Review #1 —————————————— June 2004

charred bovine matter between two starch planes*


Well, even though I can be had for 6 dead presidents at Hardee's nowadays...wha?, you mean it costs only 3 and change? Sorry, bunkee, they've trashed even THAT award-winning sandwich for what they fancy as Thickburgers. Bother... Hmmm. Well, still...,I used to be had for that pretty good deal, and I'M still no food snob swapping visits between The Bosphorus, R Bistro, Classic Kitchen and Thai Cafe with White Castle. A sack o' Belly Bombers will get it for me just about any ole day, even though they are a far cry from the beauties I used to get for 12 cents in my youth (and then there was the once fabled Nickel Nook burgers....based in towns along the old railroad by the same name, they were poor man's White Castles, but at 5 coppers apiece their onion-laden taste couldn't be beat.)

Simply the beast!

But for a really sublime burger, I mean Angus burger, the best-kept secret is at Conner Prarie's Persimmons, which over the years has fashioned itself from rustic home cooking focusing on local ingredients to a high concept, upscale dinner joint (salmon on cedar plank, etc.) under the not insignificant prestidigitation of chef Jeff Jackson. But lunch has its charms as well from the seasonal appearance of the heavenly corn-dusted fried green tomatoes (best I've had anywhere...crunchy, yet succulent) and the aforementioned burger. Char-grilled to perfection to order on a Kaiser roll and best had with the optional double-smoked uber-thick Applewood bacon. The sides of either onion straws or french fries are both delish and the pomme frites, in particular, would be at home in a Joachim Splichal kitch, for any gourmet spuds aficionado reading this. The meat is ground on the premises, not by a mass market slaughterhouse, so do yourself a treat and order the cow patty at least medium, if not medium rare, or rare if blood does not freak you out. The flavor is worth it. No mad cow here, the offal contamination factor is still overseas basically and its domestic potential lies seemingly in the big boys' butcheries, not in mom-&-pops like Persimmons. But even well-done these are fine burgers.

Yummy burgs, yucky bugs!

Also while in Fishers, you can't go wrong at the fun Famous Betty's on 96th (last year they expanded to another installation over at 96th and Keystone behind Bahama Breeze, called Famous Jack's), where they have no freezers, because the meat is fresh 24-7 and served piping hot as you wait on Thomas' English muffins with the fixin's. The bacon is fine too, And the cheese is cheddar! All permutations are divine. The double is a meal's worth for the mighty hungry. The starch du jour, as in every jour, is basically fried taters, not at all greasy, tho. a nice mix of crispity and mushy potatoes served to you in a mini-skillet. One order goes a long way, two folks can easily split one with two sandwiches and be filled. Go early and peruse all the Bettys that bedeck the walls of this grub grotto, see if you can place them all. If you've a Betty, Elizabeth or Bette in your life, you can bring a framed picture and have it hung in a local section in the rear, right there with owner Steve Wechter's mum for whom the place was named. Yours truly's maternal unit festoons the section as well. My only complaint is that they steadfastly refuse to lower the sneeze shield on the fixin's bar (it is WELL above, say, a tot's facial level), so I steer clear of here during flu season. This reviewer and his wife have brought the matter to their attention to total insouciance.

Fishers of meat.

Fishers seems to have a florabundance of really good burger fare, not only sporting the aforefmentioned two establishments, but the long-standing The Roost, a breakfast/luncheonette spin-off of local behemoth Sahm's, where one can have The Hoss, a full half-pound burger on their famed bakery bun (slightly sweet and all the better for it), this is best had LTM methinks. A much better than pedestrian bullwich, but even at that, the aforementioned are far, far superior.

C.R. Heroes, a great new family pub and eatery in, where else...Fishers, has, among other good offerings, a pretty damned good sirloin burger. Ever since Charly Dogs bit the big one, I just can't get past Heroes' great foot-long, 1.5 inch thick dog, best in town, now that Charly Dogs is dedunct. This place is a kick to just read the walls and observe the thematic toasting to heroes from all walks, local, international & fictional. Tell Liz or Hugh that Rex sent ya, they's real good folks.

Chain, chain, chain...

Then there's the old standby, Steak-n-Shake. slower 'n' freak service and a piss-poor separation of smoking sections, but a triple steakburger cooked very well with crisp edges and everything (LTM, pickle, onion, mustard, at the very least) on the bun, Yum. The famed skinny fries are a mixed bag these days, sometimes arriving at your table cold or old. Too bad they used to be worth it alone.

Another regional chain has recently made noise in the metro, and they hail from the white underbelly of Dairyland...Wisconsin. That'd be Culver's. They are noted for their custard, and while they don't have the daily varieties of that local warm-weather phenom, Ritter's, their taste has 'em beat hands down. Real custard, in the tradition of, say, St. Louie's Ted Drewes. None of that weird after taste. But as far burgers, Culver's serves up THE crispest, juiciest, patties, one, two or three at a time on what they call Butterburgers, which are as they sound, housemade buns, slathered in butter and then toasted and served up with the best kind of fries there are, krinkle kuts. The cheese is real Wisconsin fresh, no faux industrial crap here. And the fixin's are fresh. The menu is deep if you are not in the mood for a burger either; the other day they served up a Walleye & chips special that was more than substantial & not poorly executed either.

Johnny Rocket's is a national retro chain that seems fun, and I guess it is if you are into that sort of thing, but, me personally, I am so over the throwback malt shop thing. It's done better in the theme parks or at competitors like Ruby's in California and for my money, for atmosphere and local authenticity, I'd rather drop my coin at the homegrown, long-suffering Fountain Diner down in resurgent Fountain Square. The Rocket food ain't all THAT fab either.

White Spud Coated & A Pink Crusted Ration in Mega-meat-aville

A chain-to-be, built by none other than that Son of a Son of a Sailor, Jimmy Buffett, Cheeseburger in Paradise is a sun-drenched, fun thematic shindig in a remote, hard-to-find-&-get-to cul-de-sack (sic) off of an I-65 exit south of Indianapolis. All this reviewer had on his lone visit were the minis, like Slyders from the altar of White Castle. They were just okay, but judging from the other menu offerings they looked FAR more representative & choice.

Designer patties

Googie's tries hard, but loses a lot in execution, should be WAY more flavor given all of the combos they offer. A shame. Given the name, too bad a little imagination wasn't used and they didn't, like, build the place with a nod to Googie architecture. Jack Shipp's, which seems to have shipped off into oblivion was another valiant effort to be all toppings to all peoples be fell short of concept in actuality. Not as poorly as Googie's, but I think the fact that it didn't have LuLu's, Broad Ripple Steak House, Midtown Grill magnate Hamada Ibrahim's money clip bankrolling the venture, plus THAT location's access sucked!  The there's The Well-Dressed Burger, Indy's "short-lived" (in fact, did it ever get off the ground?)  attempt to cash in on the Kobe burger mania and over-priced patty pretense  that was so in vogue not all that long ago, thanks to the Gotham steakhouse that sold a $40+ burger, billed as "The World's Most Decadent Hamburger". I didn't bite! Our own Peterson's in Fishers has recently offered a Kobe burger in their bar as an early bird dining special for somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 bucks! Same revered meat, less the tood.

A coupla Westside legends

I have been remiss until recently to try the much revered Mug n Bun, so I just HAD to take the plunge, cause I likes the road chow, especially the bohemian kind, even though I've dined on Limoges, Waterford and all that high-falootin' crap. So we went, parked did the headlights thing and partook. I was not colored impressed. Folks, this was average burger fare, and sub-par accompaniments to boot.

I've yet to make it to the equally beloved Westsider, Working Man's Friend, and frankly, based upon my MnB experience, I'm afraid to try, for I hate to be let down yet again. I have real high hopes for this place, given its sobriquet and attendant lore. I will have to bite the pullet and go, but I'm holding my wet finger to the wind and waiting for a sign.

Those were more than salad days

No mention of burgers in the Circle City would be replete without mentioning the twin failed Self-ATO burger behemoths, Fuddruckers and Flakey Jake's (both with fuller and more varied menus to beguile, indeed). These were large, juicy and just exquisite metings of meat, handed to you on a large platter that resembled an inverted Frisbee™ from a giant's Playskool™ set. You would then gambol over to the teeming "fixin's bars. And just load up, and there was more than just basic twoallbeefpattiesspecialsaucelettucecheesepicklesonionsonasesameseedbun type stuff, all sorts f cheeses and chili sauce (Midwesterners know this not to be a sauce at all, nor another to do with chili powder nor chiles, but it is a red, sweet 'n' sour pickle relish Uncomparably nonpareil. Why these chains failed here in meat-&-potatoesland and in chain heaven astonishes me. They are still thriving as close as suburban Chicago , Columbus & Detroit.

All other burgers I've tried in the city pale next to any I've not cited.

Papaya Dreams:

Our town (and all points east of California & Arizona, for that matter) needs a great burger chain called Islands, which would put them ALL to shame. They do it right and have for about a quarter of a decade. They grind their own meat, so I feel confident that I can safely eat their ground beef medium rare, which is how they suggest it be eaten and, to be frank, the tastiest preparation of the cow. This from a man who has always enjoyed the meat as charred and crisp as possible all my life. The fries are transcendental in their bounty, seasoning and cook! The shakes are tops and not at all faux. And for a change of pace, they do a mean fish taco, a regional specialty. If you are ever out West, DO drop by one and partake. Then join in on the karmic campaign to get one HERE!!!!

This column written in memoriam for the once more deceased Big Shef. Sniff, sniff...

* - apologies to Beldar Conehead

Rex, aka the FudGai
Indianapolis, IN

I'm stuffed , take me back to the foyer ---->


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