Monday, November 28, 2011

Chef Mike's Charcoal Grill

Both inside and outside, Chef Mike’s Charcoal Grill looks pretty much like your typical American pub complete with gigantic TVs showing sports, an expansive bar, lots of booths, and a smattering of tables. What sets Chef Mike’s apart from other bars, however, is the food. All the meat is fresh, never frozen, and everything is prepared on a large charcoal grill. In addition, they make all the food from scratch—even the fries and the buns.

As you’d expect from a place with the words “charcoal grill” in its name, the menu consists mainly of burgers, steaks, chops, and seafood. There are some interesting choices, however, including a Joseph Decuis Wagyu burger, a red devil burger (with jalapeños, Havarti cheese, and hot sauce), a pizza burger, and the Big Burger (a 3-lb burger that serves 8-12 people and must be ordered 8 hours in advance). They also offer grilled pizzas and an assortment of non-burger sandwiches (including a Philly cheese steak, a Reuben, and a grilled Portobello mushroom).

The full bar has an extensive assortment of craft beers on tap (Fat Tire and the like) including quite a few options from the Midwest and even some local brews (mainly Sun King). I ordered a New Holland Dragon’s Milk with my dinner, which I liked very much. It was thick, dark, and oak-y—and also packed quite a wallop. They also make mixed drinks, of course; I saw someone with a margarita.

As an appetizer, my friend and I decided to try the firecracker shrimp cocktail. When it came out, I was surprised to see that the shrimp were grilled, which is not what I usually expect from a shrimp cocktail. Still, I have to admit that it was delicious; the grilling really added a lot of flavor to the shrimp. The cocktail sauce was fine as well, although not quite as spicy as I like it.
For my entrée, I opted for the bar-b-q burger with potato salad while my friend went with the bacon, mushroom, and Swiss burger with fries. We were both quite pleased. My burger was excellent, perfectly cooked medium-rare with a splash of tangy bar-b-q sauce on top. I could have used a bit more of the sauce, actually. The potato salad was good as well and seemed lighter than potato salads at many places. My bud dug his burger, too, although he said his could have used just a touch more seasoning salt. He said the fries, which seemed coated or batter-dipped or something, were really tasty.

Overall, we enjoyed our meal at Chef Mike’s. And the staff was friendly and welcoming, too; I don’t know if they actually are one big family, but they certainly seemed like it.

One more thing, even though Chef Mike’s is set up like a bar, they do have an area designated for families, so you can definitely bring kids. As a matter of fact, kids under 6 eat free every day. Bonus!

Chef Mike's Charcoal Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

La Margarita (in Fountain Square)

Those of us who live near Fountain Square have become spoiled for choice over the past several years when it comes to delicious local eateries—especially those with an ethnic flavor. (I’m looking at you Naisa Pan-Asian Café, Santorini Greek Kitchen, and Siam Square.) So, when I heard that La Margarita Mexican restaurant was opening its second Indianapolis-area location in the Murphy Building, I started looking forward to welcoming another great restaurant to the neighborhood. I’ve never eaten at the La Margarita up north, but I’ve heard and read good things.

Which makes me sad to report that I didn’t really care for the place. I wish I had. Maybe they’re still finding their feet at this location? (They did just open last Thursday.) I don’t know. I just know I wasn’t impressed.

The exterior of the building isn’t yet complete (partially because of the ongoing Cultural Trail construction, I’m sure), so I’ll just talk about the inside. The decor’s not bad. The interior is spacious and open with some nice woodwork, and the well-stocked tequila bar—which comes complete with a giant, wooden agave sculpture—is neat-o. But then you come to the purple paint and the wall of gilt mirrors, which seemed a little too Pier 1 for my taste. Still, overall, the dining room is fine. Like the outside, the interior has kind of an unfinished quality, something I imagine will go away as they settle in to the new digs.

Right out the gate, our server was quite good, friendly and attentive. He told us about the beers they had on tap (all local stuff, which is fantastic) and brought us three different kinds of salsa: a tomato-y red, a watery verde, and an oddly creamy pico de gallo. I didn’t love any of them. None of them were particularly spicy or flavorful. The brews from Fountain Square Brewing Co. made it all good, though! I had the amber and my friend had the porter. We liked both of those.

As an appetizer, we decided to order some guacamole. The dish came out almost immediately after we ordered it, which made me think that it might not be made to order. Even the presentation of the dip left something to be desired; the guacamole was just smeared across a white plate with a ring of tortilla chips stuck in it. The guacamole was okay at best, although it was kind of stringy like baba ghanoush. (Edit: Jon, the owner of La Margarita, assures me that the guacamole is fresh made. Mea culpa. And the tomatillos are what made the dip stringy.) I’ve had worse guacamole—usually from a plastic bag—but it didn’t hold a candle to the guac you can get at El Sol de Tala or Tex-Mex Taqueria.

As for La Margarita’s menu, it features many of the old Mexican mainstays such as fajitas, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, chimichangas, and so on. In an effort to try something a little different, I ordered the shrimp tequila (shrimp sautéed with jalapeños, avocados, cream, and spices in a tequila-based sauce) while my buddy went with the nopalitos (nopales in salsa verde with chunks of potato and pork carnitas).

Thankfully, the main part of my meal (the part with the shrimp and the peppers) was pretty dang good. It had flavor and even a little bit of heat. Unfortunately, the stuff that accompanied the shrimp on my plate was not so great. The Spanish rice was bland and mushy and the potatoes left me underwhelmed. And there was another blob of that stringy guacamole!
My friend liked the main part of his meal, too. His was supposed to come with tortillas, which, technically, it did; it came with two. And they were flour instead of corn. Overall, he said his meal was just okay, although it was far too wet and watery for his taste. As someone who is not usually a fan of nopales (too snotty), I gave his dish a try. Like he said, it was okay; surprisingly, the texture of the nopales didn’t bother me.

For dessert, our server told us that they could make either ice cream nachos (which don’t sound appealing to me) or fried ice cream. We declined and left the restaurant, more than half of our guacamole uneaten.

Look, I don’t want to sound too negative here. As someone with a vested interest in the Fountain Square area, I wanted to like La Margarita. I’ll have to give it another try in a couple of months when they’ve had time to settle in. At the very least, I want to go back to try a margarita or some tequila. I have faith in the management and staff that the restaurant will get better.

La Margarita on Urbanspoon