Sunday, June 29, 2008

Smokehouse On Shelby

So the price of everything has been going up lately. Have you noticed this? They even raised the price at Yats, and while that remains the best place in town to get a bite to eat that won’t make your wallet sing Ave Maria, it is by no means the only place in Indianapolis where you can get a hot meal at a fair price and keep your money out of the hands of the corporate chains.

Amy and I happened on one of those places last week, on her suggestion that we try a new barbecue place in Fountain Square. Naturally, she suggested this just as I pointed the car - while listening to Dream Theater’s Once In A Livetime - in the opposite direction from Fountain Square. A couple of right turns later and we were zipping down Virginia Avenue toward what is easily - easily - the most underrated and underappreciated part of town.

Yes, parts of Fountain Sqaure are downright scary - a disproportionate number of its denizens seem to favor the wife-beater/jeans shorts ensemble, and the (underfed) pit bull is clearly the pet of choice - but for all of its plight, it has one of the greatest concentrations of independent restaurants anywhere in the city. As an added bonus, a number of those restaurants are ethnic places.

The place we landed at was Smokehouse On Shelby, inside the Fountain Square Theatre building at the corner of Shelby and Prospect where those two streets intersect with Virginia Avenue. The interior is updated diner chic, with black and white checkered tile on the floor and red for the walls, barstools, and chairs throughout - including the felt on the two vintage pool tables in pride of place near the front window.

It won’t take you long to pore over the menu, which includes most of what you would expect going into a barbecue joint - pulled pork, beef brisket, smoked chicken - and even a smoked meatloaf, which sounded interesting but was not what I wanted to try for my first go round. For my money, when you’re trying a barbecue place for the first time, you have to go with the pulled pork.

It comes with potato chips, a pickle spear, your choice of one side, and either sweet or chipotle barbecue sauce served - as it should be - on the side. I got cole slaw and kept the chips (and added an extra side of sauce, which turned out to be unnecessary), while Amy substituted fries (the krinkle-cut variety, out of a bag - and the plate was huge) for her chips and took the southern style baked beans as her side. If you can’t tell from the picture, the portions are extremely generous - a lunch like this at one of those crappy bar-and-grill places in downtown proper (and here I’m thinking of places like Champps Americana and Rock Bottom) would have run you at least $9.99; but if you’re adventurous enough to explore Fountain Square, you’ll get this tasty lunch for only $5.95 - and that’s the regular sandwich price, not a daily special.

As the picture clearly shows, the sandwich is overflowing with a pulled pork that is so finely pulled that it could just as easily be called shredded pork. It had a light smoked flavor to it, so that you could tell it had been smoked without having to guess that it also tasted like pork. The chipotle sauce had a vinegary taste and was slightly spicy, but complemented the meat well enough; the sweet sauce, on the other hand, was astonishing. Rich, sweet, and smoky, its base of tomatoes and molasses was powerfully flavorful, and the pungent flavor of garlic lingered after. The sweet sauce was so thick that its texture more resembled chunky tomato sauce than that syrupy barbecue sauce that comes out of a bottle. I like spicy food as much as (hell, probably quite a lot more than) the next guy, but here the sweet barbecue sauce is clearly superior. Both, I was told when I asked our server, are homemade - and it shows.

As for the sides, the cole slaw was as good as it gets - creamy without being heavy, though it is made with celery seed, which I have always thought is an odd addition to cole slaw. Maybe it’s a barbecue thing - there was celery seed in the cole slaw at Smokey Joe’s, the now-defunct barbecue place that for awhile brightened the chain restaurant dead zone that is 135 down in Greenwood. The baked beans were like your mom’s, which is to say just about perfect - strong with the flavors of molasses and barbecue sauce.

No complaints with the quick, attentive service, either - though that might have had something to do with the fact that we were the only diners in the restaurant when we were there. Smokehouse On Shelby is one of those run-don’t-walk things that I cannot recommend highly enough; if you haven’t expanded your culinary map to Fountain Square, you’re missing out on some of the very best meals Indianapolis has to offer.


Michael Maier said...

Sounds great. Thanks for the tip.

Godfather Weilhammer said...

Funny you mention that place. We saw signs for it when we were doing our flowers for the wedding in Fountain Square, and it's been awhile since I've been to a smokehouse, so I believe I will have to try that place. It's also semi-nostalgic since my mom used to work two floors up from that diner.