When I think of culinary capitals in the United States, New Orleans is right at the top of that list. We have recently been blessed by the arrival of chef John Maxwell who worked for years at New Orleans’ Mother’s and Antoine’s restaurants. John is now at The Bar, located on the corner of 9th and Pennsylvania streets at the base of the Ambassador Hotel Apartments in downtown Indianapolis. He is developing a menu that will certainly please those who appreciate Cajun cooking.
Fred and I were joined at The Bar by two fellow counselors, Alex Will and James Bell, of Indy’s corporation counsel and Bingham McHale respectively. The underlying purpose of the meeting was to discuss bar association business and thus what a better place to do so than The Bar. We accomplished the bar business but we also succeeded at producing lots of laughs at and with each other. For example, advising James about buying a new smart phone while he diligently worked, with his face about 1 inch from the table, to get the rollerball thingy back in the face of his Blackberry, circa 2002, was really funny but also slightly painful. Anyway, to the food!
The Bar is technically “a bar” but does not feel pub-like or sports-bar like. The décor of the entire place is refined enough that the actual bar does not dominate the scenery despite its largeness. Our waiter immediately notified us that the kitchen prides itself with fresh cooking and thus we should not be in a huge rush. The meals actually came out in due course, with the exception of one appetizer that showed a bit late, but we were still at lunch for an hour. He explained the specials included an oyster po-boy, beef vegetable soup, and horseradish encrusted salmon. The salmon will soon be a permanent addition to the menu. He directed us to the placard on the table where we found additional appetizer specials. We immediately put in an order for the alligator balls and then added an order of the pepper butter shrimp with blue cheese for the table. The alligator balls came out promptly and were atop a Creole honey mustard sauce that had a small kick to it. The moist alligator was shelled in crispy breading that was quite flavorful.
Next were the entrees, and we were all very satisfied except for Fred, whose French dip was pretty blah. No worries though, I have learned the French dip will soon be replaced by a more succulent pot roast sandwich and promises to be much richer and satisfying. Alex cleaned his plate of a huge oyster po-boy sandwich. The perfect amount of spiced breading and hot sauce did not override the oysters but made for a perfect combination of all the flavors. Apparently the chef uses only peanut oil and ensures his seafood is cold at the time of preparation to enhance all the flavors. James, after he had fixed his Wang-generation phone, dug into the red beans and rice with the hot sausage. The sausage accompanies the red beans and rice on the side and is presumably cooked separately from the red beans and rice. James did not eat all the sausage but left hardly any of the red beans and rice which is an endorsement for the dish. Finally, I had the fried shrimp sandwich and fries. The coating on the shrimp obviously contains spiced corn meal, which I discovered was a Zataran’s batter, and thus complements the shrimp rather than enveloping it. I don’t think I’d get the sandwich again but rather just the fried shrimp, which is also an entree. The fries are thin-sliced and also cooked in the peanut oil and delicious.
During our meal one of the best items arrived – the pepper butter shrimp with blue cheese. A very spicy sauce with just a touch of breading on the shrimp and crumbled blue cheese distracted Fred from his blah French dip sandwich. The sauce was like a buffalo sauce but much richer due to the butter. This was no corporate buffalo sauce is all I’m saying. We all were impressed by this dish and the kitchen was forgiven for its tardiness.
Wouldn’t a big ol’ plate of jambalaya temporarily cure those winter blues? Grab a colleague, friend, opposing counsel, or anyone and entertain your taste buds with a little Mardi Gras for your mouth at The Bar.•
Fred Vaiana and Jennifer M. Lukemeyer practice at Voyles Zahn Paul Hogan & Merriman in Indianapolis, focusing in criminal defense. Vaiana is a 1992 graduate of the John Marshall Law School in Chicago. Lukemeyer earned her J.D. from Southern Methodist University in 1994 and is active in the Indianapolis Bar Association, Indianapolis Inn of Courts, and the Teen Court Program. The opinions expressed in this column are the authors’.