OK…I’m gonna admit it…I’ve earned 68 Starbuck Gold Points in the last 4 months. That’s a lot of slick branding and slightly dank coffee drinks chocked up to convenience and drive through that I need to come to terms with. Feeding my need for a local, downtown neighborhood coffee shop to call my own, I headed over to Henry’s on East Street in Chatham Arch. I remembered it as Vic’s back in the day and although it was a great spot for social activism and meetings, it was not a great place for a cup of joe and something to eat.
Henry’s is great! The staff is friendly, the deco is simple coffee house clean, the casual menu is large and their pet friendly attitude seems almost required in this urban neighborhood-focussed coffee bistro. On a Thursday morning the place was packed with buttoned up lawyers, leather pant wearing hair stylists (ok…there was only one), a smattering of gay couples, worker bees and average joes. I sat down with my puppy and the paper and realized how nice it was not having to navigate myself around the luggage-sized purses of yapping housewives in line at Starbucks (that was a little cruel…I take it back).
My latte was good (Portland has ruined me), my eggs were great (hot, moist and light) and my yogurt was better than average (I’m not sure if “homemade” meant cultured there or just seasoned with berries there).
When I first heard that Urban Elements was opening a second location downtown located in the old Elements space (yes, its a little confusing), I rolled my eyes and thought I’d stay away as long as possible so as not to have to compare the two (I’m still in mourning for the loss of my favorite Indianapolis restaurant guys). Sitting shiva was finally over this morning and I went to their Sunday brunch buffet.
First of all, nothing on the inside has changed. You’d think something should have been altered to reflect the changing of the guard from intelligent, smart food to a sandwich shop…but it all looks the same…odd.
The buffet had an assortment of processed commercial sausages in various forms, breakfast meats steeping in their own grease, a made-to-order omelet and waffle stand which was the main focus of everyone waiting in line, some seasonal fruits and packaged desserts and breads. A good value for less than 10 bucks but nothing I can’t get absolutely everywhere else. The water tasted like a fish tank and soured not only my appetite but also the coffee and tea. Get a commercial filter please.
I can’t be too hard on the place…after all it was packed. The location on the back patio is perfect for people watching and most of the patrons are probably just looking for a lunchtime-with-chips kinda place. I just have a hard time celebrating that what’s replaced the old in this space is considered progress in this town.
I find myself being drawn to return to Brugge over and over…is it if for the l’Énorme Frites or perhaps the mussels whose left over sauce on the bottom of the bucket is drinkable (maybe even bath-able)? It sure isn’t for the staff which is curt and often rude (you know who you are). The beers are very good (not great)…most of the crepes are ok (the duck is dry, OMG dry)… the charcuterie is tired…the inside is way too loud…BUT…there are a few things on the menu and a moment every so often while you’re sitting on the patio people watching on the Monon, that the buzz feels good, the food feels satisfying and it all clicks.
This is a strange little place. It’s in a nice comfortable neighborhood location for a well appointed bistro yet it looks more like something that was thrown together overnight. A lot of attention has been made towards the mixed menu of classic French comfort food and American eastern seaboard fare yet there’s nothing to drink but tea, water or soda (its been three years people…find a way to carry beer and wine). The bad lighting, garish color scheme and cheap restaurant surplus supply all seem a little like your neighbor turned their garage into a restaurant….yet in all of the odd jumbles of things that don’t belong, it somehow has a mismatched-ness that kinda works. Don’t get me wrong. This place is not fashionable (or even trying to be cool) but it IS unique and that counts for something.
While everyone raves about their cheeseburgers, we ordered a mixed bag of fried clams, the trout with sauce menuiere, a filet de porc par lard and the spinach ravioli. Half expecting it to arrive on a oversized Disney character plate set (I still hadn’t quit figured out where I had landed) the food was…well…pretty good. The oysters in fact were excellent!
My partner and I made New Year’s Eve reservations at the restaurant where Bravo’s Top Chef runner up Dale Levitsky was making his new home (Sara Nguyen too…sorry…I bet she’s tired of everyone forgetting she made it on the show too). We were excited for the ten course menu and decided to make a weekend out of the event.
We knew there would be a waiting list so we called early to make our reservation. Low and behold it was Dale himself who answered the phone. While wondering why the celebrity chef was answering the phones he made light about it being a small place and that he was in the office to do some ordering anyway. A week before our reservation I called again to ask when the anticipated menu was going to be put online…and again it was Dale answering the call himself. We chit chatted a little about the meal and that was that. Or so I thought. Well…calling four hours before to confirm our New Years Eve reservation we were told we were not on the list and that they were sold out.
“Uh…but I spoke with Dale about it TWICE” I said…”We came into town just for this meal” I pleaded…”It’s bloody New Year’s Eve and the only place that can take us on short notice is Wendy’s” I cried into the phone.
Nothing…they had nothing left…not even a spare table in the restroom and they apologized.
Honestly, I felt like someone had just punched me in the gut. I get so excited about the anticipation of a great meal…getting prepared to go out, the cocktails beforehand and filling an evening with beautiful things…and now…I was all dressed up, its was New Year’s Eve, and I could care less. We decided to make the best of it (knowing I was going to RIP Sprout a new one in this blog) and we made reservations at our standard sushi place.
Then the phone rang.
It was the Maitre’ D at Sprout. He had called the restaurant owners and they wanted to give us their table for the evening. There was champagne waiting for us and they wondered if we needed a taxi. I cried. This was EXACTLY how it should have been handled. BRAVO SPROUT!
Arriving at the restaurant I was sure we were at the wrong place. The dull exterior and large cheap-looking sign looked like the place was a wholesale rubber mat distributor or maybe a place that sold billiard tables to bars. The large bar and warm bistro color palette was on the right track but everything seemed pieced together without any specific point of view…but…it was clean and warm and we had a reservation.
Sparkling Riesling with blood orange bitters with a spoonful of cane sugar greeted us at the door and our table held our first course;
Caviar infused with peppermint, sliced pear and crushed macadamia nuts. 2008 Independent Producers Chardonnay.
Foie Gras with currents soaked in Ximenex with parsnips. Fume Blanc from Ferrari Carano.
(my favorite course of the evening)
Sablefish with geoduck, cucumber and potato with french spices. Coteux D’Aix en Provence, Blanco from Mas de Gourgonneier.
(the fish was prepared perfectly)
Pheasant and lamb with brussel sprouts, apricots and steamed salsify oyster plant. Negre Samso from Clos de Noi Negre.
(I anticipated this one the most and was underwhelmed)
Raspberry Ice with a nice Muscat
Truffle infused short ribs with mushrooms, radichio and shaved manchego. Lodi “Old Vines” Zinfandel from Klinker Brick.
(finger licking good)
Cheese course Cabernet Franc from Lang & Reed.
(too drunk to remember)
Pineapple and golden beets layered with goat cheese with ginger and chocolate. Bugey Cerdon.
(my second favorite course of the evening…way to go Sara)
Selection of Milk Chocolate, Dark Chocolate and Violet Truffles.
The meal was followed by the two chefs coming out to thank and welcome everyone to the new year. The small space was packed and they spoke as if we were all invited friends sitting in their living room…cozy, warm and full. I’ll be back … probably in the middle of the week for no particular reason and nothing to celebrate except great food and great service.
> My new favorite thing? Pani Puri (Poori …or also called Gol Gappa). These puffed, crispy, mini puri bread discs are usually filled with a spicy chickpea curry or a spicy water made with green chili. Usually four or five are eaten at one sitting as a snack.
Traditionally a street food or home cooking snack, these tasty little puffs are fast becoming available in restaurants as their popularity increases.
Go immediately to your Indian market for the basics to make them yourself (see video) or start by buying them already made in the frozen food section.
So after being in India and Nepal for three weeks and eating like a modern day Maharaja, you’d think I’d have tons to talk about. Well…I do…kinda. First of all, every meal I had was five courses served by dozens of wait staffers in beautiful settings…but to eat safely we had to restrict ourselves to the resorts and five star restaurants (usually I’d hardly call this suffering) but these places like to cater to tourists who demand less spicy, less authentic version of Indian food…or something at least more like the Indian food they already know from home. Disappointing and odd. So…what’s the rage in five star Indian cuisine? French and Chinese. Yawn.
One way I got around this and came closer to feeling like a local…or at least feeling like I was eating something similar to all of those wonderful street foods that haunted me everytime I stepped outside my hotel bubble, was gorging myself on breakfasts and snacks.
The enormous “Nashta” breakfast buffets always offered a large regional food selection due to the kitchen staffers eating the left overs as part of their wage. Stuffed Paratha with potatoes and cauliflower, spicy Aloo Puha, Vada Sambhar with green chilis or Toovar Sambhar with lots of lentils…I started a habit of needing a morning fix of chicken soup with green chili, spring onions and a shot of hot sauce…Breakfast Of Champions!
Another easy way to cut through the westernized versions of Indian food was to order a large selection of breads and snacks. The homemade versions of these were always available off menu and the packaged versions were easy to find. Beautiful Chapati, Poori, Kachori and stuffed Kulcha breads made me feel like I was eating local and the dozens of varieties of Pakora, spicy Pakoda and Samosa snacks made me feel like I was getting away with something. The packaged chips and nuts (tamarind and shrimp flavored crackers, green chili and lime peanuts) always kept me guessing and smacking my lips.
Here are a few culinary highlights of the trip:
A hot spicy sauteed cabbage and green bean dish while sitting under a large tent in a garden in Madha Pradesh near Khajarajo. Lots of sun, lots of room temperature beer and lots of spicy chicken stuffed Mughlai Paratha.
A hot, spicy traditional northern samosa served to me in a truck stop near Jaipur when I thought there was no hope from starving to death.
A fantastic lamb curry with the best Chapati I’ve ever tasted in the Indian restaurant of our resort in Agra. I think I giggled a little bit drenching up the gravy.
A bland tasting Paneer Madras with a wonderful cold beer sitting three stories up on a balcony overlooking Durbar Square in ancient Bhaktapur.
A miniature butterfinger bar I had stuffed away in my bag after 16 days of sweet withdrawal (I’m not too proud to admit it).
Home made Nepalese moonshine served to me in small saucers while I sat on the floor, watched dancers and pretended that sitting on the floor was comfortable and that I wasn’t getting drunk.
Savory tasting whipped milk icing birthday cake given to me from friends in the New Delhi Airport.
I’d love to go back…but I want to do my homework first next time. I need to find out exactly how long it would take and exactly how sick I need to get in order to acclimate the common Indian street food bacteria into my diet. I’m thinking small doses over a few months should get me close to being able to walk up to a bustling street vendor and order anything I want.
A midwestern bear eating his way through the world
I'm just a regular foodie kinda home cook guy that lives in Indianapolis and has been in love with food my whole life. If I'm not trying my hand at making cheese or have my arms stuck into a roasted pig, I'm learning and writing about the food around me.