Rant – Valet Parking on the North Side

Picture this…  You’re taking your spouse, date, etc. out to a nice dinner in the Northern Indianapolis Suburbs .  When you pull into the parking list you see the Valet Parking sign…  What do you do?

Me?  I drive on by and find a parking spot.  In most cases parking is available right there in front of the restaurant.  I assure you Mr./Ms. restauranteur, I know how to park my car and I’m more than capable of walking the 100 feet to the front door of your place of business.  I don’t need to hide all of my valuables in the glove box and give the valet key to a total stranger you have employed to park my car in the same spot for me…

Now in the case of some crafty establishments (Bonefish for example) they block off 25% of the already too small parking lot and you are all but forced to partake in their elaborate scheme to squeeze a few more gratuity dollars from you.  Don’t get me wrong, I actually LIKE eating at Bonefish, I just think their valet parking service is crap.

Some of the higher end eateries (Peterson’s, Eddie Merlot’s and Sullivan’s) also have this service.  The funny thing is they are surrounded by parking and it takes longer to get your car than it does to just walk to it!

Valet parking at the “Fashion Mall” cracks me up too…

Head to downtown Indy or a city like Chicago where parking is all but non-existent and the Valet concept makes more sense.  I still self-park when I can but have been known to turn my keys over from time to time (especially when the weather is bad (and I tip well for it)).

What’s the appeal of Valet parking on the north side?  I just don’t get it.  Please educate me…

Indianapolis – Eddie Merlot’s

Last Friday, after a long work week, we received an invite from our good friends to go to dinner (good timing!).  Several options were on the table but one stood out, Eddie Merlot’s.  Having never dined there but hearing lots of good things we grabbed a reservation (surprisingly easy to do on a Friday night) and headed out.

I declined the Valet Parking since there were parking spaces right by the door (**rant in a future blog post**) & we met our friends in the bar.  The hostess greeted us and said our table was ready whenever we were (good start so far since many places over book and you still wait for a table even with a reservation.  I’m talking to YOU Bonefish & PF Changs!).

After a few minutes of catching up with our friends we headed to our table and met our waiter who was very friendly.  Since this was our first time at Eddie’s he explained the concept of the restaurant and offered some suggestions from the menu.

We started with a few appetizers for all of us to share including the Shrimp Cocktail, BBQ Shrimp & Fried Green Tomatoes (the last one being part of the Farm-2-Fork promotion currently going on).  The Shrimp Cocktail is brought out on a bed of dry ice and is quite the head turner.  The Shrimp were very large, nicely chilled and accompanied by a spicy (horseradish) sauce.  The BBQ Shrimp were wrapped in bacon, grilled & covered in a tasty BBQ sauce.

Finally, the Fried Green Tomatoes had a nice tasting coating and the dipping sauce was pretty good.  The problem was they were sliced a little too thick for the amount of time they were cooked.  This resulted in a fairly raw and crunchy tomato.  We mentioned this to our waiter who quickly sent the manager over.  He agreed with the thickness issue, exchanged some pleasantries and promptly removed the item from the tab without another word (continuing the good service for the evening).

Here’s how the appetizers stacked up (I’m only ranking what I actually tasted):

  • Shrimp Cocktail 4.5 out of 5
    • There were four pieces in the order.  Six would have resulted in a perfect score
  • BBQ Shrimp 4.5 out of 5
    • Same comment as above
  • Fried Green Tomatoes 2 out of 5
    • These had potential but were sliced to thick & not cooked long enough

Three out of the four of us at the table had steak,  two filets and one rib-eye.  I can’t pass up a quality rib eye & this one was no exception.  Perfectly cooked med-rare and covered in sautéed mushrooms, just the way I like it.  This was a good steak & I didn’t want it to end.

The fourth member of our party ordered off the Farm-2-Table menu and selected the “fried” chicken.  It was more like a quartered chicken that was roasted and stuffed with Swiss cheese and ham (reminiscent of a chicken cordon-blue).  The small sample I had was very good.  One of the better chicken dishes I’ve tasted in a while.  This may be my selection on our next visit if the promotion is still going on.

Our sides included more sautéed mushrooms , asparagus , steamed broccoli and truffle Parmesan fries.  Everything was good with the exception of the fries.  Our waiter even said they were not his first choice but I was being stubborn and ordered them anyway.  He was right.  The fries were oily and pretty bland.  Having been warned, I learned my lesson and did not make a fuss.

Scoring for the main course:

  • Rib-eye (med-rare) 5 out of 5
    • Great flavor, perfectly cooked and nicely trimmed
  • Filet (med-rare & medium)
    • I was told it was cooked perfectly & that’s not always easy to do with this cut
  • Chicken 5 out of 5
    • My bite was juicy, tender and left me wanting to order it in the future
  • Mushrooms 5 out of 5
    • Great flavor and a nice mixture of fungi
  • Asparagus 5 out of 5
    • I had one sprig, pretty hard to screw this one up
  • Broccoli
    • I’m told it was good but I did not waste room in my belly for this
  • Truffle Fries 1 out of 5
    • These could have been much better but, even if they were, still not worth $8

We’re already somewhat food drunk but the good conversation and nice atmosphere lead us into dessert (something I rarely get).  My wife and I split the Red Velvet cake & our friends ordered the Apple Peach Crisp and Berry Cobbler.  Three of the four of us had coffee which is something I find myself getting more and more after a big meal.  I know it’s a little old fashioned but I like the nostalgia.

Dessert Ranking:

  • Red Velvet Cake 5 out of 5
    • There was enough for all four of us to share.  VERY good and just as good the next day
  • Apple Peach Crisp
    • I was told this was really good
  • Berry Cobbler
    • Another good choice

Our overall first impression of Eddie Merlot’s was quite favorable and we are going to definitely add this to our short list of places to go for an upscale night out.  Our daughter has a birthday (14 yrs) coming up and this may be a good place to take her to celebrate the occasion.  She’s turning into quite the foodie and I don’t think the quality will be lost on her at all.

This is definitely not one of the least expensive meals you can get in the Keystone area.  Our bill topped the $200 mark before gratuity but that included a couple of cocktails, apps, entrees, sides and a desert.  We definitely ordered a lot of food and will probably be a little more restrained on the next visit.

I’ll have to say that Eddie Merlot’s has lived up the praise it’s been given.  From the friendly staff to the quality of the food and relaxed atmosphere it has left a very positive impression on us and we’re already looking forward to visiting again.

Eddie Merlot's on Urbanspoon

Hands On – Blackberry Bold 9930

Having practically grown up with technology (my first computer was an Apple IIc in the mid-80’s) I always get excited when I hear about new or updated products.  The mobile phone market, especially the “smart” phone, has exploded over the past few years and manufacturers are pumping out new makes and models at an astounding pace.

Once at the top of the mountain Research in Motion (RIM) has had it’s share of setbacks mainly from the folks at Apple who have found a way to brainwash people into thinking the iPhone is the only phone to have.  I don’t want to turn this into a manufacturer bashing as I feel the company’s at the top of the pile are there on their own merits.  I just feel like a physical keyboard makes the Blackberry feel more like a tool than a toy…  I do, however, love my iPod Touch and use it for all things media (and gaming).

Where was I?…   Oh yeah, Blackberry!  After a long, and painful to watch, slide out global dominance the brainiac at RIM have a new line of phones rolling out to phone vendors all over the USA.  Will these new models help prop up the best thing to come out of the Great White North since Bob and Doug McKenzie and the Kids in the Hall?  Let’s find out…

First of all, I have to say the expanded keyboard of the 9930 is unreal.  It’s slightly wider than past 9000 series phones and a better fit for my hands than the Bold 9650 that I just retired.  Key travel & tactile feedback are exactly as they should be (present but not over done) & I see myself typing longer emails and blog posts with it.

This is the first Blackberry with a full time QWERTY keyboard and a touch screen (if you don’t count the Torch “slider” model).  Having used something similar in a last life (i.e. Palm Treo 700x) the idea of keyboard and touch screen is not new.  What is new is having the ability to use a track pad, and multi-touch screen that negates the need for a stylus (remember those?).

The Blackberry Bold 9930 is also the thinnest and lightest unit ever made by RIM.  The metal wrapped sides is slightly reminiscent of the latest generation iPhone.  RIM choose to locate the antenna on the bottom edge of the unit to avoid the dreaded death grip that had been an issue with past smartphone models.

Rounding out all of this Fan Boy praise I need to mention the lightning quick processor speed, OS7, built in compass and the HD video recording capabilities.

So, is there anything wrong with the 9930?  In a word, yes.  It’s nothing earth shattering and most of it will probably be fixed over time but this phone is not perfect.

One of my first complaints is the reduction of convenience keys to a single button placed awkwardly on the lower right side.  These keys on past units could be programmed for many functions including application launch and voice commands.  Third party tools extended this capability to allow for multiple functions dictated by the number of sequential presses.  One press for the camera, two presses for the calendar, etc.

The 5MP camera has whats called “Extended Depth of Field” and is fixed focus.  It’s not a show stopper but your pictures will definitely look a lot different with everything in front and back of the subject in focus.

The 9930 is the first Blackberry to incorporate Near Field communications (NFC).  It’s a newer technology that has a lot of potential for simplified transactions, data exchange, and connections with a touch of the phone to a special device or tag.  This is all great but Verizon has chosen to DISABLE this feature.  This reminds me of the days where they would disable Bluetooth on phones.  The good news is the NFC hardware is there and leaked OS upgrades appear to enable the feature so all is not lost.  The adoption of NFC is also still in its infancy so I’m not missing much.

Lastly, there are the non-working apps.  OS7 requires some modifications on the part of the developers and as of today about 15% of my installed applications are not functioning properly.  I’m hoping this is a short-term problem & anxiously await to get Pandora working again!  (ha ha).

Specs and pricing for the Blackberry Bold 9930 can be found here.  It’s also available on other carriers under the Bold 9900 model number (same phone, different carrier radio type).

I’ll plan on posting a follow-up in a few months after I get some 9930 time under by belt.  If it’s anything like the first 48-hours I think I’ll be back here singing it’s praises.


Chicago – Lou Malnati’s Pizza

When in Rome, or should I say when in Chicago, there are a few things you have to do.  Pizza is one of those things.  On a recent business trip to the Windy City I was introduced to Lou Malnati’s Chicago Style Pizza.  I’ve had pizza from the local competitors (Giordanos, Pequod’s, Gino’s) which I always enjoyed so I was not sure how this place would stack up.

We arrived around 7pm to a full house.  I’m not one to wait more than 10 minutes to be seated but waiting is the norm in Chicago so I went with the flow.  One interesting thing I noticed right away was the recommendation to order your pizza while you waited for your tableMore on this later…

If I’m at a place for the first time and with someone who’s been there before I always defer the ordering to them.  We ordered The “Malnati Chicago Classic” which is described as:

“Lou Malnati’s is legendary for its pizza in the pan, and here, sausage is the specialty of the house. Made with Lou’s exclusive blend of lean sausage, some extra cheese, and vine-ripened tomato sauce on our famous Buttercrust.”

Lou’s has a small bar with all the classics including one of my favorite local brews (Goose Island 312 IPA).  After securing a pint we reflected on the day (IT Conference) and talked a little business strategy (this was, after-all, a business trip).

After about 20 minutes we were seated and advised that our pizza had been “partially cooked” when we ordered it earlier.  We would have to wait another 15 minutes for the pie to be completed.  Given the size of the Chicago Deep Dish this “par cooking” is a great way to greatly shorten the wait for your pie (and is common in other deep dish pizza joints).    Another round of beers and our dinner was served.

I always forget just how big Chicago Pizza’s can be.  The circumference is normal but the thickness is unreal.  This particular pizza preparation has a layer of tomato “relish” on the top that really sets it off.  The VERY fresh tasting acidic  crushed tomatoes offset the richness of the cheese, sausage and crust.

The cheese and sausage ratio was ridiculously high in this pizza.  I particularly enjoyed the sausage since it had a somewhat mild taste that blended with the cheese very well.  Even better the Buttercrust has a nice firm, almost cracker like, texture that held up to the toppings.

Overall this was a great Chicago Pizza experience and a very filling on at that.  By the time our cab dropped us off at the hotel I almost needed to be rolled up to my room.

I always like trying new things and especially variations of existing favorites.  In this case I was introduced to yet another “style” of Chicago Style pizza and it was worth the wait!

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria (River North) on Urbanspoon