Review #4: Black Market

6 June 2018

I headed slowly back west after trying to catch up on a little sleep. Today’s driving agenda isn’t very long, just snaking around the rivers then north into Ohio, before eventually cutting west back to Indianapolis. Still wasn’t thrilled about last night’s mess at Jean-Robert’s Table, but whatever…

I got back into Indianapolis mid-afternoon, and returned my car and checked into the same hotel a few days ago. I’ve come to really like this Home2Suites in downtown, it’s like the 5th time I’ve stayed here. I relaxed and did a little re-packing for my trek home tomorrow before I headed out for a late afternoon/early evening session at one of my favourite places in the Midwest, Tappers Arcade. What’s not to love, excellent craft beers and all the arcade games (free play!) from your 1980s childhood?

Over 3 hours of constant play of everything from Donkey Kong to Q*bert, from Punch Out to Tron, from Galaga to Berzerk, I was actually using my pints of beer more to soothe my aching wrist than drinking it. So it was prolly time to head out. I love this place…

Took a Lyft to Black Market, one of my favourite places to eat in all of the Midwest. Had so many good meals here in the past, with excellent drinks to boot. I got there and it wasn’t busy inside as it was far busier out in their outdoor area; I’m happy to stay inside in the dark, AC-blasting room. Had a flashback to a few days ago when I was sweating like a madman at CharBlue

I started out with more booze, and couldn’t figure out how to begin, so started naturally with a rum flight…

rum tasting

Prolly not a good idea after an afternoon of strong craft brews, but this is pretty normal for me here! I also ordered a pair of small plates and enjoyed the rums. Soon the first item arrived, an all-time favourite.

z

I always order offal here, especially tongue. In the past I’ve had some excellent versions, but today’s was very meh, very boring — and a sad looking specimen… Hmmm…was it the rum? But it didn’t have that intrinsically good flavour of tongue today, and the texture was a bit runny like it was overcooked. Oh well, hopefully an anomaly. I ordered another drink and then my second plate arrived, one of today’s specials.

2-lamb meatballs

Well, I guess it wasn’t an anomaly. These lamb meatballs were just awful. In fact some of them were cold in the inside like it was just heated up. And the quality again, tasted really poor. Stringy, like a bad mince and bad prep. Did they just microwave this? I’ve had better TV dinner meatballs (again flashing back to 1980s childhood)…

What has happened to this place?!?!

Whatever it is I got the hint, this kitchen is not doing the job today. I think the normally friendly and excellent bar staff got the hint, and there was very little of the usual fun banter after this dish was presented. I had enough, so I ended up heading out far earlier than I usually do, not wanting to risk another dish here on this very, very off night.

I ended up at a Thai place, the Bangkok Restaurant & Jazz Bar, near my hotel to grab a takeaway. This place has always been reliable, the spicy crab fried rice a personal favourite. That turned out to be the best thing I ate all night, by far…and one of the best things I’ve had on this leg of the trip since I left Georgia…

I’m not sure if I’ll go back to Black Market again, after this absolutely deflating and disappointing night. So unlike the usually amazingly good food! So many wonderful nights and you get one that shows it diametrically opposite to what you’ve come to really love. Such a shame… Maybe I’ll just eat at the Thai place next time, if I ever end up in Indianapolis again.

Maybe I’ll just game at Tappers all night in the future…

Black Market
922 Massachusetts Avenue
Indianapolis, Indiana

Advertisements

Review: Jean-Robert’s Table

5 June 2018

The next day, fuelled on by that nice dinner at Seviche, I continued my drive through Kentucky, looping around into the hills south-east of Lexington before shooting north towards Cincinnati. My hotel was in Covington, right across the border, and a nice view of the Queen City was evident…

I was tired, but had planned for dinner at Jean-Robert’s Table, one of the more talked about places in Cincinnati. I’ve not had much luck dining in Cincy; frankly the best food I’ve had were either hot dogs at a Reds game or Korean food from near my usual downtown hotel. Last night’s meal at Seviche was good, bouncing the pendulum back to the good side…which means tonight the trend would mean otherwise?

First of all the parking was an expensive joke, thanks to it being close enough to the riverfront stadia for event parking. Should have taken a Lyft, would have been cheaper… I was seated at a table and relaxed with a cocktail. I looked over the menu and considered some of the nice-sounding specials, but then settled and ordered.

I relaxed with the cocktail until I drained it, switching to wine for my starter…

1-frog & snail

An interesting mix of fried frog legs and escargots, too bad it was rather mild. The frog legs, which were unfortunately breaded and fried, were very neutral; I really miss the meaty, juicy, stronger tasting stuff like I get elsewhere…but this is the Midwest, so… I think I expected a little too much out of this dish, but kudos to them for doing something that’s not ordinary.

I then ordered a red for my main and waited, and waited, and waited… Over 20 minutes in a relatively empty restaurant on a Tuesday night, and I enquired what’s going on. At first I was told the kitchen was slowed due to a 5-top walk-in…huh? If your kitchen is gonna be slowed significantly by a 5-top, you’re not managing things right… After another 10 minutes everyone was apologising and finally the food arrives…

2-duck

Okay, this was probably fired at the wrong temperature, and the duck was sourced poorly. This may be the STRINGIEST duck I’ve eaten in the past decade. Really, come on… I didn’t bother complaining since this was already a shitshow in the making. Now the owner/hostess was apologising… A bigger part of this dish than you’d imagine was abandoned…

I had it, just want to get out of here, but they comped me a dessert…

3-dessert

Not necessary, not even into it. The whole thing was just a mess and I rather just end this evening and go back across the river. It didn’t help overhearing racist conversation from a table nearby when they were discussing their Ancestry DNA results…

The FoH staff were all very apologetic (for what seems like a total BoH fail). They were nice folks, but that won’t give me my evening back…

I got out of there and zipped out of Ohio back to Kentucky. I really have the worst luck in this state… And sadly, the pendulum continued the trend with it swinging back to bad evening…sigh…

Jean-Robert’s Table
713 Vine Street
Cincinnati, Ohio

Review #2: Seviche

4 June 2018

I headed out of Indianapolis and down into Kentucky, spending most of the next 2 days snaking through the west of the state. I made a quick return to Owensboro, but yet had another mediocre BBQ experience… Anyway, at least I had some wonderful moments, like this one early morning in Kuttawa

After the end of the two days I rolled into Louisville, a town that I liked enough to have considered moving to. My previous visits have been excellent, with some of the most friendly people around. But this time, what’s happened? I got cut off twice on the road by aggressive and rude drivers that acted more Texan than Kentuckian (meaning poor driving skills with over-the-top attitude).

I was shaking my head when I arrived at Seviche, my dinner destination. I had an excellent dinner here a few years back during one of those good visits to town. Was not a busy Monday evening, so I took a hi-top and chilled out. Soon a cocktail was in hand, and I ordered.

Sipping on my drink, soon my starter arrived, and sure looked nice…

1-shrimp

The shrimp was excellent, working well with the acidic base; the serrano was a very nice addition, giving the entire dish a good kick. A solid start certainly. I switched to a wine for the main course, the halibut and crab cigar.

2-halibut crab cigar

This wasn’t bad, though halibut is always on the bottom of the list for me fish-wise. To me it’s like the filet mignon of the sea, just boring even with kitchen magic. The “cigar” was pretty good, but the dish was on the small side to be honest (aside from the always-bricky halibut). I was still hungry after this, so went with a savoury dessert…

3-oysters

I switched back to cocktails for these baked oysters, which were pretty good. I then just enjoyed a nice brown tipple before I headed out. Generally a good night with good folks. Perhaps not as good as my previous visit food-wise, but Seviche is a reliably good place to dine in Louisville for sure.

Now back to my crappy hotel that I wondered how got past the building inspectors…

Seviche
1538 Bardstown Road
Louisville, Kentucky

Review: CharBlue

2 June 2018

Luckily my flight out of Atlanta the day after that fabulous evening at City Pharmacy wasn’t until midday, so it wasn’t too bad of a hungover morning to drive into Atlanta to deal with that glorified bus station called Hartsfield-Jackson ATL. We got into Indianapolis with little hassle, thank goodness, and I hopped on a ridiculously overpriced taxi into town. Why do I still do this…

I got to my hotel and had to zip out to run some errands, and grab a quick BBQ lunch. Not bad. But had a bit to do on this Saturday late afternoon as I had a long few days of driving ahead. Had to pick up my car at Enterprise because I had to head out early tomorrow morning before the local shop opened on a Sunday morning (but that DT location is heavily recommended!).

Dinner was at a place I had looked at during previous trips to Indianapolis, CharBlue. Supposed to be a good steak-centric place with good seafood, so why not. I got there and it was empty — tho it was early and very sunny, it was still a Saturday night. I had a cocktail to start and looked over the menu. I thought of a few things, but since the steak comes with a soup I just did that, and I also went with a bottle of red.

It was after I got started when I noticed that the AC was not working properly. Geez, this may not be good, as it was a hot day outside, and despite the restaurant being empty, they had a lot of event spaces that were very full. The heat seems to be building up rather quickly… In any case, the soup arrived.

1-lobster bisque

I agreed to the supplement and upgraded to a lobster bisque. Well, bad idea. It was very salty and oddly it was lukewarm. Maybe the kitchen was as annoyed with the temperature as I was. But it was getting warmer by the minute, and now I’m wishing I didn’t do a bottle of red as it was starting to add to my heat misery. And the steak…

2-ribeye

Well, this ain’t gonna help. Not bad, but nothing to write home about. The mushroom topping was meh, probably accounted for a quarter of the advertised 16oz weight; the meat is again over-trimmed. And the side…

3-sprouts

Now these sprouts are fried to beyond crispy, and all you taste is a sticky, sickly sweet sauce that is just unpleasant — and doesn’t work well with the steak at all. And of course I’m just sweating and can barely eat more…and that’s what happened. I ended up having to take all of it to go, and I just spent the rest of the evening slowly drinking that wine.

Definitely nowhere near the food quality of the venerable St Elmo Steak House a few blocks away. More importantly, I’m sorry, but even if the food was excellent, it would not have been a good night because of the temperature (of which the staff was also fully aware of). Now you know why most proper steakhouses keep temperatures low?

Overall food was very mediocre, so the whole thing seemed like a wasted night. I certainly won’t be back… I drained my wine and headed back to my hotel, where the AC was working fine. This trip seems to be going between excellent to poor, excellent to poor…which of course means my next meal should be excellent, so…

CharBlue
14 East Washington Street
Indianapolis, Indiana

Review: City Pharmacy

1 June 2018

I got up the next morning back in Alabama, but quickly crossing over to Georgia again into Columbus, where I had that awful dinner last night at Epic. Talk about an epic fail… Anyway, I spent the day winding through the rural highways through eastern and central Georgia, passing thru Macon. I don’t quite like this town, but I like the food at Dovetail… Should have eaten there instead last night!

Snaked further along and eventually headed to the town of Conyers, where my hotel is. I decided to get a place en route towards Atlanta from my dinner destination tonight. I am flying out late morning tomorrow, so this works out better. Dinner tonight I’m hoping for a far better experience at City Pharmacy in Covington.

Now will it be good like Macon’s Dovetail or bad like Epic in Columbus? I’ve not had much good luck otherwise in Georgia, especially a few extremely disappointing meals in Atlanta over the years (including the way-overrated Miller Union). I got there, avoiding the ugly storm that hit earlier, and perched at the end of the bar.

Already I sense this was a far better night, as the friendly bartender started to make some tasty drinks for me and other patrons. I looked over the menu and decided to start with some oysters to go with the cocktail, and it didn’t take long to appear…

1-oysters

Nice stuff, went well with the strong booze. Then I placed my full order and relaxed with yet another cocktail. Then the “soup” of the day arrived, which was extremely hearty…

2-chilli

Yeah, it’s a very good chili, not quite a soup! Lovely stuff, flavourful yet easy to eat as a starter. Another nice dish and I switched to a wine for my main course, pork porterhouse.

3a-pork porterhouse

Excellent, as good as the one I had a few days ago in Columbia, South Carolina (not Columbus, Georgia, mind you!). The mushroom side was excellent and voluminous, though I should have taken on a side of greens too — but I just so love mushrooms! And I thought the little figurine on top (they probably meant a dog, I imagined a bunny) was a cute touch. Nice stuff!

I was enjoying myself so much I switched back to cocktails, and ended up challenging my bartender to be creative for a few selections. And it worked so well earlier I went back to the start and had another order of oysters…

4-oysters

Why not, right? But by this point I was getting to my limit, so I thanked the crew and headed on out. What a fun evening! Good drinks, excellent food, wonderful people, what’s not to like! So the pendulum swung back to the positive side for non-Atlanta Georgia dining.

This place is highly recommended, and it’s not far from Atlanta. Just like I recommend people stuck in Atlanta to go to Macon to eat at Dovetail, I’ll recommend even more to come here to Covington to eat at City Pharmacy.

City Pharmacy
1105 Church Street
Covington, Georgia

Epic Fail… (Review: Epic)

31 May 2018

After that excellent but boozy dinner at Motor Supply Company Bistro in Columbia, I made my way back north of the state to Greenville and had some BBQ, and — far more importantly, some needed rest. Didn’t help that I had to go to the airport at 5am the next day to fly to Atlanta, as I was snaking south-west from there into Alabama. I always enjoy spending some time in this often-misjudged state. But after a long day I wound back to the border town of Phenix City, where I was staying for the night.

Not the best hotel, but what can you do… Dinner was across state lines into Columbus, Georgia. I’m hoping dinner at Epic will be epic, as I’ve seen quite a surprising amount of good write-ups from this restaurant that is a hike from both Atlanta and Montgomery. I got there and it looks quite posh, although not very busy this early Thursday evening. I took a seat at the bar as they put my table together, and shifted there soon after — a nice big banquette for myself. Not a bad starting cocktail as I looked over the menu.

I made my decisions and continued to enjoy that cocktail as a small amuse arrived.

AB-cheese blini

Hmmm, nothing really to write home about. Nevertheless I then looked over the wine menu and ordered a glass in anticipation of my first. Now why did they bring a pair of chopsticks? I shuddered when the dish arrived…

1-octopus

I immediately smelled fish sauce. Huh? It was advertised as “kabayaki” — but I suspect the kitchen had no idea what kabayaki is. It tasted acidic and that fish sauce aroma stuck around…if ever there was a sauce you can call “anti-kabayaki” this may be it. This dish is a total shambles…

I picked off the octopus, which was not bad, after I let the sauce drain off… This dish is like a bad love-child between a PF Chang’s franchise and an arrogant culinary school drop-out that couldn’t be bothered to learn the basics. Just really shockingly bad…

I drank more to get that awful sauce taste out of my mouth before the second dish arrived, the duck…

2-duck

Now the meat itself was cooked quite nicely and it seems to be sourced well, but the sauce was just an acidic, fruity mess. What is going on, is there a mad saucier back there? Again, I just waited for the sauce to drain off the duck as much as possible before eating it.

And as annoying as the food was, there was a table near me blasting media. Come on, this is a nice restaurant! And of course staff do nothing about it, which shows how classy the place really is. It’s all a façade, a Potemkin Gramercy Tavern. Sigh…

I didn’t say anything to the staff about this, but couldn’t resist passing on my flabbergast over the “anti-kabayaki” to my server. And of course, the server did not return to even take a dessert order or a drinks order, and I lost my patience. I just asked the runner for my bill. My server then did return to bring the kitchen’s apology and comped a sherry, but by then the game was over and I was counting the seconds before exiting those doors…

This was such a poor evening I don’t know what’s worse — the poor execution, or the poor ideas. I have no idea how people could think this was top-notch, when the kitchen didn’t even know how to bluff something. Sadly, places like this gives southern kitchens a bad reputation as being out-of-touch, borderlining on ignorant and hick-ish.

If Motor Supply the other day showed how good a southern kitchen can be in a small city, Epic was an EPIC FAIL in that same quest.

Epic
1201 Front Avenue, Suite E
Columbus, Georgia

Review: Motor Supply Company Bistro

29 May 2018

One of the joys of travelling in the US is to visit smaller cities and enjoy these hidden treasures. Sure, some are a big miss, but often you find unexpected susprises. On this three-headed trip, my first destination was South Carolina. This first evening, after a long and looping drive from the northern part of the state through some nasty storms, I arrived at the capital, Columbia.

Most visitors to South Carolina head to the coast, especially Charleston — but I’ve always found the food there way too hyped (much like NOLA). I had heard great things about this place called Motor Supply Company Bistro. Odd name, but it’s often listed as the best place in the state to eat.

I was totally worn out from today, as well as a recent bout of extreme insomnia, so I was pretty wiped as I sat at the bar. I received some crushing news just before I headed out to dinner, so I certainly needed a drink or dozen…

Place was rather busy on a Tuesday right after a long weekend, so that’s a good sign. I tried to relax with a nice cocktail as I ordered my food. It wasn’t long before my starter arrived, quail.

1-quail

Oh these were totally delicious, marinated perfectly and cooked perfectly. They are also quite meaty and juicy, so they sourced some fabulous birds here. Excellent start! Another drink in hand, I’m starting to really relax and then one of the day’s special arrived — the pork chop.

2-pork chop

Just spectacular, lovely flavours, uncompromising in its richness. The juicy chop was cooked perfectly, and I happily devoured the contents of this plate…

This place is a total surprise, lovely folks and excellent food. I was so tired and still utterly mentally strained from that bad news earlier, which is the reason I stayed to have a few more drinks, and a nice wee brûlée for dessert…

3-brulee

Good, but made me drink even more, and I was basically beyond my limit. Luckily my hotel is only a few minutes away and I’ve started to forget about this heavy burden thrust upon me, but I was completely drained…oh, I need to get some sleep…

This place is a hidden gem, folks. Lovely folks, excellent cooking, wonderful drinks. What else can you ask for? Highly recommended, even if you’re in Charleston and need to drive the 2 hours…

Motor Supply Company Bistro
920 Gervais Street
Columbia, South Carolina

* I had a rough morning the next day, despite finally caught up on some much-needed sleep. But that fog in my head made me screw up my morning, not remembering I forgot one of my Columbia stops until I was an hour out of town… I guess I just have to come back some time in the near future!