Toppers Pizza

12 Apr

Hubs and I took it easy this past weekend by watching a lot of Downton Abbey and Mad Men. During the marathons, we had to eat. Found ourselves needing food late Saturday evening and hubs gave me the option to pick (I know, we were real exciting on that Saturday night). I decided that we should try the newly opened Toppers Pizza. The national chain from Champaign, IL, recently opened on North Meridian Street. I figured it was time to give it a go and this evening provided the perfect opportunity.

For about $30 prior to tip, we prdered and received a 12 inch pizza, cheese breadsticks, 6 buffalo wings and a 2 liter of soda. I wanted to try a variety, so that is what we got. I had ordered online and really got to peruse the menu before placing the order. I was impressed with the selection, but confused with one item: quesadillas. Yup, the pizza place sells quesadillas. I have to wonder how they are, considering that if I wanted a quesadilla, I wouldn’t think of ordering it from a pizza place. There has to to be a story behind that…anyone know anything?

Anyway, I digress. Let’s begin with the buffalo wings. There is the option to order boneless or wings. I assumed the boneless were just frozen nuggets of chicken (don’t get me wrong, I have a sweet spot for those things), so I decided to try the bone-in. I was really excited, so I’m sad to say I really disliked them. A lot. I couldn’t get over how mushy they were due to the breading being soft. They had been baked, but it seemed like they could have been baked longer. We had ordered buffalo, and though I anticipated the spicy flavor I adore, I didn’t get any of that. I barely ate one and would stay clear next time. Hubs on the other hand thought they were what one should expect from delivered wings. I just wanted something of higher standards – he thinks maybe it would be better at the restaurant. I raise my eyebrow at that and we agree to disagree.

As for the pizza, I was slightly disappointed here too. We ordered the hand tossed and though the crust was good, it overwhelmed each bite leaving me wanting more toppings and sauce. As you can tell by the photo, it seemed like all the toppings migrated to the middle and stayed put. The sauce was just there and didn’t stand out by any means. I did like the sausage as it had good flavor, seasoned well with being hand pulled rather than frozen sausage. The pepperoni was standard and the mushrooms barely there. I would have liked more mushrooms (and all other toppings to be dispersed better) and for their flavor to be fresh and more apparent with each bite. I would order it again, but next time I’ll go with thin crust and look at one of their specialty pizzas, like the taco. I felt like I missed out on ordering this pizza, like I knew there was something better and I just picked the wrong one.

The main reason I’ll return to Toppers? Those cheesy breadsticks. I loved every single bite of them. The bread wasn’t soaked in grease, but you knew you weren’t eating healthy with the heavy dose of cheese and garlic butter soaked into every bite. Despite the photo and appearance of grease, it wasn’t soggy by any means. I don’t go for bread sticks that are limp because they are soaked with butter. These had substance and stood on their own with each savory bite. I’d like to point out we got the original, but you can get triple cheese as an option. I can’t imagine what the cheese is like on those, because I had plenty of ooey goodness with each bite. And the nacho cheese, which we ordered on the side for $.75 I believe, wasn’t necessary as they really stood on their own.

Overall, the price seemed a little high for the buffalo wings, but everything else was standard. I’d probably pick up next time to avoid the delivery charge and stay clear of the buffalo wings. Who else has been there? What are your thoughts, and would you order again?

Toppers * 12545 N. Meridian St. * Carmel, 46032 * 317.569.6031

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Lulu’s Coffee + Bakehouse

10 Apr

Coffee shops. Indy may not be Seattle where Starbucks are on almost every corner. And because of that, we have other great, local coffee shops that we are able to pop in before work. Lulu’s is one of them. Lulu’s Coffee + Bakehouse, formerly named Lulu’s Electric Cafe, has not only changed their name and locations (moved from 86th and Ditch towards Township Line), but also the overall feel of their space.

A casual, slightly artsy type of environment, Lulu’s is a relaxed third space for a group of 10-15 individuals at one time. A few small tables, a comfy couch here, and a little game playing area there behind the coffee beans for sale. I really liked the vibe of the shop. But unfortunately, it was a little before 8am and I had to get to work for the day. Sitting down and enjoying the paper wasn’t an option on that Friday morning.

My co-worker (and friend) and I ordered our drinks from the friendly man behind the counter. He was thoughtful in explaining the different brews available that day as we perused the menu of the items available. Of course, with perfect placement by Lulu’s, I had to grab a cinnamon chip scone for my breakfast nibble. The scone was very light, not dense or heavy like I normally anticipate with a scone. And though it wasn’t what I anticipated, I still enjoyed every bite. Almost like a cinnamon muffin with more fluff. The cinnamon spice was perfect in the baked good as I quickly ate it all. And the coffee, I had ordered their medium roast, was a good cup of coffee. It was hot in temperature, not too strong or light in flavor either. Not to mention, the fancy top kept the coffee in place when driving.

I look forward to stopping in Lulu’s again, especially with the image of the scone in my head. Maybe a sandwich next time?

Lulu’s Coffee + Bakehouse* 2292 W. 86th Street * Indy, 46260 *317.879.1995

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Big Mike’s Cafe Americana

5 Apr

I see Big Mike’s many times on the weekend when I’m driving home from working weekend events. I always pass it at 1 a.m. after the weddings I’m working and think “I wonder what the place is like?” This past weekend, hubs and I were gearing up to go run a few errands, but our stomachs reminded us food is good. And usually, food comes first. We have these diner cards and saw Big Mike’s was in the pack, so we agreed to give it a go.

The outside doesn’t seem very inviting or anything special. Big Mike’s is located in a strip mall adorned with wooden boards on the exterior on College near 96th Street. It looks slightly run down and unwelcoming, with a few tables outside that were not prepped for the nice weather (I clearly do NOT hold this against them though – this weather is odd!) Upon walking in, we were slightly confused on what to do as it seems like you would order at the counter and then grab a seat. Instead the server/host present greeted us warmly from behind the cash register and enthusiastically ushered us to a seat. At noon, the restaurant was empty which explained his enthusiasm. We grabbed a corner booth and took in the atmosphere. It is quite plain inside, full of tables and booths for guests. As mentioned, when you walk in there is a counter straight ahead across the room. One can’t help but walk towards it, so I wonder how the flow is when the restaurant is busy. Nothing special in the decor, so I was hoping that the food would help the mood.

We began with an order of garlic knots. Nothing beats bread dipped in delicious garlic butter. These knots were delivered quickly (which was good – we were the only ones there after all) and were piping hot. At first, I thought they were straight up fried. But, after a few bites I came to the conclusion that they could have been partially baked and then finished in the fryer. They were extremely tender and perfectly cooked on the inside, but had a slightly crisp exterior giving them that crunch. They were swimming in butter and covered in Parmesan cheese, It may have been the bottle shaker cheese and didn’t add too much. But don’t let that lead you to believe I didn’t like this, cause I did. They were good, but very rarely do I think bread is bad, especially when baked/fried and dipped in a side of ranch or nacho sauce. They were slightly greasy, a little messy, but that is what happens when you fry your lunch. We opted to add on a side of ranch and nacho cheese, though marinara does come with the knots.

For our meals, hubs ordered the Chicago sandwich. From where I was sitting, it looked quite messy with a huge portion of roast beef, sausage and mozzarella. Hubs comment on the sandwich was ‘it’s okay.’ The sandwich looked good so I had to grab a bite. But he was right, there really wasn’t anything spectacular about the sandwich. The bread was great, but the bite that I had was pretty much all Italian rope sausage. The sausage was part of the upgraded ‘Minchman’ combo consisting of the addition of Italian rope sausage and mozzarella. Was the extra dollar for the upgrade worth it? He shrugged his shoulders and I nodded in agreement – not really. He did eat all the fries – average, but they were hot and crispy.

I decided to try the tenderloin which is given 5 stars by the Tenderloin Connoisseur.  Clearly the tenderloin was hand pounded and breaded – no frozen tenderloin here. The meat was tender and flavorful, the breading slightly salty from being fried and crispy all around. I really enjoyed the pork flavor, clean and not muddles with the fried outer shell as it only complimented each bite. I heard about the pretzel roll and was anxious to see it for myself. I was little taken back as the pretzel roll as maybe 1/3 of the size of the tenderloin, though I did enjoy the pretzel bun versus a regular bun. It seemed fresh as it was soft with a slight crunch on the exterior. It was slightly sweet too like a pretzel normally would be. Only set back is that the pretzel roll made it that much more filling. A little too carby for me and I (at times) had trouble concentrating on the tenderloins flavor.  I was surprised that the flavor combination worked though and would easily order it again as my tummy was quite full with leftover tenderloin on the plate.

As mentioned, we had one of dining cards with us so we had to spend $30 for the meal to receive $10 off. I would have normally boycotted spending $3 on a side of ranch and nacho sauce ($1.50 a piece), but knowing that we needed to spend all $30 prior to tax/tip, we were okay with it. Our sodas and sandwiches on top of that got us to $30.75 before tax and gratuity. It seemed a bit more expensive than what I expected. But the breakfast buffet (which we obviously didn’t get) seemed like quite a deal if you were hungry. Our server, who stayed enthusiastic (maybe too much) the whole time, explained the breakfast well. You are given a list of potentials to order, and they cook it as ordered, as much as you want. So if you are hungry and looking for a buffet with a to-order twist, I would say give Big Mike’s a try.

Anyone else been? What were your thoughts on the atmosphere and food? I’d definitely give it a go again, though I do wish the outdoor seating would be ramped up just a bit. I’m a sucker for al fresco after all.

Big Mike’s Cafe Americana * 9611 N. College Ave * Carmel, 46280 * 317-571-1000

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Wolfies Grill

30 Mar

Two friends had made their way to Wolfies and as they dined, they texted and said “it reminds me of your homeland!” So when hubs and I were out running errands, we decided to get to give it a try and see if it had some Wisconsin love in both atmosphere and food. We had noticed it another time when doing a few errands in the area, but it wasn’t open at that point. Tucked back in the shopping area of 116th Street and Keystone, you may need to weave a bit through the streets to give it a try.It looked liked a Northwoods type of atmosphere from outside – so far, it fit the description.

When we made our way inside, we entered into the main dining room area. Set with many tables, including low and high bar tables and televisions all over with a long bar on one end, it was cozy and comfortable. Dark, wood interior and forest green in color, the rich color palate made it even more comfortable with the woodsy feel of a lake house or log cabin. There was also a side room with a fireplace and a lot of comfortable seating. A great place to sit and relax after a long day.

We were immediately sat as the restaurant was not busy at all. I was glad to see the service was quick and attentive because of this. Our server greeted us with a smile and reviewed the menu as we expressed it was our first time. We ordered a drink and a few items to sink our teeth into. I was jonesing for nachos – it is my weakness – so I knew we were going to order them if they were on the menu. And yes, they have nachos, but not any type of nachos. Buffalo chicken nachos. Even as I write this, I’m still not quite sure how I feel about them. I was really excited, but I wasn’t blown away. The chips were covered with buffalo sauce and chunks of chicken. Though there could have been more chicken, there was plenty of lettuce and tomatoes, all of good standard, and this ranch sauce drizzled over the top. I’m a bleu cheese girl when it comes to my buffalo, so maybe to have that melted in with the cheddar would have gotten me to love these. Some chips were crispy, others not so much as they soaked in the buffalo. I’m still indifferent on these, but I’d probably order them again to give it another go as I l0ve the concept.

When hubs see pretzel, he’s sold. He quickly decided that a few more appetizers would round out his meal as the pretzel breadsticks were calling his name something fierce. They were doughy, soft and tender on the inside, but subtly had that crisp pull on the exterior. They had a great flavor too, and with the queso,  it was a match made in heaven. I couldn’t help but dip them in a little ranch too (yes, I stole one despite hubs hungry eyes) and enjoyed every bite. The wings he ordered, hot in flavor, were absolutely delicious. The hotness factor could have been amped up as they weren’t really spicy, but the crispy fried chicken crunched as your teeth sunk into the tender meat. I love wings when you can really taste the chicken and the sauce just gives it a little boost. I would definitely order the wings again, though with bleu cheese dressing rather than the ranch served with it.

I ordered the bacon blue chicken sandwich. Crispy bacon, lots of pungent bleu cheese and a good cut of chicken, it was a large sandwich. From all of the appetizers, I really only took two bites and saved it for dinner that night (it heated well – sans veggie and bun of course). The chicken was grilled, leaving a little too many charred bites. But the chicken itself was extremely tender and  I liked the classic combination of bleu cheese and bacon. A Caesar dressing mayo was applied generously to the hearty bun and added a nice flair to the sandwich that I wasn’t anticipating. And with that said, ignore the menu description of the mayo as it is a misprint. As for my side, our server recommended the mac and cheese, so I took her up on it. I was happy to see it was baked with a crisp topping but still creamy, cheesy and decadent. Nothing outside of a box, it was clearly homemade and seasoned correctly (sometimes mac can be too salty, just my opinion, due to the overload of cheese). It was a nice substitute for the regular fries. It was quite a large side though, which is another reason I didn’t eat the sandwich.

We clearly ate too much, despite not finishing anything on the table. But the food was good, the atmosphere homey and comfortable, and the service friendly. As mentioned, there wasn’t a lot of people in the restaurant, so staff were chatting more openly than I think they would with one another on a regular day, though this didn’t bother me. The televisions were great around the restaurant – lots to see from many angles – and there is plenty of room in the restaurant. On a busy night, it could potentially get really loud though. Pricing was reasonable and average as our final bill came to $43 before tax and tip. This also included a soda and 16oz Alpha King beer.

There are locations in Fishers and Noblesville too. I would assume the environment and food is similar, but can’t be certain on that. They clearly took the same menus as the Carmel menu says “Coming soon to Carmel”, so those could probably be updated. But I enjoyed our luncheon and would head back for a casual evening. Who else has been? What are your thoughts?

Wolfies Grill * 1162 Keystone Way * Carmel, 46032 * 317.844.9070

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