Thursday, June 03, 2010

Red Lion Grog House

We roped my mom into watching Jackson again, and snuck out for dinner - and to get the grumpy little monkey a birthday present. (When he was very, very small, I used to say that he looked like a grumpy little monkey when he would get a grumpy expression on his face; then it turned into a running joke for any time he was cranky; and now that he has started to incorporate identity into his consciousness, he becomes indignant whenever I call him a grumpy little monkey, saying “I”m not a grumpy little monkey! I’m Jackson!” It’s way cuter when he says it.)

A review of this place in NUVO a few weeks back made mention of a stuffed portobello with herbs and mozzarella cheese and roasted red pepper sauce and well…yeah, you had me at hello. They’re going for an English pub look, but I don’t imagine there are many pubs in England that look like the old Gusto! pizza place in Fountain Square, except with a high wooden seat-back/wall thingy added to turn about half the tables into “booths.” I could be wrong about that, though. I’ve never been to England, so I don’t know what their pubs look like. Red Lion Grog House is on Virginia Avenue, where Gusto! used to be in the Murphy Arts Building. (I don’t know for sure that Gusto! closed rather than moved elsewhere, but that looks to be the case.)

The decor is pretty sparse - though the requisite Newcastle Brown Ale mirror sign is there - and I still get the feeling that it’s the kind of place where Michael Corleone could come for a sit-down with Sollozzo and the dirty cop. They don’t nail English pub here nearly as well as the folks at Chatham Tap on Mass Ave, but it was neat and clean; and you can do worse than evoke The Godfather, as far as I’m concerned. It was also early in the dinner hour in the middle of the week, so there weren’t many people there. In such a situation, the service should be excellent - and it was. Our server (unimaginatively described as “Day Bar” on the check - and all apologies if that’s her actual name) was friendly, efficient, non-intrusive, and there when we needed her.

The menu’s not quite English pub either - it’s more like American gastropub, with a nod across the pond that covers a smattering of dishes including bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, and fish and chips. American fare includes a robust lineup of burgers, plenty of chicken, wings on the appetizer menu, and the ubiquitous reuben. I opted for the stuffed portobello ($11.99) that was talked up in the NUVO review - two mushroom caps stuffed with garlic, herbs, and mozzarella cheese, baked until bubbly, and served atop a roasted red pepper sauce and alongside garlic mashed potatoes and fresh steamed broccoli. The portobellos were thin, and the flavors of the red pepper sauce, garlic, and herbs were so strong that the flavor of the mushroom was lost in the shuffle - but those other flavors were excellent, and the texture was good, too. Perfectly melted cheese, just starting to brown and bubble on top, is the sign of a deft hand in the kitchen.

Amy had the shepherd’s pie ($11.49), which is basically vegetable and ground beef stew baked under a layer of mashed potatoes. My buddy Scott’s mom makes the best shepherd’s pie ever, and I have yet to encounter an example of this dish anywhere else that is even close to what she used to serve up. Amy seemed to like it, though she was only able to finish about half of it. I had one bite, and it tasted vaguely like sloppy joes. Nothing served at a restaurant should ever taste like sloppy joes. Ever.

I don’t know if this place has got the legs for a long run in Fountain Square. Apart from a handful of mainstays like Santorini Greek Kitchen and Peppy Grill, Fountain Square is very much a revolving door when it comes to places to eat. Add in the facts that British food (not to say just English) is well represented downtown and that the bar-and-grill concept has been done to death, and I would think that the odds are not in favor of the Red Lion Grog House. It’s not that they’re doing anything wrong - it’s just that all the things they’re doing right are already being done elsewhere, and are being done there better. It’s hard enough to convince the culinarily non-adventurous citizens of Indianapolis - and that’s the vast majority of them, I’m sorry to say - to bypass the national chain restaurants; making them brave the sometimes sketchy environs of Fountain Square might just be a bridge too far. And that’s too bad, because the food is excellent.

1043 Virginia Avenue

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