Like a lemming, I followed Jim in Logan Square and company to Indianapolis this weekend. My excuse for going is the wedding of my wife’s cousin, but the real reason for the trip is to try out some of the Hoosier Treasures pointed out by Jim and his band of eaters. Before getting to the main event, the food, let me just say that I have had the opportunity during the past 7 days to experience both Northern and Southern culture as it relates to the War. What War you ask? Is there more than one? Sure, we’ve got Iraq, but I’m talking about the War for the Union or the War of Northern Aggression (depending on where you are). Many of us know it as the Civil War. During the last week, I saw both the Soldiers & Sailors Monument in Indianapolis and the Confederate War Memorial in Abbeville, SC (home of the Confederacy). Both honor the soldiers of the American Revolution, the Spanish American War and, of course, the Civil War (from their own regional perspective).
That’s about as political as I want to get, so now on with the show. On the drive down Friday, I had thoughts of fried chicken in my head as I dreamed about a dinner at Hollyhock Hill, but it was not to be. We called ahead at around 4:30 and all reservations for the night had already been taken. They were booked solid and there was no way we could get in…even if we just showed up, so Hollyhock Hill will have to wait for another trip. Instead we went along with a group of Julie’s cousins to Hellas Café, a Greek restaurant close to our hotel. Hellas was an interesting place, complete with belly dancer and moderately good food. I don’t think it holds a candle to any of the better Greek places in town, but the food was more than passable and the service was friendly and very good.
The Chow Poodle Shows Hellas’ Belly Dancer how to Shake that Thang
Today I made the pilgrimage past the beautiful mansions on Meridian St. through downtown to the legendary Shapiro’s Deli to see what the fuss is all about.
Upon entering, it is immediately apparent that Shapiro’s is Manny’s Country Cousin. They are both approximately the same vintage (with Shapiro’s being slightly older) and of the same steam table/cafeteria school.
Shapiro’s Steam Table
I ordered the much vaunted pastrami sandwich, a bowl of matzo ball soup and an iced tea (unsweetened). Although the bill was higher than I though it would be, it wasn’t out of line with what Manny’s charges for the same meal; however it didn’t include a potato pancake like Manny’s would have at that price point. That didn’t matter to me very much, since the reports of Shapiro’s potato pancake have been less than stellar.
Shapiro’s “The Usual”
The soup was fine. The matzo balls were light and uniform, but tasted as if they were from a mix (not that there is anything wrong with that). The pastrami itself was less garlicky and spicy than the much preferred Manny’s version, but was still pretty good. As has been pointed out elsewhere, it tasted more like flavored brisket than spicy pastrami. I could see why people like this pastrami, but it seemed a bit bland to my taste…perhaps a nod to the Hoosier palate. The bread was very good, though. It is somewhat squishy, but still has enough body to hold up to the meat. The crust was tasty and has a bit of crunch to it. The bread was so good that I ended up buying a loaf to take home with me.
My only complaint about the sandwich was that they ask you if you want mustard and put it on the sandwich for you. I prefer to apply my own condiments and I wish I was given the chance, since they overdid it a bit on one half of the sandwich. Also, the meat was room temp rather than hot. Both of these are small quibbles that certainly wouldn’t keep me from returning.
After that great lunch, it was off to the big wedding. The reception was held at The Bridgewater Club, a local country club. Link, from the Mod Squad and his little buddy led the way.
Link Finds Work as a Chauffeur
Dinner was way above average for country club food (no offense to Evil Ronnie, who is the exception that proves the rule). They served a salad of very fresh mesculin and, for the main course, chicken breast in puff pastry with a layer of duxelles over real mashed potatoes along with some asparagus and a single baby carrot. Surprisingly, this was cooked to perfection. The chicken breast was very moist and the crust was nicely browned and served hot from the oven. The veggies were cooked al dente and not overdone and mushy as one might expect at a banquet.
Country Club Cuisine
All in all, my trip to Indy was very enjoyable. I wish I had stayed a little longer to be able to check out one of the Hoosier cafeterias that have been talked about, and I would have liked to track down a good piece of pie…and, of course, that visit to Hollyhock Hill still is on my to do list. All that will have to wait for my next visit.
8110 College Ave.
8501 Westfield Blvd.
808 S. Meridian St.
The Bridgewater Club
3535 East 161st Street