to think of it, maybe those two points explain all the large people in line!

Gray Brothers Cafeteria on Urbanspoon