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DINING: In the heart of Broad Ripple, The Vanguard vies for attention

March 10, 2017
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Billed as a “small plate,” the Cajun Shrimp is actually quite substantial. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

The street address probably won’t mean anything to you. But if you’ve been in Indy long enough, you should know exactly where I’m talking about when I say The Vanguard (6311 Westfield Blvd., 317-254-1147) is above Broad Ripple’s popular drinkery The Casba Bar.

Late in 2016, The Vanguard took over the street-level spot, which used to house Usual Suspects. It now features a central bar, black and white decor, and a menu credited to Turf Catering + Kitchen—the Castleton lunch counter/commercial kitchen that handles catering for outside events.

In the midst of you-know-what-you’re-getting restaurants that populate most of Broad Ripple, The Vanguard—like Usual Suspects before it—has some identity obstacles to overcome to garner attention. Yes, it’s different from the ethnic eateries and large sports bars in the district, but customers don’t gravitate toward a place because of what it isn’t. Instead, they need to know what it is.

We were wondering, too, up until the time we got a look at the menu, which is divided into nine small and eight large plates—actually seven, since we were told the Prochetta with fregola beans and pork bordelaise was dropped due to lack of customer interest.

What remains of the menu are all dishes easy to understand for even the most basic of diners. But it’s a credit to the kitchen that even these dishes have enough of a twist to keep things interesting.

The term “small plate” proved to be a little deceptive with our first choice. Hardly the four-nibble appetizer found elsewhere, the Cajun Shrimp ($13) arrived with a dozen crustaceans riding on a pair of long, crispy crostini. Granted, the creamy sauce—billed as spicy garlic but with more of a zesty lemon taste—carried much of the flavor, but that just meant we should have asked for more of the bread to soak up the remainder.

Quite the opposite was the case with the Braised Short Rib (topping the menu prices at $20), which sat on a bed of Carolina grits and was topped with a minimal chimichurri sauce. Of course, not every sauced dish demands the same proportions, but this one could have used a little extra pop to make it memorable.

More likely to stay in the memory banks: Butter-Smoked Chicken ($15), which isn’t kidding about the smoke, palpable in every bite. No complaint there, nor with the roasted pesto root vegetables and garlic cream that accompanied the substantial bird. The lone dessert, Bread Pudding ($7) sided with ice cream and packed with cranberries and golden raisins, is worth sharing.

A warning to vegetarians: If you aren’t interested in the Seared Salmon ($20), you’ll be limited to the small-plate section. Even the Pimento Cheese ($10) and the Green Beans ($7) include smoked ham.

And for those who avoid Broad Ripple’s core because of parking concerns, take that concern off the plate: The Vanguard offers free parking at the corner of Winthrop and Westfield.•

—Lou Harry

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