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DINING: Chancy upgrade at IUPUI eatery

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Dining - A&E

Call me lazy, but most of the restaurants on my regular lunch rotation are within walking distance of IBJ’s downtown offices. If I drive anywhere, it’s usually to meet a friend somewhere with ample, free parking. But when Chancellor’s Restaurant (850 W. Michigan St., 231-5257) came up during a recent conversation about good local eateries, I decided to break with tradition and give it a go.

Located inside the University Place conference center on the IUPUI campus, Chancellor’s has high aspirations, with a seasonal, locally sourced menu clearly designed to appeal more to diners on an expense account than college students on a budget. Its $12 burger features Kobe beef, for example, and is topped with caramelized onions and mushrooms and a blue cheese aioli. The entrees are even more inventive.

Chancellor's pike dish Chancellor’s Great Lake Walleye Pike shows a commitment to regional ingredients. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

We showed up for lunch to find the dining room about three-quarters full, which we took as a good sign. Turns out Chancellor’s may be a victim of its own success. The staff was overwhelmed. Tables sat covered with dirty dishes. The manager started serving customers. We never got the basket of flatbread we saw on every other table. Our glasses sat empty for most of the meal. In fact, after ordering our drinks, we didn’t see our server again until he delivered the bill—which eventually was discounted 20 percent to acknowledge the slow service.

But there was a bright side: the food. Well, most of it, anyway.

We started with the Chicken Tostados ($7.50), billed as blackened chicken, onion, jalapenos and a tomato corn black bean relish on top of crispy tortilla chips. It took longer to describe it than to eat the measly five chips (yeah, that comes out to $1.50 per chip) and fairly bland topping.

Our entrees were more successful. My companion ordered off the special eat-local menu, which included four dishes and information about where the key ingredients originated. He chose the Great Lakes Walleye Pike ($11) from Chicago, which we decided was about as local as walleye gets. The fish was pan-fried and served atop a mound of black and white quinoa (keen-wah), a protein-rich grain with a slight nutty flavor that’s gaining popularity. Grilled summer squash and a green tomato and sweet corn salsa provided a nice contrast in taste and texture.

Fresh from the pork-o-rama at the Indiana State Fair, I opted for the Cuban Sandwich ($11). It was a standard Cuban: thin-sliced ham, roasted pork loin, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickle served on a pressed roll. But the pork was juicy enough—and the mustard ample enough—to avoid the dryness that can kill an otherwise tasty sandwich. The side of uber-thick fries was just OK.

Before we ordered, I was leaning toward finishing up with the Indiana Peach and Blackberry Crisp ($6) from the eat-local menu—it features Traders Point ice cream, so how could it go wrong? But by the time we finished eating, we’d waited so long for refills and some ketchup (which never arrived) that we just wanted to escape.

Although the manager apologized and gave us the discount—and validated our $9 parking garage ticket—we couldn’t help thinking what a shame it was for solid kitchen work to be tainted by front-of-the-house issues. Fact is, it doesn’t matter how good the food is if customers leave with a bad taste in their mouths.•

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Fourth in a month-long series of reviews of possessive restaurants.

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  • No Surprise
    There's nothing new at Chancellor's. Many years ago it was a decent restaurant with interesting food but no more. My husband and I tried to have dinner there 2 years ago. We were seated right away but it took 10 minutes or more for a server to show up (and the place was not busy). Then, after waiting a half hour for our cocktails, we gave up. Our server had almost insisted that we order our food before our pre-dinner drinks were served. We stopped in the bar as we were leaving and my husband mentioned to the only bartender the problem with our drinks. The bartender was rude and said we'd just have to wait. We have never been back there and will not be back. They obviously have some management problems - hiring practices, training, adequate staffing levels, or any combination of those factors. If they really want to attract customers other than the captives who are staying in the hotel, they need to make some serious changes in the way they run things.
  • Former Student & I Disagree
    First and foremost, that was a great read. It seems that you paid attention to just about everything during your visit. And I am truly sorry that you have had such a bad experience there.

    I am a former IUPUI student and I spend many afternoons working from my laptop at that very bar. I became good friends with Jeffrey (not sure if he is still behind the bar or not) and took advantage of all their great drink specials. Their food was great too. Anything from their salads to the burgers always impressed me and never left me asking for more.

    Being a student, I loved the free Wi-Fi and the beer specials. When I was going there, nearly every day of the week it seemed, on Monday and Wednesday they had pitcher specials. On Tuesday and Thursday, if you can call it a pitcher special, they had $1 pitchers of PBR. Not the best beer in the world, but I was a college student, it made sense back then!

    Being so close to the food court, I wish more students would pop their head in. And based on your negative experience it seemed that the manager did all he could to take care of you. And as far as the parking is concerned, being a student I never really had to worry about that. It was just a short walk across campus.

    I am not sure it is fair to assume this is a place that people will travel to experience. Students, of course, will eat here. As will the faculty. But I am not positive that you can use the validated parking as a reason to not return. Being a part of the hotel and being on campus their traffic is sort of built it. I would assume that they don't have to validate all that much parking to begin with.

    But like I said, that was a great read and I am gad to see a place I used to consider my second home getting some attention, all the while not strictly positive. But as a food critique myself I understand that it had to be said. Thanks again for this great read and for bringing back old memories of one of my favorite on campus hang outs!
  • OK
    The thought is there, but Chancellors food is just OK for the price and it sounds like front-of-house is a consistent problem. Last time I went, the place was empty -- literally, we were the only table for dinner -- and the service was slow, slow, slow. We waited almost 10 minutes from the time we were done with our entrees before they came to clear things and ask if we wanted anything else. Like you, we just wanted to leave when we finished our meals, so we declined.

    I believe they always validate parking in the University Place garage and there's almost always tons of parking there. From IBJ, you could also walk 2 blocks to the Red Line, which will drop you off right at University Place.

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