Dining Divas Explore Bistro 501

DivasWelcome back to Dining Divas, traveling the globe with a menu & napkin instead of a suitcase & passport. Last time we met, we sampled Texican-Hoosier at 6th Street Dive. This time we dined on French fusion at Bistro 501, on Main Street in the heart of downtown Lafayette. Serving up both a culinary and cultural experience, Bistro 501 has a warm urban vibe with large windows overlooking Main Street, outdoor seating and French decor complete with roosters.

To the occasional diner, Bistro 501 is a 15-plus year fixture at the corner of 5th and Main. But their regulars know a shift took place roughly a year and a half ago when Theresa Buckley, the restaurant’s general manager, convinced her mother and twin sister Cheyenne, to purchase the business from her boss and owner Gabrielle Meyer. Mary, Theresa’s mother and veteran of the hotel restaurant business, tells how the trio decided to give it a go and “shine up an old penny” which meant that she and Cheyenne, then a chef in Vermont, would move back to Lafayette.

The Buckley’s goal when purchasing the business was to keep the favorites for their regulars while adding a few fresh ideas to keep it interesting and entice new locals to come try them out. The menu is seasonal now, changing four times per year with the biggest difference coming between winter and spring.

The day we visited, Micayla was our server — new to the Bistro but not to the restaurant industry. She expertly helped us navigate our lunch options and diet restrictions.

Jo chose

Salad Nicoise

Salad Nicoise

($11). Micayla did a great job handling the keto salad request, removing the tuna and potatoes. “Their blue cheese dressing is one of the best,” Jo said.  “I love the Nicoise olives.”  The olives, fresh green beans and hard boiled eggs over mixed greens made the salad both attractive and filling. “It was nice that I could just say ‘keto’ and the chef knew how to change their standard menu item.” They even brought heavy whipping cream for Jo’s coffee!

Kay decided on Livers Normandy ($12) which is made up of sautéed chicken livers, shallots, bacon, dried cherries, with pasta, and a brandy cream sauce. “This is actually delicious and chicken livers aren’t usually one of my favorites.” Kay said between bites. “The chicken livers are mild and you really notice the brandy sauce. Usually with pasta you get too much but this is a nice lunch portion.”

livers

Livers Normandy

 

French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup

Bev ordered a bowl of French onion soup ($7) (someone had to, right?). Bev also chose one of the two daily quiche options which that day was ham, apple and Brie for $8.  The soup was warm and tasty topped with bread and cheese. “The house made Caesar dressing is creamy and interesting. The quiche changes each day which adds variety to the menu. It’s a nice lunch combination.”

 

Margy decided on the roasted butternut squash soup ($4.50) intending to compare it to her own recipe. For a side she added hand cut pommes frites for $8. The soup had maple in it which gave it a distinctive flavor. The yogurt swirl, candied pepitas (a variety of pumpkin seeds) and sage on top made it both beautiful and flavorful. Margy had to agree it was better than hers. The frites were nicely prepared and came with the curry ketchup, an interesting twist to the old standby.

Butternut soup

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

All this plus we shared a basket of wonderful crusty French bread. Each of us enjoyed our lunch and we still needed to try some desert. So when the to-go containers had to come out we were happy to see eco-friendly packaging instead of Styrofoam. Merci!!

Lucky for us, several deserts at Bistro come in spoon sized portions. Jo ordered Pot au Chocolat. “If you like chocolate, you’ve got to love this! It’s chocolate heaven.”

Pot o

Pot au Chocolat

For Bev, it was Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée with caramelized sugar. “This is perfectly done with a lovely crust on it.”

Kay’s Cheesecake 501 spoon was chocolate and coconut, “A great combination with a graham cracker crust and the cheesecake options that change daily. How do you say brilliant in French?!”

It’s Sticky Toffee Carrot Cake for Margy. Unfortunately this desert was only available in a full serving size (really, did we just say unfortunately?). It is served warm, soaked in toffee with Medjool dates, and cream cheese-buttermilk ice cream. Warning, it is very sweet so you may want to share! “The ice cream is wonderful and the buttermilk flavor is really unusual!” Margy said. “The cake is super moist with lots of carrot and cinnamon. Seriously, if you need to, you can count this as a vegetable …”

Frites

Frites

Can’t make it downtown for lunch you say? No worries, the Bistro’s dinner menu includes many great options including an appetizer of mussels which Kay has had before.  Another friend comes for dinner to have the escargot (flown in from France) and steak tartare.  We have heard great reviews about their slow roasted duck legs. And Bev stopped by on her own after our group lunch to have what she described as “THE most incredible burger ($14)– a short rib beef patty that was incredibly tender topped with goat cheese, roasted mushrooms, and bacon with garlic aioli,” she said. “It was really one of the best burgers I’ve had!”

 

Ok, but what if all I have time for is a drink with friends after work or on the weekend? Spend some time with one of the Bistro’s skilled bartenders. It’s a quite complete bar with a good wine list. That’s what we call full service!

bistro-501_33765279311_oOther updates we learned about during the visit: in addition to their weekday schedule, the Bistro now serves a Sunday brunch 10:30am-2:30pm which has been a great success, advertising primarily by word of mouth and social media. Tuesdays they have a raw oyster bar & live music. Expanded seating on the patio offers more outdoor options for diners. Lunch is served Tues-Fri 11-2pm; Dinner on Mon-Tues 5-9pm and Wed-Sat 5-10pm. On 3rd Thursdays enjoy live Jazz with two seating options: with a dinner reservation at 6:00pm, or with cocktails at 8:00pm – $30 min sale per person due to limited seating.

French Decor

French Decor

The Buckley’s feel their new ideas are being well received among regulars and newcomers alike. In the eight months prior to our visit, Bistro 501 reviews on Trip Advisor were 4.5 of 5 and its standing moved from #17 to #6 among 234 greater Lafayette restaurants! If you haven’t been to the Bistro before, now is the time. And if you haven’t been back for a while, what are you waiting for? Bon Appetit!

Kay Conner, photographer, seafood superstar
Margy Deverall, author of Lafayette articles, dedicated vegetarian
Beverly Shaw, author of West Lafayette articles, bring on the beef (or chicken or pork)
Jo Wade, founder of this food blog, very veggie

Greece is Calling at the Parthenon

Parthenon stuffed pepper

Parthenon stuffed pepper

Greece called and we answered!  The Out to Lunch Dining Divas visit the Parthenon Greek American Grill. Most locals remember it fondly as an anchor in the Village but it’s doing just fine serving up Greek dishes out west (on 52 past Morehouse Road).

We started with a theatrical display of saganaki, which is a lightly battered slice of kefalograviera cheese (hard to spell, easy to eat)  pan fried and set on fire right before your eyes– on this day by the owners’ themselves!  Opa!  It has a distinctive flavor and was our favorite dish of the day, plus we liked the drama of it all. Where else can you get that sort of lunchtime thrill for under $6? (Please keep highly personal replies to that question to yourself!)

Parthenon cheese

Parthenon cheese

Bev enjoyed the stuffed green pepper, filled with ground beef, rice and tomato sauce. It was saucier and more flavorful than her attempts to make this herself and the abundant portion allowed her to take some home for another meal.

Jo, one of our two vegetarians, had the falafel sandwich and it hit the spot. She commented on its outstanding cucumber yogurt sauce which is made on the premises. Margy, our other veg-head, had the garden sandwich, a cornucopia of vegetarian delights;  a warm pita with homemade hummus, cucumber, tomato, onion, lettuce, black olive, pepperoccini, crumbled feta and homemade Greek dressing. She said she wouldn’t order the generously filled sandwich on a first date since it was a handful– but it was very tasty! (Since she’s married, that first date part is unlikely.)  Both non-meat eaters were thrilled that the vegetarian dishes were clearly marked on the menu and on the menu board.

Kay, our photographer and seafood consumer, didn’t have fish that day because it’s available on weekends but the owners told us diners can often choose from mahi mahi, salmon and grouper. She happily settled for a pork kebob sandwich made of freshly cooked pork medallions seasoned with homemade marinade topped with onion, tomato, cucumber and their own cucumber yogurt sauce. She said the pork was moist and tender which isn’t always the case with pork.

If you live in a house divided, with some people looking for worldly eats and others insisting on American fare, this is the place for you. There are loads of intriguing dishes including dolmades mousaka, spanakopita and patstitsio, but the less adventurous among you will be thrilled with the Americano burger with a side of fries or onion rings or maybe something from the kids menu.

On your way home? The place is crawling with people getting takeout and we know people who suspect they’re addicted to the Parthenon’s hummus.

Flaming Cheese!

The atmosphere is colorful, casual and comfortable.  Our food was prepared quickly and the Greek music had us happily tapping our toes. Since we didn’t want to leave, we decided we should split a piece of baklava— a layered Greek delight of nuts, honey, pastry, lemon, butter– how could it be anything but wonderful? Don’t tell Margy’s sister but Margy says it’s better than her sister’s.

For more information about this restaurant and others in Lafayette-West Lafayette, visit HomeOfPurdue.com.

Out To Lunch Divas Explore 6th Street Dive

The Lunch Bunch

The Lunch Bunch

What does comfort food mean to you? International or regional dishes? Childhood and family favorites? Or … maybe all of the above.

The Dining Divas and two guests sampled some authentic “Hoosier Texican” food recently at the 6th Street Dive Bar & Grill; corner of Salem and 6th Streets in Lafayette. What we found were two southern transplants redefining Tex-Mex comfort food with some family recipes that are sure to win you over.

New owners, Brandon Stevens and Nick Williams, are from Shreveport, Louisiana and Fort Worth, Texas respectively. But both have spent half their lives in the Hoosier state and bartending for the last 15 to 18 years. Operating in the former Varsity Clubhouse Bar since Labor Day, the revamped restaurant/bar interior is a breath of fresh air … literally. Gone are the pool tables, smoking and juke box. The retooled décor of reclaimed wood and metal, friendly service, and a menu with their unique twist of Tex-Mex and Midwestern favorites, is a winning combination with a growing following.

Queso!!

Queso!!

We kicked off lunch with an order of Dive queso fontanero for $8, a layered dip with queso, fresh pico, sour cream, fresh guacamole and your choice of chorizo or chili con carne (on top or on the side), served with made fresh to order tortilla chips hot from the deep fryer. You think the description is a mouthful? Wait until you try this dip. Dan, one of our two guests claimed, “I would come here again just for the queso!” We all wager you’ll never go back to plain chips and jar cheese dip again. Fair warning!

Kay's Knucklehead Burrito

Kay’s Knucklehead Burrito

Kay, our seafood lover, fooled us and passed on the blackened fish taco special (sounds great, right?!). Instead she ordered the knucklehead burrito for $8.50. The Dive’s breakfast burrito is loaded with scrambled eggs, tater tots, cheese, fresh pico and your choice of bacon or chorizo. Why the unusual name? According to the menu, “Because breakfast is the most important meal of the day knuckleheads!” Kay rated it “Really delicious and it’s a lot of food– it’s a big breakfast.” We suggest you bring a friend.

Jo ordered the garden salad for $3 and added sour cream & house made guac for $3. “This is an ideal low carb salad. The guacamole is awesome!” Jo’s special tip of the day: add the Dive Dip on top (You know, the appetizer dip in the paragraphs above), “It makes an EXTRA good dressing.”

Margy is already a regular. Her “usual” is the veggie taco; “The best in town!!” But today she opted for the beer battered stuffed avocado for $10.  It’s a house specialty, Texas favorite and an avocado lover’s dream.  Lightly battered and fried, it’s served on a bed of lettuce so it’s almost like a salad.  It includes chicken or chorizo and black beans but because everything here is made to order, it can also be made vegetarian on request.

Deep Fried Avocado

Deep Fried Avocado

Bev's Taco Salad without Chips

Bev’s Taco Salad without Chips

Bev ordered the taco salad. Typical? Not so fast! The taco salads here can be ordered with beef or chicken for $9 or with steak or pork for $10. Bev chose hers with ground beef in taco seasoning.  Again, made with fresh to order chips, the salad includes all the usual veggies, cheese, sour cream and house made guac.  Bev added a side of queso and the homemade hot sauce to make it a really flavorful, delicious salad! “It’s huge and I won’t get through 1/2 of it.”

Dan, guest #1 and Jo’s main man, ordered fish & chips for $8.50. “Very good coating on the fish — a lot of it, there’s like six pieces here!”  The breaded catfish fillets are fried to order and served with a house-made tartar sauce. “Not a big chunk of fish but instead long strips.  The batter is light — not real heavy.” Dan gave his lunch a Hoosier two thumbs up.

Fish and Chips

Fish and Chips

Erin, guest #2 and hungry co-worker of Bev’s, chose the hand-spanked cheeseburger for $9.  The sandwich comes with two 4 oz patties and seasoned fries. “Love the seasoning on the fries. The burger is really juicy. It’s kinda big though!” Get Erin a to-go box, no one is leaving hungry today!

The 6th Street Dive is open seven days a week with both food and drinks available from 11 am-3 am including sandwich specials, and soup of the day (need I remind you it’s made from scratch?). Carryout is available. The Dive boasts about their house-made hot sauce and salsas including a mango infused salsa the day we were there.  The menu includes many of Brandon and Nick’s personal favorites. “… food we loved growing up from our mom’s and grandma’s kitchens. We are sharing a taste of Texas made fresh, from scratch with our friends in Yankeeland! Cheers!”

Pictures inside and outsideThe 6th Street Dive is a bar and grill serving only those 21 and over, with Nick’s favorite selection of bourbons, margaritas proudly made from scratch, daily drink specials, and an impressive beer list. Their beer selection includes your classic favorites and a rotating selection of both regional and national craft beers. Our server and seasoned bartender, Joe Wilson, says it is the widest variety of bottled beers he’s seen in town. You can follow Joe and his updates about the Dive on Facebook at Joe Wilson’s Bartender News

Are the Bar and Grill options not enough to lure you north of Union Street? Did we mention the Dive has a fun, neighborhood atmosphere we felt as soon as we walked in? Whether you go earlier for lunch, meet friends after work at the tables in front of the garage door/window on a nice day, or stick around with the late crowd to enjoy the growing live music scene of local and regional bands playing most Friday and Saturdays; you will feel right at home.  I know we did.

Kay Conner, photographer, seafood superstar
Margy Deverall, author of Lafayette articles, dedicated vegetarian
Beverly Shaw, author of West Lafayette articles, bring on the beef (or chicken or pork)
Jo Wade, founder of this food blog, very veggie

Out To Lunch Diving Divas Visit La Hacienda

Bar managerMargaritasHow do you set your Mexican restaurant apart from the others? How about a tequila bar with 79 distinct tequilas, most 100% agave, differentiated by age and processing! Tequila tastings are now a thing in this town.  The Dining Divas, plus intern Bryce, decided to try the made-from-scratch margaritas upon the recommendation of bar manager Braden. Margy tried the mango margarita which was sweet and fruity, lovely to look at, and garnished with orange instead of lime.  “Refreshing!”  Bev and Bryce went the classic route with the house margarita on the rocks.  “Really good!” Kay had the frozen Texas margarita which differed from the house version by addition of a higher end Triple Sec.  “Yum!”  Jo passed–someone has to keep order!

Manager Juan Carlos Fuentes-Milan reported that this West Lafayette location is the seventh La Hacienda; the others are in greater Indianapolis.  Proximity to Purdue made this the perfect spot to try out their first tequila bar.

Out to Lunch GroupWe enjoyed chips with salsa, guacamole, and queso, all with a nice kick, with our margaritas.

The décor is wildly festive and chock full of custom-made benches and tables. The owners saved the beautiful hand-made tiles that were part of an earlier restaurant on site.  We ate in the bar which boasts 5 televisions and Braden was very helpful to us in making our selections. Our food came out quickly after we ordered, making this a good choice for working people with limited time.

Quesadilla Del Mar

Quesadilla Del Mar

Kay, our seafood specialist, had quesadilla del mar ($10.99) with guacamole salad.  This consisted of a generous portion of shrimp, scallops, crab, cheese, onions, green peppers, and mushrooms stuffed into a large flour tortilla with queso on top.  She was pleased that there was lots of seafood, perfectly grilled, and a large portion of guacamole, tomatoes, and lettuce on the side.  Kay says, “I’d happily have this again!  La Hacienda has a large selection of seafood on the menu and they are justifiably proud of their seafood dishes.”

Bev had arroz texano ($10.99), a combination of steak, grilled chicken, shrimp, and rice.  The steak and chicken were tender and the shrimp were fatties.  This was a substantial meal so some of it went into a to-go box and provided lunch the next day.arroz texano

Jo’s vegetarian fajitas ($11.99) were an ideal meal for a vegetarian low-carb diet– a hard to find commodity.  Grilled mixed vegetables were served with tortillas, guacamole, sour cream, and pico de gallo.  Jo loves hot vegetable salads, so mixed the fajitas and salad for a perfect meal.

Veggie Fajitas

Veggie Fajitas

Bryce ordered tacos de carnitas, which were 3 corn tortillas stuffed with shredded pork served with pico de gallo and rice.  Bryce declared them really good, very fresh. He said, “Carnitas are often dry, but these aren’t! And the pico has a nice kick.”

Veggie tacos and enchiladas

Veggie tacos and enchiladas

Margy’s combination #1 ($8.99) consisted of one taco and 2 enchiladas, all vegetarian, served with beans and rice.  This dish was good, familiar and not too hot.  It would be a good choice for someone who doesn’t like spicy food.

Manager Juan Carlos says business has been brisk since La Hacienda opened at this site and judging from our experience, we’re not surprised.  If you stand in the middle of Howard Street (which we don’t really recommend), you can hear the music of Mexico coming from La Hacienda and the music of Ireland coming from Nine Irish Brothers. And then you know you must be in West Lafayette—the home of great food from around the world!

The Dining Divas; Out to Lunch on the Road Less Traveled consist of:

Kay Conner, photographer, seafood superstar
Margy Deverall, author of Lafayette articles, dedicated vegetarian
Beverly Shaw, author of West Lafayette articles, bring on the beef (or chicken or pork)
Jo Wade, founder of this food blog, very veggie

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Out To Lunch Diving Divas Explore Peppercorns Kitchen

 

Shimp and walnuts

Shimp and walnuts

The Dining Divas can’t decide if Austin (our server) or the Walnut Shrimp was the hit of the day on our recent trip to Peppercorns Kitchen! Both were wonderful.  Peppercorns Kitchen, a Chinese restaurant specializing in Szechuan Cuisine, is the latest addition to Wabash Landing at 360 East State Street in West Lafayette and is much more spacious than you might guess from the front—and very attractive inside too.

Jo, Margy & BevTypically, Chinese meals are shared but half the divas have dietary restrictions so we headed down four separate paths all ending up in a happy place. Kay is still blissing out about that Walnut Shrimp. It’s listed under the Chef’s Special for $16.99* and as she says, “Boy, was it!”  She’s had excellent Walnut Shrimp and really not excellent Walnut Shrimp before and was anxious to see how this chef stacked up. We have a winner! This was a generous portion of large shrimp cooked perfectly in a very light sauce with toasted walnuts. In order to get your greens in, Kay suggests ordering this and a more vegetable based dish and then share both with friends. She’s not sure she can ever go back there again and not have a whole order of Walnut Shrimp all to herself. Better order your own if you’re dining with her!

Margy had the Salted Crispy Tofu for $10.50 and the tofu was cooked to perfection. The outside was genuinely crispy and the inside was tender as butter. It came with a small amount of sautéed peppers and onion and Margy would have liked it even more with a few dipping sauces. Bev skeptically tried it, never having gotten on the tofu train because of the consistency of the stuff, and was really pleased with it too!

Crispy tofu

Crispy tofu

Jo said the Eggplant Tofu ($9.99) was delicious! The eggplant and tofu were tender and cooked just right and it was blended with a tasty sauce. This was noted on the huge menu as not being a spicy dish but they were more than willing to accommodate Jo’s spicy desires, in the dish or on the side. She opted for on the side and received two different spicy sauces both of which made lunch even tastier.

Eggplant and tofu

Eggplant and tofu

Pork stir fry Bevs mealBev enjoyed the Beef with Mixed Vegetables ($13.95) with oh-so-tender beef and crisp sautéed veggies. In retrospect this was a really tame order. The menu includes Frog with Luffa, Pork Intestine, Blood and Ox Maw, Stir Fried Pork Lip, Dry Pot Rabbit and Entrails of Sheep Soup. Maybe next time! For now, she and the rest of the Dining Divas were happy with plentiful portion sizes, the obvious skill in the kitchen and the décor.

Peppercorns Kitchen has three private rooms (no charge) of varying sizes (10-30 people) with lazy susans on each table to facilitate sharing. They hope to have a full bar ready soon. In a VIP room, Bev, server, Margy & Jo

But back to Austin, our waiter. He’s been there since they opened and has tried just about everything on the menu, from pigs’ feet to organs. He patiently answered all of our many questions, knew or found out about tricky ones regarding dietary restrictions and was, just generally, a riot!

Peppercorns Kitchen is a wonderful addition to the area’s dining scene. Build up an appetite, gauge your sense of adventure and dive in!

Outside shot*There’s a less expensive lunch menu but we were ordering off the dinner menu. The lunch menu features 21 items for $8.95 (one is $9.95) and each comes with a spring roll.

Next up: La Hacienda in West Lafayette!

The Dining Divas; Out to Lunch on the Road Less Traveled consist of:

Kay Conner, photographer, seafood superstar
Margy Deverall, author of Lafayette articles, dedicated vegetarian
Beverly Shaw, author of West Lafayette articles, bring on the beef (or chicken or pork)
Jo Wade, founder of this food blog, very veggie

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Out To Lunch Diving Divas Explore Sushi Don – Asian Fusion

sushi-don_25149972745_oYou can’t judge a book by its cover, but some say you can judge a restaurant by the number of cars in the parking lot. Using that method alone, the Dining Divas predict Sushi Don is a sure winner before setting foot inside. If you’ve not eaten there before, we strongly suggest going early for two reasons. First – it gets busy so you’ll want to beat the crowd; second – the menu is huge, you’ll need plenty of time to check out all your choices.

Owner Gumdon Kang (Don for short) started in the food industry as a restaurant manager in Bloomington, Indiana. Soon he wanted his own business, came to Lafayette in 2013 and opened Sushi Don in its current location, 3338 Main Street, Lafayette.

Diana

Diana May sharing her sushi wisdom!

Today guest diva and sushi guide, Diana May, joins us having more experience eating swimmy things like Kay. While deciding what to have for lunch we share a bowl of edamame, blanched and lightly salted. “The dipping sauce, a combination of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, chili oil and sesame seeds, made it,” says Jo. “Spicy and lively,” says Bev. “The edamame was nice and crunchy and not overcooked,” adds Diana.

Lunches come with miso and a salad. Margy likes the lightly sweet dressing on the salad and miso on this cold day. To start our lunch we order three appetizers:

Shumai- Japanese style fried shrimp dumplings, 7 PC $6. They may LOOK like a tater tot but they’re way better with shrimp and lots of green onion.

Gyoza fried vegetable dumplings, 6 PC $5. The dumplings are a nice addition to the meal for our vegetarian friends.

Seafood shunner - eel

Seafood shunner – eel

Kay suggests a Sashimi Sampler, 9 slices of 3 kinds of fresh fish including salmon and tuna for $14. Gorgeous! Served on a bed of julienned daikon radish noodles, the dish is really fresh! The white tuna is incredible. Delicious, yummy, nice texture and no fish taste or smell. Carb free.

As lunch gets underway, Kay orders eel tempura – $10. Beautiful presentation, crispy and flavorful. Even Bev tries it! Sauces and very finely julienned vegetables make it a delight to see and taste!

Diana decides on haemul hot stone – $13.  Diana is happy with the spicy seafood mix, of octopus, mussels, shrimp, vegetables, rice and egg in a sizzling hot stone bowl. When they say spicy, they mean spicy but it’s not over the top. Very edible.

Jap Che Set

Jap Che Set

Bev chooses jap che set – $8.  Jap che is stir-fried glass potato noodles with your choice of topping and vegetables with Don’s sweet soy sauce. Toppings include bulgogi (marinated beef), pork, chicken, seafood, vegetable, kimchi (fermented cabbage), kimchi & bulgogi plus one maki (a type of sushi roll that includes toasted seaweed nori rolled around vinegar-flavored rice). Bev picks bulgogi and an avocado maki. The bulgogi is tasty and familiar. Warm noodles work in any country!

Bev points out the amount of prep work that must happen before the restaurant opens each day. Incredible! Our server Marilyn has worked at Sushi Don for two years. She explains that most of the prep work is done by hand and the chefs normally come in at 9am, two hours early but on Tuesdays and Thursdays they are in by 7am because those are the busiest days.

The menu has a list they call “Don’s special roll” which is two pages long! The well being – $9 is a delightful vegetarian option, with avocado, cucumber, Japanese pickle, carrot, cabbage, lettuce with Don’s orange ginger dipping sauce. The sauce is sweet and we REALLY like it. We share the beautifully prepared roll with its minced vegetables, along with our entrees.

Sushi rolls

Sushi rolls

Margy orders from the pick 2 maki (rolls) set for $8. From the nine options, asparagus tempura and shitaki maki win. The asparagus tempura has tiny, tender spears fried in tempura batter and then put in a sushi roll. The asparagus inside the roll is still crunchy, very fresh. Shitaki maki, aside from being really fun to say, tastes very mushroomy (yes, that is a word). Both choices are a hit!

Seaweed and avocado salad

Seaweed and avocado salad

Jo opts for the Seaweed and avocado salad. $5. Very fresh and not what she was expecting.  The fresh seaweed, avocado, sesame seeds and a light dressing make a fresh and tasty salad. Something you might expect on a beach at a resort.

Need more to convince you to try Sushi Don? Consider this … every day has a 30% off dine-in only special; daily lunch specials from 11-4pm are good on both dine-in and take-out orders; and on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, sushi rolls are 50% off. And if you need someone to help you navigate the menu, we highly recommend Diana!!

Kay Conner, photographer, seafood superstar
Margy Deverall, author of Lafayette articles, dedicated vegetarian
Beverly Shaw, author of West Lafayette articles, bring on the beef (or chicken or pork)
Jo Wade, founder of this food blog, very veggie

Out To Lunch Diving Divas Explore Lemongrass and Ah-Z

Lemongrass and Ah-Z.13Ever feel like getting away from it all to someplace completely outside your normal routine? Step into the Union Commons on the ground floor of the Purdue Memorial Union and you’ll feel like you’re in another world—if campus isn’t your usual hangout.

We entered the hustle and bustle for lunch at two sister restaurants, Lemongrass and Ah-Z. Step up to any line and pay at any register and they’ll sort it out for you, no worries. Lemongrass features wok-fired entrees and a variety of appetizers, emphasizing vegetables, sauces and spices found primarily in Thailand and Vietnam.

Miso Soup

Miso Soup

Jo dove into a bowl of miso soup (she was a big spender at $1.50!) and said it was “very tasty and just the right spiciness as I added a little Sriracha sauce that was available at the counter.” She found it filling and great for a cold day—savory and authentic tasting.

Vegetarian Margy enjoyed the broccoli stir fry ($6.05). The stir-fry lunches come in three sizes. Small comes with rice (plain or fried) and one entrée; medium has rice and two entrees; large has rice and three entrees. There were eight entrée choices, two were veggie friendly. The medium-sized lunch with fried-rice, Chinese broccoli and tofu was more than enough food. Ask for optional free sauces– sweet chili and peanut– at the register.  We managed to talk Margy out of taking a quart of the sweet chili sauce home! We figured that would push the “free sauce” issue, but it was that tasty!

Broccoli Stir Fry

Broccoli Stir Fry

Ah-Z Roll

Ah-Z Roll

Kay and Bev headed for the Ah-Z sushi line where their lunches became works of art. Ah-Z features handmade sushi rolls, sushi wraps, sushi bowls and noodle bowls. The 29 different menu items are made to order and always fresh. Kay enjoyed the Ah-Z roll ($11) which was filled with fresh tuna, fresh salmon, cream cheese, avocado, shrimp tempura, mayo sauce, unagi sauce, masago and green onion. The tempura shrimp caught her by surprise and she found it a delectable treat for a seafood lover.

There is a series of sushi rolls named after the schools in the Big Ten. Bev stops by here for lunch on a somewhat regular basis and, with limited interest in seafood, always has the Purdue Roll ($8) with avocado, cucumber, crab, spicy mayo, wasabi mayo, unagi sauce, topped with her favorite part—the crunch batter. Often, sushi rolls with crunch on top have pretty soggy crunch and if that’s not an oxymoron, we aren’t sure what is. But since Ah-Z makes these rolls to order, the crunch is… drumroll… crunchy! And delish.

Purdue Roll

Purdue Roll

This time, in an effort to expand her horizon, she chose the Indiana roll (also $8). She didn’t feel traitorous at all (largely because her money goes to IU to cover her son’s tuition) and enjoyed the avocado, cucumber, crab, sweet potato, spicy chili sauce and, you guessed it, crunch mix. Adding bits of ginger and clearing her sinuses with wasabi, she was a happy dining diva.

The Union Commons restaurants (there are more!) cater to the campus crowd so they’re open from 10:30 AM-6:30 PM on Monday-Thursday and 10:30 AM-3:30 PM on Friday. They’re closed on weekends. It feels a bit like being in a high-energy, crowded international market so if you’re intimidated by campus, you might choose to go during an off-peak time. On the flipside, if you’re intimidated by campus, get over it and step into the energy and commotion or you’ll be missing some good sushi!

The creation of

The creation of these delicious food items!

We didn’t get to so many tempting menu items like crab Rangoon, chicken satay, bao, pad thai, sesame peanut noodles and vegetable lo mein so return trips are in order. We invite you to get caught up in the spirit of the Union restaurants!

Kay Conner, photographer, seafood superstar Margy Deverall, author of Lafayette articles, dedicated vegetarian Beverly Shaw, author of West Lafayette articles, bring on the beef (or chicken or pork)
Jo Wade, founder of this food blog, very veggie

Out to Lunch Dining Divas Visit the Sunset Grill

Hungry for some Mexican food to warm our souls, the Dining Divas ventured to the Sunset Grill located at 1904 US 52W west of Morehouse Road.  This place caught our attention during the summer when they sold tacos out of a very busy tent in the parking lot. Now that it’s winter, you can take out tacos by going inside to a window on your right. But we were in the mood for some sit-down dining so we headed to a table in the warm, friendly restaurant. The well-stocked bar was within eyesight which we noted for another day.

Sunset Burrito

Sunset Burrito

Sunset Grill is a family business, now owned and operated by Gabrielle and Vilma Pedder.  Their original Baja California-style favorites have been incorporated into a more traditional Mexican menu which includes a buffet with daily specials. Today’s buffet consists of steak burritos, pork chile rojo, and all the freshly made cheese quesadillas you can eat. Our server, Mark, was enthusiastic and attentive.  He is a frequent customer there and loves the food so much, he wrangled himself a job as a server!  Vilma got us off to a good start with a refreshing and light appetizer of ceviche, made from fresh raw fish cured in lime or lemon juice and flavored with chiles.  This version was served with avocados and cucumber slices with a very spicy red sauce.

Taco Sampler

Taco Sampler

Bev ordered the taco sampler for $8.95.  It consisted of 7 small tacos filled with steak, roast pork, marinated pork, barbacoa, chicken, ground beef, and Mexican sausage.  This was a really fun meal and showed off some of the culinary talent coming from the kitchen. She tasted each one of them (it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it) but would consider sharing this dish next time. It was a generous amount of food! Her favorites were the ground beef which was seasoned in an interesting manner and the marinated pork which had pineapple in it.  They were both divine!

Fish Tacos

Fish Tacos

Kay ordered fish tacos for $9.95.  There were 3 tacos filled with grilled tilapia, shredded lettuce, tomato, and cheese served with a chunky guacamole and salsa, a side of rice and bowl of black beans.  Everything was delicious, fresh, and beautifully presented.  A whole grilled tilapia flavored with chipotle served with vegetables is also available on the menu.

Margy had the sunset burrito without meat for $10.95.  It is huge and she ended up taking the leftovers home for dinner.  There is some heat in the cheese sauce and she could really taste all the components inside the burrito–sweet peppers, rice, onions, cheese.  The burrito was accompanied by chips and a small salad of lettuce and tomato.  Margy also tried the horchata which she declared one of the best in town.

Chilequiles

Chilequiles

For Jo, chilequiles with two eggs were calling her name.  It was served on a green sauce with rice and beans and salad on the side.  It also came with a smoky, not hot, red sauce and was covered with grated cheese.  Another huge portion and another tasty dish.

A note on the sauces–all are made in house.  Red chile sauce and green tomatillo sauce are on the tables.  If you want something hotter—or maybe MUCH hotter–, you can get ghost chile salsa, South Carolina reaper salsa, or habanero salsa. Just ask your server.

Dining Divas

Dining Divas

One interesting menu offering is Molcajete for $19.95.  It boasts authentic Mexican flavors served in a hot stone bowl-chicken, steak, Mexican sausage, shrimp, cactus, cheese, onion, rice, and beans.  A traditional dish with flour or corn tortillas on the side.  We didn’t save room, but maybe next time!

After we thought we couldn’t eat another bite, Vilma brought us plates of two desserts made in-house: churros stuffed with chocolate or vanilla, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and a dollop of whipped cream, and bananas sliced the long way drizzled with condensed milk and strawberry sauce.  A great way to end the meal!

Churros

Churros

The menu is more unusual and creative than you typically see in a Mexican restaurant so we’re excited about exploring it further. Gabrielle and Vilma are relatively recent owners so we invite you to revisit the Sunset Grill if you haven’t been in the past year or so. Their enthusiasm for their business and food is contagious and now, so is ours!

Kay Conner, photographer, seafood superstar
Margy Deverall, author of Lafayette articles, dedicated vegetarian
Beverly Shaw, author of West Lafayette articles, bring on the beef (or chicken or pork)
Jo Wade, founder of this food blog, very veggie

Fried Banana Dessert

Fried Banana Dessert

Dining Divas Enjoy Mango Loco

Dining divas enjoyed another lunch out, this time to Mango Loco. The eyes on Kay’s whole shrimp lunch special were also on us, while we ate our way through some familiar and not so familiar Mexican dishes!

Camarones Enchipoclados

Camarones Enchipoclados

Mango Loco, at 1440 Sagamore Pkwy, Lafayette, is owned and operated by Pedro and Maria Juarez. Pedro explained that he and his wife have operated Mango Loco for about one year and are veterans in the restaurant industry. The two have worked every job there is, from bus boy to cook; now as owners they do it all!

Our first order was Dorilocos; a Mexican street food that starts with a bag of nacho cheese Doritos, covered with jicama (a sweet turnip like root vegetable), cucumber, peanuts, pickled pork rinds, salt, lime, and chili powder, for $5.00. A word to the wise, this is not for the faint at heart. This dish packs a lot of sweet and spicy heat! Pedro explained that is it most popular during hot summer months.

Kay chose camarones enchipoclados for $11.99 from the specials board. Kay and her lunch eyed each other while she prepared to eat the whole-shrimp dish. Up to her wrists in chipotle sauce, Kay announced that her lunch was delicious but really messy. After watching, we agreed and added yet another item to our “Not on the first date” list. Served with fresh avocados, additional red sauce and homemade tortillas, we heard “Really! Good!” more than once between bites.

Veggie

Picaditas

Jo ordered picaditas for $5.00 which comes 3 per order. This dish starts with a thick soft corn tortilla on the bottom with an edge, filled with red salsa, beans, onion and cheese. Jo noted the tortilla was crispy, softer and fluffier than ones you are used to on a taco. We had several sauces at the table to add to our food. Jo enjoyed the green sauce best to spice up her dish.

Cheese Em

Cheese Empanada

Margy decided on the cheese empanada for $5.00, 3 per order. The menu also offered the empanada loca, $2.00 each stuffed with potato, poblano pepper strips & cheese. Both are served with sour cream and lettuce. The dough was warm and flaky, and the cheese filling very mild but easily spiced up with the addition of the sauces, red and green. To round out the meal, Margy ordered the fresh mango juice to drink, giving it a solid two thumbs up.

Margy, Jo & Bev

Margy, Jo & Bev

Bev ordered carne asada from the specials board for $11.99. The dish included nicely marinated thin slices of beef with avocado, lettuce, tomato, beans and rice. The tortillas, homemade fresh daily, were up to the task of being filled with all that goodness. “It was delicious,” said Bev.

Bev Carne Meal

Bev Carne Meal

Several desserts were available to anyone who still had room. For Bev it was mango on a stick with lime and salt but she opted to get it diced. For $3.00, the dish came with chili powder and jicama sauce. An interesting mix of flavors! Sweet, hot, and salty depending on how much chili powder you put on it! Definitely a fresh mango. “I’ve never had a mango served this way and would have it again in an instant.”

Fruit Icecream

Fruit Ice cream

Margy ordered the ice cream mix. Given a list of fresh fruit and ice cream to choose from, you select three fruits and two ice cream flavors. Margy opted for mango, papaya and watermelon with homemade coconut and butter pecan ice cream. It cost $5.00. Chunks of fresh fruit, bits of coconut and nuts from the butter pecan all blended together for a fantastic treat. We all loved this and decided it was the most delightful part of the meal.

We saw lots of other new dishes to explore on return trips. Emoladas sounded good with a mole sauce. Seafood cocktail with shrimp, squid and crab. Did we mention they have ice cream?

Inside Mango Loco 2On their way out, Bev and Margy took a closer look at the freezer case and learned half of the ice cream is homemade. Curious about one in particular, Bev and Margy sampled the tequila ice cream. It’s made with essence of tequila so there was no chance of it affecting one’s ability to go back to work but it can improve your attitude because it is so delicious! If Mango Loco has one unique hook that other Mexican restaurants we have reviewed do not, it would be the homemade ice cream and worth a trip all by itself.

Kay Conner, photographer, seafood superstar
Margy Deverall, author of Lafayette articles, dedicated vegetarian
Beverly Shaw, author of West Lafayette articles, bring on the beef (or chicken or pork)
Jo Wade, founder of this food blog, very veggie

Out to Lunch Divas Explore Fresh City Market

 

Inside Fresh City Market

Inside Fresh City Market

ProduceFresh City Market on Northwestern Ave in West Lafayette may seem like an unusual destination for the Dining Divas, but in addition to being a full service grocery store, they offer a changing daily menu of breakfast, lunch, and dinner items.  The menu is on their website and includes ethnic themed buffets: African Monday, Italian Tuesday, Soul Food Wednesday, Latino Thursday, Mediterranean Friday, Asian Saturday, and Indian Sunday.  Located across from Mackey Arena, they boast a superb selection of other prepared foods such as soups, salads, sandwiches, sushi, desserts, to name a few, that make life easy for the busy campus community.

Sushi deli case

Sushi deli case

Their executive chef, Hilda, has an impressive write-up: I came to Fresh City Market from South Africa after working at Cornell Dining, where I gained extensive culinary experience from a number of prestigious resorts and restaurants, including The Plettenbergbay Hotel, The Palace Five Star Hotel of the Lost City, Tsala Treetop Lodge and Singita Lebombo Five Star Relais Chateau Lodge in the heart of the National Kruger Park of South Africa.  I have received numerous certifications including Executive Chef Certification and has received a Commis Chef Diploma from Warwick’s Chef School.

My passion for cooking began at my mother’s side, cooking for weddings, and I will never forget Grandma Maggie’s good cooking!  While I am trained in classic French cuisine and love French food, there is nothing like a good BBQ.

My favorite thing about Fresh Market is seeing the regular lunch crowd and finding out what their favorite foods are (secret: Coach Painter’s favorite soup is mushroom)!

Wow!

Dining Divas

Dining Divas

Despite the temptation to check out the buffet, we decided to sample the sushi bar with two chefs making fresh sushi to your special order while you wait or beautiful pre-made sushi rolls to grab and go.

Margy made to order veggie sushi

Margy made to order veggie sushi

Kay picked ‘Chef Sampler A’, an assorted seafood selection including white fish, smoked salmon, fresh salmon, crab, and even octopus powder.  Her favorite was a roll with fish, avocado, and rice covered with a crunchy coating and hot sauce.

Margy had a sushi plate made to order.  Sushi caprese roll was rice and avocado stacked between tomatoes and a generous wedge of cream cheese.  She liked being able to get sushi ‘her way’, that is to say, vegetarian.

Crispy veggie sushi

Crispy veggie sushi

Jo had ‘Sushi Veggie Crunch’, which included cucumber, tomato, avocado, mushrooms and rice all rolled in a crispy crunchy coating.  Yum!

We shared ‘Vegetable Grilled Dumpling’, 6 dumplings for $3.99.  These were tasty, but would have been better warmed up.  One of the things to take home to eat.

Several sauces including hot sauce, soy sauce, and of course wasabi and ginger accompanied the sushi.

Bev was so busy taking notes and enjoying that incredible wasabi sinus clearing effect that she neglected to write down which roll she had but it was really good!

Upstairs counter

Upstairs counter

We ate our meal in an upstairs room overlooking the grocery store which is used for meetings and cooking classes. From up there, we had a great view of the store with pillars painted by local artists. The inside of the market is very clean, attractive and modern with an industrial theme with exposed ducts.

There is also a long bar by a downstairs window with stools that people can eat at single file, but we longed for outside seating. Nothing attracts more diners than seeing diners so let’s hope they add some outdoor seating next spring!

 

Fish sushi

Fish sushi

Parking may seem daunting at FCM, but pull up to the garage door in the back and it opens automatically for retail parking. This is a welcome addition on this side of campus and not your typical grocery!