“Hey, Nice Pierogis!”

My adventurous friend Christina informed me last summer that I had missed the most amazing festival of all time.  This year, I won’t be left out.  We are trekking north to Whiting, IN, for the 3-day spectacle of buttery goodness and boozy northerners that is Pierogi Fest. Here is her analysis of the event from 2013.

Photo Aug 28, 11 11 37 AM

“A few years ago, I made a trip to Poland specifically to purchase some pottery and eat some pierogi. This was a different time in my life, when I had the time and money for grand adventures. Luckily for me, Whiting, Indiana’s Pierogi Fest easily satisfies my craving for all things Polish. Held each year on the last full weekend in July, it is one of the wackiest and most delicious fests I have attended. Here’s the rundown:

First, the food. Obviously, the darling of the fest is the pierogi. For those sad individuals unfamiliar with the deliciousness that is the pierogi, it is a small dumpling filled with things like potato, cheese (which is sweet, like a dessert!), meat, and sauerkraut. While all are delicious, my favorite is always potato. And actually…I lied because I hate sauerkraut, so I usually try to trade with a family member when they aren’t looking.  Photo Aug 28, 11 11 32 AM

Polish food goes way beyond the pierogi to include dishes such as Golabki (stuffed cabbage), Placki (potato pancakes), Kielbasa (a type of sausage) and desserts like Chrusciki (bow tie cookies). If this is your first time trying Polish food, I highly recommend getting one of the sampler plates. At less than $10, it is easily big enough to share with a friend or two. Or you could be like my father and order four of them. Either way.

In terms of deliciousness, everything was pretty good. Could the pierogi have been a little crispier on the outside? Probably. Could the placki have been a little less greasy? Maybe. But considering that the fest attracts more than 200,000 visitors over the course of three days, I think they do a fantastic job. And if you aren’t a fan of Polish food, there are lots of booths selling standard fair/fest food.

Photo Aug 28, 11 12 01 AM

Next up- the attractions! The biggest attraction is by far the very crowded, all-things-Polish parade held on Friday night. I wasn’t able to make it this year, but I can tell you that it’s hilarious, especially if your family is Polish. This year I witnessed a dunk tank for nuns, European dance groups, and a whole lot of polka. Even the signs are clever.

Photo Aug 28, 11 11 29 AM Photo Aug 28, 11 11 49 AM

So, this weekend, grab your stretchy pants and get your dupa up to Northwest Indiana for a novel take on the small-town festival.”

Photo Aug 28, 11 11 46 AM

My Warm-Weather Pizza Pick: Napolese

I have to admit, I have a love/hate relationship with the Patachou chain.  I hate the brusque service I almost invariably receive, the jarring proximity to other diners, and the inevitable volume of that proximity, which makes conversation difficult at best.  Normally dining for me needs to be a full experience, but I let it slide in the case of the Patachou restaurants because their food is just so darn tasty.  Napolese is no exception, and I keep going despite the long waits, loud dining room, and tepid service because it is the only place in Indianapolis where I know I can get that thin, yeasty, blistery pizza crust. IMG_0446

On my most recent visit, I had a quartino of Tienfenbrunner Pinot Bianco.  I loved the apple and citrus notes and crisp finish.  Napolese has a short but varied wine list which has never disappointed me.  This will not be the first time I’ve hunted down a bottle of something I drank there, and the list is priced to be drunk with pizza, albeit high-end pizza.  IMG_0445

My favorite starter is the baked goat cheese in a crock of tomato sauce.  It is served with slices of the pizza crust and reminds me exactly of the baked goat cheese everyone loves at Barcelona Tapas.  I realize that eating this dish right before I eat pizza is incredibly redundant, and I do not care one bit.  I dare you to try either this starter or the pizza and not order one the next time you visit.

IMG_0443

IMG_0442

The pie list at Napolese is long and interesting and includes such things as quail eggs and artichoke hearts and locally made Fleur de Terre.  I have SEEN these pizzas on other diners’ tables and they look great.  However, the first time I came to Napolese I ordered a classic Margherita, and I have never been able to order anything else.  I do not apologize.

IMG_0450

Just look at it.  Now, go eat one. 

Tips:  If you live anywhere close, I’d highly advise getting your pizza to go, due to the tepid waitstaff and crowded dining area.  Please note that I hate criticizing AN ENTIRE CHAIN of restaurants based on bad service, but ambivalent servers seem to be something of a corporate policy with this empire.  I’ve probably visited 25 times and gotten a smile twice.

On the upside, because Napolese is in the Patachou family, you can order Patachou’s tomato artichoke soup there.  Honestly, the servers could probably beat me and I’d still go for this soup, and if I ever find out how to make it they’ll lose my brunch business forever.  995714_10153020441125434_1417688848_n

I have found that the best way to reheat leftover pizza from Napolese is to get a stone or pan to at least 400 degrees in the oven and THEN put the leftovers on the pan.  It crisps the bottom without overcooking the top and only takes a few minutes since the pizza is so thin.

http://Napolese on Urbanspoon

Naisa Pan-Asian Cafe: Ehhhh

My friend Abby and I had a free afternoon recently and decided to try a place we had seen in Fountain Square called Naisa Pan Asian Cafe.  Both huge fans of most Asian food, we were excited to try out the lunch specials.

The atmosphere is modern and fresh, decorated in warm colors.  Overall, the decor is probably the best thing about Naisa, actually.  IMG_7996The menu features pretty standard Chinese fare, not exactly “pan-asian” by my expectations, but I’m far from an expert in regional cuisine.  Maybe it was the dishes we selected, but the food was just completely underwhelming for us both.  I got the chicken chow mein, which was very bland save for a very potent celery flavor.  The texture of the noodles was a nice vehicle for the soy sauce I applied liberally to them, but that was about it.  IMG_7994Abby picked the cashew chicken lunch special, which came with the (tasty but!) smallest seafood cheese wonton I’ve ever had.  IMG_7993The story was the same with this dish:  well-cooked and not heavy or greasy, but lacking any of that delicious flavor that brings me to an Asian restaurant.

The other thing that was notable about Naisa was the extremely long wait we had.  Our entire lunch took almost an hour and a half.  If I had unlimited meals in my life, I would give Naisia another shot, because it wasn’t bad.  It just wasn’t…good.

http://Naisa Pan-Asian Cafe on Urbanspoon

Mama Irma: Delicious Peruvian food in Fountain Square

Abby and I were downtown and wanted to go somewhere interesting for a lunch last week.  I felt like sushi, she felt like Thai food, and neither of us felt like eating in downtown proper, so we headed to Fountain Square.  I had a Groupon for Mama Irma and the menu sounded interesting, so we headed in.

Exterior

The restaurant is tiny inside, maybe ten tables, and completely charming.  It has a nice sunny atmosphere for lunch but I’m willing to bet it would make a wonderful date night spot as well.  There was only one server for lunch but he handled the four busy tables with ease and recommended entrees and dessert for us.  I also am a sucker for salsa and bachata music, so that didn’t hurt.

Since I had originally felt like sushi, I looked at the seafood choices first.  There were quite a few warm dishes, but at the advice of the server I picked the mixed seafood ceviche and was totally blown away.  Shrimp and tilapia were marinated in a very bold lime juice and ginger blend and served with a wonderful creamy sauce that toned down the acidity of the ceviche nicely.  It was served with a slice of steamed potato, peruvian corn, and fried soy nuts.

Photo Oct 18, 12 30 06 PM

I would order this again in a heartbeat-it was the most interesting and refreshing thing I have eaten in a long time.  However, I’d recommend ordering rice or another side to accompany it.  As you can see, it’s basically a plate of fish.

Abby is a noodle fiend and had originally felt like Asian food so she ordered the Peruvian chicken “lo mein.”  It was beautiful and delicious.  I’m not really sure what was Peruvian about it, but it was a tasty plate of noodles, peppers, onions, and blackened chicken.  I stole a bite and then another bite.  Photo Oct 18, 12 30 17 PM

For dessert we split the Postre Mama Irma, “homemade upside down custard paired with a coffee-infused chocolate cake drizzled over with caramel sauce.”  Photo Oct 18, 1 02 04 PM (1)I won’t pretend to have tasted coffee or chocolate flavors, but the cake was oddly irresistible all the same.  It reminded me of a cold, less sweet tres leches cake and I loved it.

I will definitely be back to Mama Irma to try the other specialties.  I particularly have my eye on the purple corn custard.  This place is so charming and the food is so interesting that I think it would make a great spot for a date or a dinner spot for out-of-town guests.  But don’t wait for a special occasion to give it a try!

http://Mama Irma Peruvian on Urbanspoon

Getting Cultured in Fountain Square

I’ve been hearing a lot of good buzz about Cultured Swirl in Fountain Square lately.  Fountain Square is always an interesting place to walk around, but until recently lacked a good dessert destination, so I was excited to hear someone had finally pushed froyo south to the district.  Photo Oct 13, 5 58 30 PM

I’m not sure who opened the store, but it is certainly well planned and branded. The Virginia St. storefront is about as cute as can be, with white wainscotting, lots of sunlight, and big swings to sit on while you enjoy your dessert.  Everything is stamped with the Cultured Swirl logo, right down to the wooden spoons.  To say this shop is quaint is putting it very mildly.  Photo Oct 13, 6 00 40 PM

When I stopped in, there were 8 flavors on selection, including Vegan Vanilla.  The vegan vanilla tasted like absolutely nothing, because that is what frozen yogurt is when you take out the dairy.  So I don’t really blame them for the flavor being horrible so much as I blame them for trying to make froyo vegan to begin with.  That’s just dumb.

The other flavors were good- I picked tart peach and tart pomberry.  Normally I am not a fan of the tangy probiotic taste of yogurt and pick froyo that tastes like ice cream.  But this tart peach was really interesting and went perfectly with my decidedly-not-quaint tradition of sour gummi worms on frozen yogurt.  I just can’t resist!  If they’re on the topping bar, I’m eating them, period.

Photo Oct 13, 6 07 11 PM Phil went for a more mature Dutch Chocolate with caramel sauce, pecans, and blueberries.  The chocolate had a rich, creamy flavor that I enjoyed quite a bit.  We also both sampled and enjoyed the salted caramel flavor quite a bit.  Photo Oct 13, 6 08 40 PM

To be honest, the frozen yogurt at Cultured Swirl was nothing I would make a special trip to Fountain Square to eat, since I personally like my desserts full of dairy and chocolate and whatever GMOs are necessary to make them delicious.  But I’m thrilled to have somewhere to go when I happen to be in the area.  And indoor swings are the icing on the cake.Photo Oct 13, 6 06 59 PM

http://Cultured Swirl Organic Frozen Yogurt on Urbanspoon

Crepes in Indianapolis? La Paix has a way to go

I like crepes when they are good.  When they aren’t, I feel like someone put fruit in my omelette and it just weirds me out.  I decided to give La Paix at Keystone a try when they promoted via Groupon, but I was underimpressed overall with their crepes.

The atmosphere in the cafe is pretty dark and a little beat up, but certainly not dirty.  Still, we were glad to sit outside.

We tried 3 crepes.  One was a turkey, ham, mozzarella, and cranberry sauce.

Photo Jul 26, 11 46 18 AMPhoto Jul 26, 11 43 39 AM

One was a breakfast crepe with egg, cheddar, and baconPhoto Jul 26, 11 42 32 AM

The dessert crepe had bananas and Nutella.Photo Jul 26, 11 50 01 AM

All the fillings were generous in quanity and I had no complaint with the flavor.  My issue with the crepes here was the thickeness of the actual crepe-whether this was due to batter inconsistency or operator error, I don’t know.  But eating the crepes was a bit of a chore and they were a far cry from the delicate thin pastry I was hoping for.  I most likely won’t go back unless I’m desperate.

http://La Paix Cafe on Urbanspoon

Miyagi Sushi on 96th

Photo Aug 05, 2 58 46 PM

When it comes to Indianapolis sushi, I’m a bit of a tough customer because I’ve tried everything and I stick to my favorites.  We have no shortage of options in Indy, each with it’s own features and drawbacks, and people tend to be territorial about their destination of choice.  It’s a matter of personal preference and here are mine:

1.  Quality of food:  Obviously, needs to be high.

2.  Attitude:  I’m annoyed by super hip sushi places with tons of signature cocktails and angsty servers.  I’m annoyed by throngs of people I have to jockey with for seating. One particularly bad offender offers pommes frites.  I wouldn’t consider myself a stickler for authenticity, but really?

3.  Menu:  I prefer less sauces, cream cheese, jalapenos, etc.  I prefer more, you know, fish.

For these reasons, I have two favorite places in Indianapolis and one of those is Miyagi.  It’s located in an unappealing strip mall on 96th street, but the ambience inside is modern and interesting, but unpretentious.Photo May 16, 4 47 41 PM Photo Aug 05, 2 36 11 PM

I’ve been at least a dozen times and the staff are always friendly.  They make all my favorite standards, they carry fatty tuna, and they have groupons allll the time.  What else could I ask for?

Hamachi scallion roll Photo Aug 05, 2 58 33 PM

California

Photo May 16, 4 55 04 PMSpicy tuna, sadly of the pulverized-fish-and-spicy-sauce varietyPhoto Aug 05, 2 58 29 PM

Spider

Miyagi 2

I haven’t gotten any lately, but their fatty tuna is very good and their hot rock appetizers are completely delicious.  If you’re in the area, go give them a try.  I promise the interior is better than the exterior, and you don’t have to wear trendy clothes or have a reservation hours in advance.

http://Miyagi's on Urbanspoon