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DINING: Rook doesn’t go by the book

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Dining - A&E
Walk down the Cultural Trail from downtown to Fountain Square—or vice versa—and you might mistakenly think the nondescript storefront of Rook (719 Virginia Ave, 759-5828), with its minimal signage, leads to a design firm, furniture shop or private club.
 

ae-dining-apb-rook02-15col.jpg The selection—for sandwiches and condiments— is minimal at Rook sandwich shop on Virginia Avenue.(IBJ Photo/Aaron P. Bernstein)

In fact, the newcomer to the Hinge is a sandwich shop—a decidedly quirky one with downed power-line décor and a crow-motif dining room. Here, you order at a counter where Tom Waits, John Coltrane and Run DMC are celebrated. The menu: variations on the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich.

Rook, the latest from Siam Square and Black Market’s Ed Rudisell, knows what it wants to do and does it with a single-mindedness that it’s difficult not to admire. There’s no compromise visible. No obvious effort to lure in the unadventurous. No menu selection to appease those who really were thinking of going to Subway for lunch. And if you’re vegetarian, well, Rook gives you one and only one choice.

Its subs—each a pricy $8—are all adorned with pickled Korean radish and carrots, cilantro, mayonnaise and jalapenos. Want to dress your sandwich up further? There’s a shelf of Sriracha sauce bottles.

Care is clearly taken in crafting the signature Rook, featuring slices of Vietnamese pork roll with a spread of chicken liver terrine. The Nighthawk—a name inspired by Waits’ “Nighthawks at the Diner,” perhaps?— barely contains its Thai sour sausage. The Corvus holds sliced smoked turkey breast (fine, but if you are here, why play it conservatively?). The Black Wing, which worked best for me, used peanut curry sauce to dress up its sliced steak, a combo that best showed off the aforementioned dressings. Others include Chinese BBQ Pork, Indian-spiced tofu and sardines—not in the same sandwich, of course.


ae-dining-apb-rook05-15col.jpg A crow motif roosts in the dining room. (IBJ Photo/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Your options are strictly limited for sides: Shrimp Chips or Pork Cracklings ($2.50). The latter, on our visit, were borderline inedible, fried to near teeth-cracking density without being worth the effort. The former were lighter with a pleasant shrimp flavor but not satisfying enough to justify the charge. Dessert? Even more esoteric: Macarons ($1.75 each) from Circle City Sweets in such surprising flavors as Wasabi, Lemongrass and Black Sesame.

For some, Rook will prove a refreshing change of pace. For others, the price (factoring in overpriced bottled beverages) might curtail it from becoming something to crow about.•

—Lou Harry

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First in a month-long series of game-piece restaurant reviews.

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  1. The east side does have potential...and I have always thought Washington Scare should become an outlet mall. Anyone remember how popular Eastgate was? Well, Indy has no outlet malls, we have to go to Edinburgh for the deep discounts and I don't understand why. Jim is right. We need a few good eastsiders interested in actually making some noise and trying to change the commerce, culture and stereotypes of the East side. Irvington is very progressive and making great strides, why can't the far east side ride on their coat tails to make some changes?

  2. Boston.com has an article from 2010 where they talk about how Interactions moved to Massachusetts in the year prior. http://www.boston.com/business/technology/innoeco/2010/07/interactions_banks_63_million.html The article includes a link back to that Inside Indiana Business press release I linked to earlier, snarkily noting, "Guess this 2006 plan to create 200-plus new jobs in Indiana didn't exactly work out."

  3. I live on the east side and I have read all your comments. a local paper just did an article on Washington square mall with just as many comments and concerns. I am not sure if they are still around, but there was an east side coalition with good intentions to do good things on the east side. And there is a facebook post that called my eastside indy with many old members of the eastside who voice concerns about the east side of the city. We need to come together and not just complain and moan, but come up with actual concrete solutions, because what Dal said is very very true- the eastside could be a goldmine in the right hands. But if anyone is going damn, and change things, it is us eastside residents

  4. Please go back re-read your economics text book and the fine print on the February 2014 CBO report. A minimum wage increase has never resulted in a net job loss...

  5. The GOP at the Statehouse is more interested in PR to keep their majority, than using it to get anything good actually done. The State continues its downward spiral.

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