The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Food

October 3, 2012

Downtown destination

Colts-themed restaurant is inviting to football fans year-round

INDIANAPOLIS — Colts fans looking for a pre-game dining spot, an inviting atmosphere to watch away games or a hangout to cure the offseason blues should look no further than the Indianapolis Colts Grille.

The Grille, at 110 W. Washington St. in the heart of downtown Indianapolis, opened in 2011, a first-of-its-kind venture for the National Football League’s Colts. More than just a sports-themed restaurant, the Grille is a destination for fans, families and foodies alike.

Whether you enter by the spacious patio featuring plenty of umbrella-covered tables or use the Circle Centre Mall-connected entrance lined with autographs from Colts and NFL greats, you’ll be welcomed by a pleasant and eager staff and sleek, modern restaurant. On the way to your table, make sure to sneak a peek at the bar, appropriately football-shaped, and the private party lounge, complete with couches and a gigantic television.

Diners will find The Grille spacious, and a wall of windows facing the street adds to the feeling of openness. This is a space designed for packing people in without patrons feeling crowded. Dividers are nestled out of the way, ready to be drawn out to create private rooms for large parties.

Decked out in Colts blue and football brown, there is not a seat in the dining room without a view of a large-screen television. Handy tags featuring team logos tell diners which game will be on what TV. During my first visit for an early dinner with my husband, the viewing options ranged from the NFL Network to basketball and soccer. Patrons should be prepared to talk above a gentle roar from the crowds, particularly on game day.

The last element of décor that will draw diners’ eyes is the smattering of pictures of Colts heroes. While many of these players — for example, Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday — are no longer with the team, it warms the heart to see fan favorites captured in these moments of glory.

The upbeat, energetic and classic atmosphere is inviting as the staff, who quickly showed my husband, George, and me to our table. We were in an ideal spot, near the big wall of windows and within view of more than a half dozen TVs.

Sights seen and bellies rumbling like the crowds in Lucas Oil Stadium on Sundays, it was time to check out what really makes or breaks a restaurant — its food.

To call the menu eclectic falls short in describing its amazing variety. Along with traditional “game food” like burgers and wings, there are appetizers and entrees clearly created by a chef with a taste for Asian, Caribbean and Mediterranean flavors. There is also a drink menu, with an ever-growing list of draft beers and 32 adult beverages, most with Indiana-influenced names, such as the Brickyard, Lucas Oil, Butler Bulldog, Open Wheel and Hoosier. For the adventurous, the “Game Burger” menu offers antelope burgers on Mondays, bison on Tuesdays, Wagyu Kobe on Wednesdays, elk on Thursdays and fried alligator on Fridays.

After perusing an appetizer menu that features 15 items, my husband and I opted for some traditional gametime fare, boneless wings. To sample some of the menu’s international flavor, we selected the Moroccan Pomegranate BBQ sauce. The wings arrived a short time later accompanied by the customary celery, carrots and side of ranch. But tradition ended there.

Instead of hunks of meats, these wings were more like strips of chicken breast. The skin was crispy, as you would expect in bone-in wings, and the batter was light enough to be almost nonexistent. The sauce, sweet yet smoky, was delectable, even to my dining partner who typically shuns Mediterranean-inspired flavors. I look forward to trying more of the Grille’s wing sauce offerings, including Hot Parmesan, Wing Dust and Spicy Orange, in the future.

Choosing an entrée was a difficult task given the wide selection — and desire to try just about everything. Several items on the burgers and sandwiches menu were especially enticing, like the Bangkok Burger, topped with fried potato straws, avocado, sweet and spicy Asian sauce and wasabi mayo; the Cabo Burger, topped with lime and tomato-spiked whole tiger shrimp, pepper jack cheese and guacamole; and the Breakfast Burger, served with a fried egg, bacon marmalade and mozzarella cheese.

The soups, salads and flatbreads menu provided lighter options. The Bulgogi Korean BBQ Beef Salad with water chestnuts and whole bamboo shoots was intriguing, as was the Warm Curry Chicken Salad with almonds, craisins, grape tomatoes, red peppers and cucumbers in a homemade curry dressing. And in addition to traditional Margherita and Meat Lovers, the flatbreads were highlighted by a Candied Apple offering with thinly sliced Granny Smith apples, brie cheese, toasted almonds and caramel sauce. You can add grilled chicken, filet tips, shrimp or blackened ahi tuna to any flatbread.

There was also an ample selection of specialties, pastas and seafood dishes. The Ultimate Mac and Cheese promised a very grown-up version of the childhood staple. The Southern Balsamic Chicken, tempura battered, fried and drizzled with balsamic maple syrup, sounded simply sinful. The peanut coconut drizzle alone made the Sweet Thai Chicken Meatballs and Noodles a contender. And the Orange Grouper, with a spicy Mandarin orange glaze and topping of Mandarin oranges, very nearly won my vote.

Most of the entrees were around $14 to $16, an excellent price for downtown Indy dining.  Pricier items included the Skirt Steak Chimichurri with caramelized plantains at $24.99 and the 16-ounce New York Strip with garlic mashed potatoes and vegetables for $34.99.

My husband had no trouble deciding on a main course. He couldn’t resist the one item that made me cringe — the “Soon-To-Be-Famous Deep-Fried Cheeseburger.” Looking for something a little less detrimental to my arteries, I asked our server if I’d like the Jerk Pork Tenderloin with a Caribbean watermelon chili relish.

“If it’s not the blackened tuna, that’s the one you want,” he said.

So, with his endorsement, I selected the pork tenderloin, eager to taste not only the jerk spices but the watermelon relish.

I was not disappointed. My entrée arrived piled high with rice, vegetables and a large portion of pork. The loin was tender and moist, and its jerk spice rub was spicy enough to set the tastebuds tingling but not overwhelm the dish’s lighter flavors. The mix of Caribbean watermelon, chilies and onions was the perfect counter to the spice of the rub. This was definitely a dish I’d have again.

My husband was just as pleased with his deep-fried cheeseburger, which included a side of fries, pickles, lettuce and tomato. He wasn’t sure how to approach actually eating the monstrosity at first — even the bun had been deep-fried. But he cut the battered mound into quarters and discovered that, along with the bun and burger, the concoction also included cheese, pickle and a special sauce inside. While my husband found it delicious, it was a bit heavy to eat in one seating and we took a good portion of it home with us.  

Despite being unable to clean our plates, both of us were eager to sample something from the Grille’s bountiful dessert menu. My husband selected Snickers cheesecake, one of the last two slices available. The chef chooses a different variety of cheesecake each day. I consider the gelato and Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate cake. I was tempted by the One-Pound of Towering Carrot Cake, big enough for two. But since I was only one, I settled for the Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Bar.

Or, as I found out when my dessert arrived, FOUR bars of pure heaven. The chocolate ganache bars were topped with a divine and extremely rich chocolate peanut butter mousse and garnished with a coconut peanut butter drizzle. The chilled, velvety goodness reminded me of the Clark bars my grandfather would keep in the freezer and dole out on hot summer days. Each bite was the perfect marriage of the best three flavors in the world. 
My husband had two words to describe the Snickers cheesecake: monstrous and delicious. “Slice” isn’t adequate to describe its enormity as it encompassed almost the entire plate. Like any good (and smart) husband, he allowed me a taste, and I too was impressed by the smoothness and sweetness of the confection. A chocolate graham crust complemented the bits of Snickers throughout the dessert.

Our bellies full and tastebuds sated, our conversation turned to our next visit. I’m thinking game day, surrounded by fans wearing blue and white. Maybe some buffalo shrimp wontons and blackened tuna. Perhaps a Lucas Oil cocktail. And definitely the Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Bar.

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