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DINING: Divide conquers bar-food challenges with casual style

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Dining - A&E

Contrary to what they told us on “Cheers,” a great neighborhood bar doesn’t have to be a place where everybody knows your name. A great neighborhood bar should, however, welcome you into its world and make you feel like it’s an extension of your home.

It helps, too, if it’s got good soup.

Such is Ralph’s Great Divide (743 E. New York St., 637-2192), a storied local joint that evolved from a carriage repair shop into the “Shifferdecker & Shifferdecker” pub into Condon’s Corner into The Great Divide and, finally, thanks to its late former owner Ralph Brooks, into its current incarnation.
 

ae-ralphs-divide03-1col.jpg The distinctive Hot Pot Pig soup at Ralph's. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

But “current” might not be the right word. In a town where too few places feel anchored, Ralph’s roots feel deep, even to newcomers. The décor—a combination of nautical, military and musical—is quirky without ever being cutesy. And the menu shows off what Ralph’s does best without too many distractions or efforts to appeal to everyone.

The requisite soups are the Hot Pot Aug ($2.99/$3.99) or the Hot Pot Pig ($1 more). Both are cream of potato variations with the latter accented with bacon and hot pepper cheese. I expected the latter to have more kick, but it certainly delivered a cheesy cup of comfort. Ralph’s Chili ($2.99/$4.99 with a $1 upcharge—recommended—for cheese and onions) is a worthy variation but, really, you can have decent chili in lots of places. Treat yourself to the soup.


ae-main-ralphs-divide02-15col.jpg The Divine Miss P is one of Ralph’s ham-packed sandwiches. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

For lunch entrees, there are salads and beef tips and tuna plates, but the meat of the menu consists of ham sandwiches. The queen of these, the Divide Miss ‘P’ ($8.49), layers a fistful of bourbon-baked ham with both Swiss and American cheeses, lettuce, tomato and mayo on lightly grilled, just-crunchy-enough sourdough bread slices.

The burgers, including a triple-decker Cheeseburger Club ($7.99) and the bacon-topped Swine ($7.99), are strong, too, if less memorable. In addition to standard potato chips, tossed salad or cottage cheese on the side, you can pair your sandwich with Ralph’s signature Pea Salad, some Pickled Beets or German Potato Salad. And why wouldn’t you?

“The cake,” my waitress said at dessert time when she saw my empty plate. Said, not asked.

Not looking for conflict, I welcomed a giant slab of a daily-special Toffee Almond Cake ($4.99). “Maybe I sliced it a little heavy,” she said. “It’s tough to judge.”

I don’t think she was very contrite. And after a forkful-by-forkful attack on the monster, I wasn’t going to argue. On another visit, the always-available Coconut Cream Pie ($4.99) proved that, at Ralph’s, it’s foolish to divide dessert from your lunch experience.

Note: Ralph’s is closed on Sunday but available for rentals. I attended just such an event years back and let’s just say it beats Chuck E. Cheese.•

—Lou Harry

__________

Third in a month-long series of “possessive men” restaurant reviews.

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  1. A Tilted Kilt at a water park themed hotel? Who planned that one? I guess the Dad's need something to do while the kids are on the water slides.

  2. Don't come down on the fair for offering drinks. This is a craft and certainly one that belongs in agriculture due to ingredients. And for those worrying about how much you can drink. I'm sure it's more to do with liability than anything else. They don't want people suing for being over served. If you want a buzz, do a little pre-drinking before you go.

  3. I don't drink but go into this "controlled area" so my friend can drink. They have their 3 drink limit and then I give my friend my 3 drink limit. How is the fair going to control this very likely situation????

  4. I feel the conditions of the alcohol sales are a bit heavy handed, but you need to realize this is the first year in quite some time that beer & wine will be sold at the fair. They're starting off slowly to get a gauge on how it will perform this year - I would assume if everything goes fine that they relax some of the limits in the next year or couple of years. That said, I think requiring the consumption of alcohol to only occur in the beer tent is a bit much. That is going to be an awkward situation for those with minors - "Honey, I'm getting a beer... Ok, sure go ahead... Alright see you in just a min- half an hour."

  5. This might be an effort on the part of the State Fair Board to manage the risk until they get a better feel for it. However, the blanket notion that alcohol should not be served at "family oriented" events is perhaps an oversimplification. and not too realistic. For 15 years, I was a volunteer at the Indianapolis Air Show, which was as family oriented an event as it gets. We sold beer donated by Monarch Beverage Company and served by licensed and trained employees of United Package Liquors who were unpaid volunteers. And where did that money go? To central Indiana children's charities, including Riley Hospital for Children! It's all about managing the risk.

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