Heaven on Thursdays: Thai Taste in Castleton

I love Thai food, or at least the Thai food I have had. I’ll admit, though,  I get intimidated when I look at the menu and the names sound similar and the ingredients sound the same in every dish and I always just wind up ordering green curry.  But I’m not willing to order something different, spend $12 and have a meal I don’t like.  So green curry it is, time after time.

A Thai buffet is something I had never heard of and probably would have avoided even if I knew of one.  However, this one:  1.  Was recommended highly to me by my landlady 2.  Is only a buffet one night a week and 3.  Was too irresistible of a concept to ignore.  In Castleton right next to Penzey Spices AND Trader Joe’s (!!!), this is a tiny restaurant in a strip mall that fills up fast on Thursdays when they have the buffet.  The staff are very very friendly and the atmosphere is cozy.  Photo Sep 19, 7 07 45 PMPhoto Sep 12, 6 54 05 PM

As tantalizing as the idea of being able to eat ten Thai dishes plus unlimited spring rolls, lemongrass Tom Yum soup, and coconut milk pudding may sound, if the food quality is lacking, I would just rather not.  Happily, not only was the variety of dishes superb, but the quality and flavor were the best I have had in Indianapolis so far.  (This is limited to my previous haunts: Siam Square, Thai Kitchen, and Sawasdee.)    If I had to pick one dish of the 20 or so I sampled to eliminate, I would be hard-pressed.  The buffet was $12 or $13 and absolutely no fillers-this is all meat and vegetables in flavorful sauce.

Some selections:  Photo Sep 19, 7 10 00 PMPud Thai with chicken, Pud Kra Prow with chicken.  Photo Sep 19, 7 37 35 PMSquid with chili paste, Pud Kra Prow ground pork, and Pepper Beef

Photo Sep 12, 7 17 58 PMTom Yum with chicken, a favorite for it’s strong lemon grass flavor and mild heat.

Photo Sep 12, 7 06 45 PMMussels with chili paste, Stir Fried Beef with vegetables

I know I write all the time about places I like to eat but the proof is in the pudding with this one:  I have been back 3 times in the 2 weeks since I have known the wonders of Thai Taste (once for takeout and twice for the buffet) and have each time been blown away by how flavorful the food is and how packed with meat and vegetables it is for the price.  And hey, if you have to wait for a table you can always explore Penzey Spices next door!

Note:  The buffet is every Thursday night, but the first Thursday of each month is all vegetarian food!  Otherwise, most dishes have meat in them, although you could pick it out easily if your crowd is mixed with carnivores. Whatever night you go, be prepared to force yourself to stop eating.  It’s that good.

http://Thai Taste on Urbanspoon

La Parada: Great Mexican Close to Downtown

I love Mexican food, theoretically.  I have periodic cravings where I imagine myself chomping on delicious chips and downing margaritas and being happy.  Then I go and order something and I get a plate where the soupy bland beans plop out onto the plate and mix with rice that’s red but tastes like nothing and my taco makes me wish I had just gone to a tacqueria.  Like, every time.  So when Frequent Foodie Friend Christina told me La Parada was different, I was cynical.  My hopes had just…they’d been dashed so many times before.  I’m happy to report that she was once again correct-La Parada is different.  I now have a place for Mexican.

The restaurant is just east of downtown, near Flat 12 and Sun King breweries.  It is in a bright building on New York St but is little bit hard to spot because it sits in a strip mall behind the building it occupied until recently.  So keep those eyes open.  Also, the one flaw I found is that they serve beer and wine, but no liquor-so margaritas must be consumed before or after eating here.  I’d recommend after, because you want to be sober for this food.  The inside is cheery and full of bright, painted,carved-wood booths.

The salsa that comes to every table is quite delicious here.  I’m embarassingly spice intolerant, but this was perfect.  Photo Jul 24, 6 18 32 PM

Christina swore up and down we HAD to get the choriqueso dip and she was completely right.  Ignore the little islands of grease on a cask of salty, cheesy, sausagey goodness, this was the best queso I’ve had in a long time.  We cleaned the dish.  Photo Jul 24, 6 23 36 PM

I also tried a steak taco, just to see what the tacos were like because they were only $1.75.  As it turns out, I wouldn’t come back for the tacos.  Nothing was wrong with them, per se, but nothing was special either, and I have plenty of places I love for tacos.  You can’t argue with that amount of meat, though.Photo Jul 24, 6 29 39 PM

The other showstopper of the night was the carne asada platter with shrimp, which we split and did not finish.  The roast onions and peppers, the shrimp in a mild cheesey sauce, the soft flour tortillas, it was ALL great.  This was it!  This is exactly what I am looking for when I crave Mexican!  Photo Jul 24, 6 29 06 PM

I came back a few weeks later with my partner in crime, and guess what we ordered?  Photo Aug 09, 8 22 39 PMIt was just too good not to get again.  This time, for good measure, I tried the elotes, and they were the best I have had in Indianapolis.  I was in heaven.  Photo Aug 09, 8 21 08 PM

I am thrilled to have finally found a place in Indianapolis where I can scratch my Mexican food itch.  There are probably more that are decent like this, but La Parada is now my place.  These guys like it, too.  Photo Sep 14, 5 51 22 PMhttp://La Parada on Urbanspoon

Three Sisters for Beautiful Broadripple Brunch

An old friend was in town visiting recently and I needed a good brunch place he hadn’t tried before to entice future visits.  Indianapolis is a brunch-lover’s paradise:  Patachou, Good Morning Mama, Zest, Taste, and oodles of other places compete for your Saturday mornings.  I never cease to be surprised with the creativity these places bring to breakfast food, and 3 Sisters is no exception.

Housed literally in a Victorian 2-story in the heart of Broadripple, 3 Sisters offers cozy food in a cozy environment.Their menu boasts it’s vegetarian-friendly options, and although breakfast is always veg-friendly, the number of meat-free sandwiches they offer for lunch (ten) is impressive.

3-sisters-store-300x225

We visited for breakfast, which is served all day.  The wait wasn’t too bad on a perfect Saturday morning, but the service was honestly on the low end of decent.  Our server was a young girl who was barely friendly and only visited our table once after the food came.  However, the food more than compensated for the perpetual emptiness of my coffee cup.

The make-your-own omelette with mushrooms, bacon, and peppers was on the mediocre side of standard.  Photo Aug 18, 11 24 48 AM

Scrambled eggs with swiss cheese, mushrooms, and green peppers received similar reviews:  Nothing spectacular, but very decent scrambled eggs and toast.  Photo Aug 18, 11 25 06 AM

One interesting menu item was the “calico” hashbrowns made from half sweet potato, half russet.  They needed a healthy shake of salt, but they were delicious and different.  Photo Aug 18, 11 25 15 AM

The showstopper of the morning in my mind were the lemon corncakes with fresh seasonal berries.  Mine were made with blackberries and blueberries and served with my choice of berry sauce or lemon curd.  I am a lemon curd fanatic and was thrilled by the amount I received-probably 8 oz of tart and vibrant goo!  I’d never had cornmeal pancakes and these were a wonderful first encounter-crunchy cornmeal texture without being mushy or heavy.  Photo Aug 18, 11 26 54 AM

Overall, 3 Sisters proved to be a solid place for breakfast food and a wonderful place for their specialty items.  I will definitely stop in again to try more of the menu. The atmosphere is wonderful and sunny and if you’re lucky, these guys might be waiting outside.  Photo Aug 18, 12 00 10 PM

http://3 Sisters Cafe on Urbanspoon

Roadtrip to Anderson Orchard!

It’s peach season, and as tolerant as I usually am of supermarket produce, mealy bland grocery store stone fruit just offends my taste buds.  So a few weekends ago, we packed up the car and took the scenic route to Anderson Orchard in Mooresville, IN.

The orchard has been a favorite of mine for years and is about 30 minutes southwest of the city.  They are family-owned and operated and offer apples July-November as well as other seasonal goodies.  They also make cider slushies, which I promise will knock your glucometer off.  You can check the calendar for apple variety by season here.

One of my favorite things about the orchard is this:Photo Aug 17, 1 27 17 PM

When there are 50 varieties of apple, I really appreciate being able to sample before I buy a whole bunch of them!  Photo Aug 17, 1 37 13 PMThe staff are great at recommending the correct variety of apple or peach depending on what you will use it for and personal preference.  For example, I was directed toward the succulent Coral Star peach, a yellow freestone variety that falls off the pit.  As the woman who helped me put it “this is what I reach for when I want a sweet juicy mouthful of peach.”  I grabbed a half peck and happily licked juice from my fingers all week long.  Photo Aug 17, 1 28 11 PM

I also stocked up on some green beans, peppers, and tomatoes.  Photo Aug 17, 1 32 51 PMPhoto Aug 17, 1 32 56 PMPhoto Aug 17, 1 34 32 PM

I admired the nectarines, plums, and blueberries.  Photo Aug 17, 1 28 35 PM Photo Aug 17, 1 28 23 PM Photo Aug 17, 1 43 05 PM

However, the best score of the day was discovering my favorite apple variety to date.  I am a fan of sweet-tart, crisp apples-you know, the ones that taste like fall.  I usually opt for Gala, Fuji, or the ever-popular and pricey Honeycrisp.  I had never even heard of an Elstar apple, but it is the best of all worlds.  Just a bit more tart than a Honeycrisp, I could (and did) eat these for days.  Photo Aug 17, 1 30 33 PM

If you are free this Labor Day weekend, take a trip out!  Pack a little picnic to eat by the pond and pick your own raspberries for dessert.  Grab your produce for the week and some extra to freeze or can.  It’s a wonderful way to spend half a day.

I also happen to know that this weekend, the concession stand will open, and look at this list of treats:

-Elephant ears

-Fried biscuits with apple butter

-Apple turnovers

-Apple fondue

-Caramel apples

I dare you to stay away.  This is late summer at it’s absolute most perfect.

 

John’s Famous Stew: Warming Hearts since 1911

Northwest Indianapolis has Trader’s Point, a glorified mall, and Northeast Indianapolis has Fishers, where the WASPS commute after their office jobs.  Southeast Indy has Fountain Square, which in the last 5 years has earned its “cultural district” label many times over.  But if you travel just five minutes from downtown toward the airport, you’ll bump into Southwest Indianapolis where the Hoosiers live.  This is where truck drivers go for mechanical work and body parts, where animals picked up by the pound are sent, and where John’s Famous Stew serves hungry working people it’s namesake nosh. Photo Aug 15, 11 58 23 AM

I admit that I always draw a blank when asked for restaurant recommendations on the west and southwest side, but I’m working to fix that.  So when foodie friends Nick and Alice recommended John’s Famous to me, I hustled right on down for a hearty lunch.

I don’t know where you’re from, but I’m unquestionably from blue-collar Indiana, and this place instantly felt like home to me.  Located on Kentucky Ave just down the block from transmission places and across the street from a building that advertises “professional wrestling every Tuesday,” John’s looks like your average factory town tavern.  On the Thursday lunchtime I visited, the dining room’s 30 or so tables were more than half full of lunch-breaking mechanics, retired-looking gentlemen, and businesspeople in their business attire.Photo Aug 15, 11 58 54 AM

The menu has a pretty standard burger, pork tenderloin, chili and crackers type offerings, and of course, the Famous Hearty Stew.  We had obviously decided to have stew, but this turned out to be a complex decision, as there are mild, medium, and hot versions of the stew, as well as “goulash” versions which are apparently the same stew plus butter beans and other mixed veggies.  Between you and me, the mixed vegetables looked suspiciously like a frozen corn, peas, and carrots blend, which isn’t my favorite, so I nixed that option.  You can also order the stew over potatoes, just the stew broth ladled over various things, and other amalgamations of the classic.

We opted for the medium hot stew, plus a cup of chili and a grilled cheese sandwich.  The stew was served in a wide plate with a thick slice of white bread.  We had one chunk of chuck roast, about 3 inches on a side, surrounded by gooey, spice-laden gravy.  There were potatos, carrots, cabbage, and other vegetables so cloaked in gravy they were unidentifiable.  Eating this stew was like being hugged by all your grandparents all at once.  As a culinary object, it was gloppy, unrefined, and odd.   On a cold winter day, tired of gluten-free wraps and quinoa salads and pickled watermelon and maybe, just maybe, missing your childhood a little bit?  This is the stuff. Photo Aug 15, 12 11 29 PM

The chili was fine but nothing to write home about.  The grilled cheese was predictable perfection and served with a dill spear and chips (which I’m sure you can guess I find highly imperative).  The server was completely delightful:  south-of-the-circle accent, chatty, and friendly-the kind of person who can call you “darlin” without you wanting to hit them.  Photo Aug 15, 12 11 37 PM Photo Aug 15, 12 11 33 PM

Overall, this is the kind of place you come to feel like the simple old days aren’t quite gone.  It’s the kind of place you want to be a regular at, to have the bartender know your name and pour you a Budweiser and complain about the weather with you.  The stew is good, and you should go and try the stew, but if you’re like me it won’t be the only reason you come back.

http://John's Famous Stew on Urbanspoon

His Place: Food for Everyone’s Soul

His Place is a quintessential soul food restaurant on the east side that serves chicken and waffles, ribs, and other non-low-fat offerings.  I got a groupon for His Place after seeing fried perch on the menu because perch is one of my favorite fish and nearly impossible to find in this area. I was intrigued by the idea of spaghetti as a side dish and by the dessert offering of sweet potato cheesecake.  I was not disappointed.

The worst thing about His Place is how difficult it is to visit.  They are open six days a week but the hours are literally different 5 of those 6 days.  But since you need to fast at least 6 hours before visiting to make ample stomach room for the goodies, planning ahead isn’t really such a big deal.  It also is in an older building that smells a bit funky inside in the way older buildings do.  Again, totally worth it.

I obviously opted for the fried perch, which came with two sides.  I chose bourbon creamed corn and the spaghetti, which I admit isn’t the most natural combination, but how do you turn down those options?  Photo Jul 10, 5 01 12 PMI was very pleased with the fish.  Many places in Indianapolis have a beer-battered fish, which I find a bit soggy and puffy.  This fry batter was more substantial and crunchy and reminded me of the fish fries up north, if a bit thicker.  I got four filets, which I thought was pretty generous for $10.  The spaghetti was standard spaghetti, which actually was a really interesting side to fried food.

As tasty as the fish and spaghetti were, I wouldn’t order either again because next time I go back I am ordering a quart of the bourbon creamed corn for dinner.  I couldn’t pinpoint what made the corn so delicious, but it was pure bliss.  Slightly sweet, slightly creamy, slightly peppery, the envy of everyone at the table.  Seriously, you have to try this stuff.

Abby ordered fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and stuffing.  Photo Jul 10, 5 00 48 PMShe was impressed by the juicy meat and nice crispy fry batter of the chicken.  It’s hard to mess up mashed potatoes and gravy, and His Place certainly did not.

Phil got ribs, macaroni and cheese, and mashed potatoes with gravy.  Photo Jul 10, 5 00 55 PMI enjoy ribs in theory, but unless the meat falls off into my mouth, they just seem like so much work.  Happily, these ribs and my laziness were a perfect match.  Their combination of dry rub and just a touch of barbecue sauce on the side is exactly what I look for in a rib, and I will probably order these myself next time I visit.  (with the quart of creamed corn, of course.)  The macaroni and cheese wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, a bit on the overcooked side, but still a perfect accoutrement to ribs.

After that huge meal, I loosened by sweatpants and was all geared up for a piece of the sweet potato cheesecake! My heart was fairly broken when they didn’t have any available and  I consoled myself by ordering banana pudding.  Photo Jul 10, 5 22 48 PM

The problem with eating a really delicious meal at a new restaurant is that it’s very difficult to try something else the next time you visit.  I still want to try the sweet potato cheesecake, but now that I know how good this banana pudding is, I don’t think I can not order it again.  It was the most wonderful creamy consistency, like maybe there was whipped cream mixed into the banana pudding?  And then there were layers of bananas and vanilla wafers and I just was so so happy.  See the little Nilla wafer crumbs on top?  Like a hug in a dish.

In summary, I loved His Place. The price was right, about $10 an entree which included sides, and $3.50 for very generously sized desserts. Our server was extremely friendly, our food was extremely delicious.  Run away winners were the creamed corn and banana pudding, but everything was flavorful and well-cooked.  It’s not a fancy culinary destination, but it is feel-good food at it’s most satisfying and I will be back.  As soon as I have my cholesterol checked.

http://His Place Eatery on Urbanspoon

I Can Pickle That! Indiana Produce meets Eastern European Preservation

While dining on some tasty falafel at the previously reviewed Mediterranean joint Sahara, I gluttonously chomped into a garnish of what I assumed to be watermelon but was most definitely not.  I was informed that it was, in fact, a piece of pickled turnip. I’m generally a fan of brined, pickled, fermented, and other low-pH foodstuffs, and decided I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to buy a bunch of pretty hermetic glass jars and hoard the summer produce.

Let it be known from the outset that this is a shameless rip from Smitten Kitchen’s Pickled Vegetable Sandwich Slaw.  I changed exactly nothing from her recipe, because I don’t fix what isn’t broken.  If I had access to some fresh dill, I may have thrown that in.

Pickling mixture:
1 cup distilled white vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 cup cold water

This is hard, now, so pay attention:

Photo Jul 23, 6 52 56 PM

Find your picklable objects.

I used cucumbers (the firm kind used for pickling, not “slicers” like you would put on a salad), banana peppers, radishes, and carrots.  I also diced half a jalapeno and added that to half my jars.  Use whatever firm vegetables you can find at your roadside farm stand or be a heathen and buy them at the store.  Message me if you aren’t sure whether your veggies are ok to pickle, because contrary to what Portlandia says, you DON’T want pickled potatoes or kumquats or glass.

Photo Jul 23, 7 51 32 PM

Slice them thin enough to soak up lots of pickly flavor.

I did what I like to call a “lazy julienne,” which is where my knife skills suck and nothing winds up the same size at all.  If you have a mandoline, now is the time to use it. I threw mine away more than a decade ago in a fit of rage after slicing off a knuckle, but my food processor did a great job on the radishes.  Photo Jul 23, 8 25 08 PM

Pack those veggies into a jar.

These are fridge pickles, so no sterilizing, pressurizing, or otherwise making yourself sweat is necessary.  But don’t get crazy, they should be clean.  I used the prettiest jars I could find, the volume of which totaled about 2.5 quarts.  Try to pack the veggies tightly into the jars because they will float.  Photo Jul 23, 8 38 06 PM

Heat all the ingredients in the pickling solution except the water to simmering.  Turn the heat off, add the cold water, and wait until the mixture reaches tepidity. Pour it over the veggies.  Done.  Photo Jul 23, 8 41 08 PMPhoto Jul 23, 9 03 38 PM

You can refrigerate these up to a month, which gives you plenty of time to pawn them off on everyone you know.  You can also eat a lot of them right out of the jar with a fork a few hours after making them.  Hypothetically.

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