DINING: Granite City is a chain champion

May 2, 2009

People will always make the case that Indianapolis doesn't need any more chain or franchised restaurants. I understand the big-picture argument. I understand the desire for a greater regional culinary identity and the wish for a more adventurous restaurant clientele. To be honest, though, a good meal can temporarily dismantle my regional pride.

It happened, for instance, when I ate Idaho Nachos ($9.79), one of the signature dishes at Granite City Food & Brewery (150 W. 96th St., 218-7185), a Minnesota-based concern that recently opened its first central Indiana location.

The appetizer replaces standard tortilla chips with waffle-cut Idaho russet potatoes, fried to just the right degree of crispness, and caps them with a well-balanced pile of melted Colby jack cheese, bacon bits, diced tomatoes, sour cream and green onion. I expected the bottom dwellers to get soggy, but the last fry was as good as the first thanks to a combination of proper presentation and hungry patrons. Outstanding bar grub.

We were tempted to order a second load, but progressed to other parts of the menu, finding satisfaction there as well. The French Onion Soup and a Tomato Soup du Jour ($2.49 each) were both winning choices. In the former, the melted cheese roof covered a delicious beef and wine stock with ample caramelized onions and toasted croutons.

We were temporarily disappointed by the Buffalo Burger ($8.29) and the standard Hamburger (I tried the one from my
son's $5.49 kid's meal) in part because of the dull ciabatta buns, but the Southwestern Chicken Salad ($12.29) won us over with its fresh-tasting julienne-grilled chicken breast, chopped cilantro and tequila lime vinaigrette dressing. Even better was the Chilled Sesame Shrimp and Cucumber Salad ($12.49), well-populated with seafood and well-chosen companions, including cabbage, snow peas, crisp wontons, diced red peppers and a wasabi cream.

No complaint, either, with the Chicken Salad Clubhouse on Focaccia ($9.49), a
two-hander packed with a well-seasoned mix of roasted chicken breast, mayo, celery and scallions. The sandwich rounds off with bacon strips, roasted garlic aioli, and sliced tomato.

A promising-sounding Big Cookie ($5.99) was a messy letdown, but a hearty glass of Two Pull, a mix of the brewery's Northern Light and Brother Benedict Bock beers ($.95 for a 20 ouncer) could have forgiven a lot worse. As it stands, though, it just made me want to schedule a leisurely lunch meeting here-over beer and an order of Idaho Nachos. Or two. •

First in a month-long series of restaurants that rock-or, at least, have rocks in their names.
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