DINING: Upscale eatery makes its mark on Shelbyville casino

June 29, 2009

Quick—what are the three most important factors in making a real estate decision? The answer is an age-old (verging on overused) axiom: location, location, location.

There’s little chance that was a stumper for anyone, yet somehow the simple truth of that statement seems to have escaped the operators of Maker’s Mark Bourbon House and Lounge (inside Indiana Live! Casino, Shelbyville; (877) 386-4463).

One of just three Maker’s Mark restaurants in the country—the others are in Louisville, Ky., and Kansas City, Mo.—the upscale eatery would have been a good fit in downtown Indianapolis, for example, or in one of the suburban dining-and-shopping meccas. Instead, the restaurant moved into an electronic gambling hall in Shelby County.

Then again, maybe it was a brilliant move. There’s certainly not much white-tablecloth competition in the immediate vicinity. But if atmosphere is to restaurants what location is to real estate, it sure feels like a misstep.

Don’t get me wrong: We enjoyed our meal. The food was good, the server attentive and the furnishings comfortably plush.

Even so, we never forgot where we were, thanks to the constant background “music” provided by the slot machines clanging away just outside the restaurant entrance. The casino bar also is within earshot, so the blare of the cover band performing that night added to the cacophony.

Perhaps if we were grabbing a bite after a winning night at the (electronic) blackjack table, it wouldn’t seem so jarring. But if you do make the drive—Indiana Live! is about 16 miles east of I-465—for a special-occasion dinner, it helps considerably if you also have a hankering to play the ponies or snuggle up to a one-armed bandit.

If that’s the case, make sure you’re flush. Our dinner for two (with a shared appetizer, shared dessert and a couple beers) topped $100 before the tip—and we steered clear of the “signature” entrees, which started at $35; soups, salads and sides are extra.

At our server’s suggestion, we began with the Five Onion Flatbread ($9), a pizza-like appetizer that featured smoked bacon, Chevre cheese and roasted tomatoes in addition to the namesake ingredient. It was tasty, if a bit overcooked.

For the main courses we created our own surf and turf combination, ordering the 8-ounce Petite Rib Filet ($24) and Maker’s Mark Bar-B-Q Shrimp ($21) to share. We added on an order of Roasted Wild Mushrooms ($8).

The steak—clearly a superior cut of meat—was prepared perfectly and paired nicely with the mushrooms, which were served soaking in a distinctively bourbon-based sauce. We’d expect no less from Maker’s Mark.

Oddly enough, the five large grilled shrimp didn’t retain much bourbon flavor despite being brushed with what was billed as a spirit-infused barbecue sauce. In fact, there wasn’t much sauce at all. The star of this dish was the unexpected addition of an array of root veggies, a welcome surprise.

Satisfied but not stuffed, we let ourselves be talked into one of the house-made desserts, assembled by a pastry chef in a sushi-bar-like area just off the restaurant’s lounge.

Our choice: Chocolate Banana Filo Napoleon ($9)—a mouthful both literally and figuratively. Chocolate and banana pudding is layered between thin sheets of carmelized filo pastry and served alongside a scoop of homemade maple walnut ice cream. Jackpot!•

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