Amy fed Jackson this past Sunday afternoon at a church luncheon, so that she and I could decide on a place to eat lunch for ourselves without having to take into consideration whether or not chicken fingers would be on the menu; and then she suggested Mimi Blue Meatballs, a new meatball restaurant that opened last week in the 800 block of Mass Ave, a block that used to sit somewhat apart from the rest of the avenue, with its mixed bag of utilitarian city buildings, a smattering of art galleries, and, all the way at the end, just before it curves away to 10th Street, the R Bistro restaurant. All of those things are still there, but they have been joined by Black Market, Indy Reads Books, The Best Chocolate in Town, Homespun, Natural Born Juicers, and a relocated Yats, among other places of business that have emerged in recent years.
Thanks to the Cultural Trail, this block of Mass Ave is no longer a dead end, but rather both a destination and a throughway: the Cultural Trail connects with the Monon Trail if you follow that curve around to 10th Street. From there you can take the Monon Trail all the way up to Carmel, if you’re that adventurous. (It becomes the Monon Greenway once you cross into Hamilton County. Those folks take pretension to a whole new level.) R Bistro and Black Market are widely regarded as two of the finest restaurants in the city, and Indy Reads Books might be the city’s best bookstore. And holy computer coincidences, Batman! Indianapolis Monthly posted an article about that end of Mass Ave on their website last week.
And now we have a meatball restaurant. Just how much can you do with meatballs? you might well be inclined to ask. They make a heck of a sandwich, or an add-on to a pasta dish—but we’ve got sub shops and Italian restuarants seemingly every fifty yards around here. I suppose the first thing to do would be to set the tone, so the only place on the menu where you see the word meatballs is in the restaurant’s name at the top. The rest of the time, their signature foodstuff is referred to as—wait for it—balls. Sometimes they’re served with a loaf, which would just be called bread at someplace less elegant and refined.
Don’t get me (entirely) wrong. I like some good toilet humor as much as the next juvenile, but I feel like they’re not even winking at you here. You use a marker on the menu to indicate which balls you want to put in your mouth (sorry—see what I mean?), but then they plop the whole thing down in a room that’s supposed to look fancy (reportedly 1940s-era New York City) and hit you with cloth napkins and two differently sized forks. Oh, and there’s a television mounted in the corner, so you don’t miss any of the game.
Now for some of the disclaimers. We don’t usually get to restaurants this soon after they have opened, and even though I’m not in the biz, I know enough about the biz to know that new restaurants are rarely firing on all cylinders right out of the gate. I’ve read more than one review that attempts to evaluate a new eatery based on the potential demonstrated by what is on offer during the first few weeks it’s open. (I don’t know if there is a term for it in the restaurant industry—in theatre, they call it previews. It doesn’t work exactly the same way with restaurants as it does with stage productions, but the idea is similar.)
We were told that the entire menu would be available eventually, but for now, the 4-Baller was not, due to the kitchen had to get used to the basic menu first. That seemed odd. The menu consists of four things. 1) Balls - This is three of the same meatball served with one sauce, with bread on the side; 2) 4-Baller - This is your choice of four meatballs with your choice of sauces, with bread on the side; 3) Sliders - This is one meatball, one sauce, one Brioche bun; and 4) Sandwiches - This is three of the same meatball, with one sauce, served inside the bread that was on the side in numbers 1 and 2 above. Also, they put cheese on it.
The same five meatballs are available for each item, along with the same five sauces. It's not like they had to learn new meatballs for the 4-Baller or anything—and it's not like this is rocket science to begin with. They're dealing in meatballs and bread, with a few sides. You know they're making big batches of each sauce during prep each day; and even if they're hand-rolling each meatball during service (from meat mixtures made during prep), a four-meatball combination should not be so complicated that they can't serve it until the kitchen gets the hang of everything else.
Mimi Blue Meatballs has a neighbor just a few doors down, the aforementioned R Bistro, that serves a brand-new menu every week. There are other restuarants around the city, including Recess, Bluebeard, and Late Harvest Kitchen, that come up with a new menu Every. Single. Day. But you know what the odd thing is? I liked Mimi Blue Meatballs way more than it sounds like I did from what I have written here. I told myself I was going to try to be nice, that I was going to give them the benefit of the doubt for having just opened all of five days before we visited; but the more I work on this, the more it settles in that they punted on fully 25% of their menu.
But enough about that. Let’s see if I can focus on the 75% of the menu that was available long enough to give you some idea of what I thought of what I actually got to eat. We each started with the Market Greens salad from the Sides menu, and it’s exactly what it sounds like— mixed greens with a few slices of grape tomato and some crumbles of mild blue cheese, and your choice of sweet or balsamic vinaigrette. This was an excellent beginning—fresh, earthy greens that tasted like they might well have come out of the ground that morning; sweet, flavorful grape tomatoes; and just enough herb-y vinaigrette to dress the salad without drowning it.
The only downside—I guess you must have seen this coming, right?—was that it was all over way too quickly, a fairly skimpy portion for the $5 à la carte price. The sliders, too, were perhaps a tad gaunt for the $3 cover charge. I went for a Classic meatball slider with garlic cream sauce, and a Vegetarian meatball slider with mushroom gravy. Each meatball is about the size of a billiard ball, and they are perched so precariously inside the brioche buns that a toothpick is required to keep the thing together; and each had both too much and too little sauce. There was too much sauce to pick the thing up and eat it like a sandwich, and too little to get much of an idea of the sauce’s flavor.
The meatballs, on the other hand, were something on the order of flavor bombs. The Classic tasted, well…like a classic meatball—a mixture of meats and seasonings so perfectly balanced that it just tastes…like a meatball. The vegetarian was not much like a meatball, except in shape—but didn’t disappoint. I have to go back to that Star article for a description of its contents, however, since the menu is as short on descriptions as it is possible to be: peas, carrots, corn, ginger, garlic, cumin, cayenne, lemon, mashed potatoes, and hash browns—and then deep fried, rather than pan fried. Those flavors all blended together too, though the cumin stood out and there was just a bit of heat from the cayenne. The texture was a little bit gummy, like a dense hush puppy; but overall, it was an interesting taste sensation—and the kitchen should be commended for at least attempting to throw vegetarians a bone. Here’s hoping that they eventually come up with something to do with tofu and seitan.
870 Massachusetts Avenue