With the Super Bowl just a flip of the calendar away, our focus this month is on newer downtown restaurants. First up: Winner’s Circle Pub, Grille and OTB (20 N. Pennsylvania St, 656-7223).
Right out of the gate, it’s obvious that Hoosier Park’s addition to the downtown dining race is no dark horse. Rather than the dank cave of a venue that made the previous off-track-betting facility feel like a house of shame, Winner’s Circle features proud signage and large windows into the dining room. Inside, the staff is cheerful and, at least outside of the closed-door OTB, there’s no olfactory obviousness that this is a smoking facility.
The food on the grille side proved unexpectedly ambitious. A $10 Soup and Half Sandwich lunch featured a Salmon Cake Sandwich that looked like it was auditioning to be on the cover of Gourmet magazine rather than the daily racing form.
The tasty three-biter was narrowly beaten in the pleasure race by the Potato Leek & Smoked Sausage Soup, a creamy concoction with large slices of meat, and crunchy slivers of the titular onion cousin. (The menu states that all sandwiches come with a side of fries, coleslaw or sweet potato chips but apparently that doesn’t apply to this combo, where a pickle spear was all that rounded out the plate.)
I find it tough not to bet on Banana Cream Pie ($5.50), particularly when it is house-made. In the Winner’s Circle breed, a thin layer of graham crumbles were all that separated an ocean of banana cream from its bowl. Here, creativity won out over satisfaction: If I’d wanted pudding, I would have asked for it.
On a revisit (at which the waiter remembered my drink choice from days earlier), I found the Seafood and Andouille Sausage Flatbread Pizza ($10) to be far from
flat. In fact, it almost qualified as deep dish. The two toppings rarely shared space, though, making this feel more like different good pies rather than one outstanding one. Still, it was sizable enough to linger over if I’d had the time to place a bet on a race or two.
Also substantial was the Pork Tenderloin Strips ($11), a reasonably accomplished effort to apply the chicken strip principle to the breaded tenderloin. Looking like a plate of calamari that had been part of the doping scheme gone wild, the sizable pieces were aided by a house honey mustard dressing. The Wedge Burger ($10) was fine, but the meat and applewood smoked bacon lost the flavor race with the dominant blue cheese and roll.
Still, if I were a betting man (and, OK, I’m sometimes a betting man), I’d put down money on Winner’s Circle. It’s got the look and attitude of a winner, and, in its first efforts, succeeds in getting to the finish line—maybe not in front of the pack, but certainly in the race. Keep your binoculars trained on this one.•
– Lou Harry
First in a month-long series of looks at newer downtown eateries.