Thunderbird • Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Thunderbird

1127 Shelby St. Indianapolis, IN 46203

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This trendy new spot in Fountain Square was opened by Josh Gonzales, a local mixologist, and his business partner Jonathon Altman. As of the time of the soft opening, no sign had been hung yet, but it’s located across the way from the duck pin bowling alley, on the corner of Shelby and Morris St.

The unassuming brick building has unique vintage decor including original wooden beams on the ceiling, industrial-style lighting and an exposed brick wall. The piano that’s built into the wall is arguably the coolest design element in the room. There are photos of artists that used to play in the old Thunderbird Club back in the 50s and 60s which we think adds a lot of character to the bar. The dining area is made up of a mixture of booths, tables, bar seating and a long communal-style table.  There will also be additional seating on the patio once the weather improves. The staff did not have uniforms and were comfortably dressed in flannel or polka dots.

The Thunderbird is a craft cocktail driven locale with a limited food selection. The cocktails are created by Gonzales, formerly of Pizzology, The Libertine Liquor Bar, and Ball & Biscuit. There are three prices for cocktails—$7, $9 and $11— with the $7 consisting of just bourbon and coke, gin and tonic, and vodka and ginger. The $9 options consist of three categories: refreshing, boozy, and classics. The ‘refreshing’ options were more fruity, the ‘boozy’ lived up to their name and had a kick to them, and the ‘classics’ consisted of a Manhattan, Champs Elysees, Pink Gin, and Ti’ Punch. The $11 cocktails were labeled experimental and will likely fluctuate, unless one becomes popular enough to be staple on their menu. There were three of us dining that night, so admittedly, we splurged a little.

Drinks

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Slapped Actress ($9)

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Bourbon Redemption ($9)

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Goldenrod ($9)

Being a craft cocktail bar, we had to try a few of their unique concoctions. Our first round consisted of a Slapped Actress ($9), Bourbon Redemption ($9) and Goldenrod ($9). Both the Slapped Actress and Bourbon Redemption were listed under the “refreshing” section of the cocktail menu. The Slapped Actress contained Tito’s vodka, Lairds Apple Brandy, Lemon, Lime and Sugar. The Bourbon Redemption had Four Roses Bourbon, Creme de Cassis, Lemon, Sugar and Angostura Bitters. The Slapped Actress tasted as expected, an apple-lemonade margarita—if such a thing exists—that went down smoothly. We would rank it in our top three drinks of the night. The Bourbon Redemption had a subtle bourbon flavor that was masked by the sweetness from the Creme de Cassis and the citrus from the lemon. This drink also landed on our favorite list. The Goldenrod was properly listed under the ‘boozy’ section of the menu. It contained Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Dolin Dry Vermouth, Yellow Chartreuse, Benedictine, Absinthe and Peychaud’s Bitters. This drink packed a punch from the smoke of the bourbon to the anise (think liquorice) flavor from the Absinthe, and herbal notes from the Benedictine and Yellow Chartreuse.
Recommendation: The Slapped Actress is probably the ‘girly’ drink of the three and if you like bourbon, you can’t go wrong with either of the other two.

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Corpus Callosum ($9)

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Boneshaker ($11)

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Joke about Jamaica ($9)

Our second round of cocktails consisted of the Corpus Callosum ($9), Boneshaker ($11), and Joke about Jamaica ($9). Again, we selected two drinks from the ‘refreshing’ section (Corpus Callosum and Joke about Jamaica). The Joke about Jamaica had Smith & Cross Rum, Gosling’s Rum, Montenegro Amaro, lime and Pomegranate Demerara. This drink would be one you would expect to have on the beach of an exotic island. It had a little spice to it (different from spiced rum) and a slight tang from the pomegranate. This drink rounded out our top three favorites. The Corpus Callosum was a good drink if you like the smokiness of mezcal. It has Sombra Mezcal, Cocchi Americano, Clemment Creole Shrub, Lemon, Agave Nectar and Mint. The drink was very smoky as we stated above and had a slight tart flavor. The last  drink of our second round was the Boneshaker ($11) which contained Backbone Bourbon, Averna Amaro, Lemon, Sugar, Heavy Cream and Egg. Of all the cocktails we had that night, this was everyone’s least favorite. It was an awkward flavor of smoke from the bourbon, sweetness from the Averna Amaro, and tartness from the lemon. It was topped with stiff whipped cream which made it very hard to drink. If you order this drink, be sure to ask for a straw.

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Mellow Corn ($3)

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Goddamn Rotterdam

Recommendation: Joke about Jamaica took the cake in this round.

Wanting to try a few more drinks we ordered the Goddamn Rotterdamn ($9) and a shot of Mellow Corn ($3). The Goddamn Rotterdamn comes with Bols Genever, Ransom Old Tom Gin, Honey and Lemon Bitters. This drink would come in a close fourth of all the drinks we had. It has some malt flavor from both gins and sweetness from the honey. The Mellow Corn shot is a 100 proof whiskey, so it packs a punch.
Recommendation: The Goddamn Rotterdamn has more complex flavors than the shot, but for $3, you might as well add a shot of Mellow Corn.

Entrées

Biscuit and Gravy ($10)

Biscuit and Gravy ($10)

Properly primed, we were ready to try some of the food offerings. Since they are a bar first, there are only 10 selections for entrees, four sides and two desserts. All entrées are $10, and they are medium in size, so ordering more than one per person is recommended, depending how hungry you are. First to arrive at our table was the Biscuit and Gravy ($10)—duck neck gravy, house made biscuit and a fried egg. This was our favorite of the night for many reasons. The gravy was thick and packed with flavor. There were bites of meat in the gravy that gave a burst of salt. The biscuits were amazing–soft, warm, buttery goodness. The fried egg was cooked over easy and the yoke was just what this dish needed to take it over the top. These aren’t your momma’s biscuits and gravy. They’re better.
Recommendation: If only there was a way to have this everyday and not gain weight.

Shrimp and Grits ($10)

Shrimp and Grits ($10)

The next dish to arrive was the Shrimp and Grits ($10)—butter-poached butterflied shrimp, white cheddar grits and chowchow. The highlight of this dish was the grits. They were creamy, almost like mashed potatoes, and were rich in cheddar flavor. The chowchow is a salsa verde of sorts and helped bring a pop of flavor. The shrimp were good, but they were slightly undercooked (about 85% done). I asked the table next to us if their shrimp was the same and they agreed.
Recommendation: Definitely worth getting. Hopefully they work out this small kink.

Chicken and Hoecake Sandwich ($10)

Chicken and Hoecake Sandwich ($10)

Chicken and Hoecake Sandwich ($10)—a fried buttermilk chicken thigh, smoked cheddar on a hoecake with bacon honey butter. This dish had a lot going for it, but also had some holes in it. The sweet/salty flavor combination was great, along with the contrasting textures from the soft hoecake and the fried chicken. However, the chicken itself could have been improved with more salt/seasoning as it really lacked flavor. Additionally, a thicker serving of chicken might have been nice since the hoecake overpowered most of the other elements—taste and texture wise.
Recommendation: We wanted to love this, but there were better dishes had tonight. We would still give it a second shot.

Hush Puppies ($10)

Hush Puppies ($10)

We ordered the Hush Puppies ($10) with tasso ham, corn and a red eye gravy aioli. There were eight or nine puppies about an inch-and-a-half wide. This dish smelled like tasso ham, although when bitten into, the ham was scarce. The hush puppies were perfectly fried and were not too crunchy. The red eye gravy aioli was a perfect sauce to go atop these delicious bites. The sauce added a salty flavor that gave this dish just the right amount of salt (almost too salty, but not quite).
Recommendation: A close second to the biscuit and gravy. Delicious.

Side

Cornbread

Cornbread ($4)

Being a southern inspired menu we thought the Cornbread ($4) with spiced maple syrup was a no brainer. Unfortunately we were wrong. Really wrong. This cornbread was not only bone dry, but it also lacked any flavor whatsoever. You’d think that the syrup would have to make it taste moist since it’s basically liquid, but you’d be wrong. There were also a couple of bites that tasted VERY strange, like plastic or chemicals. Sean didn’t believe me at first, but then all my thoughts were validated when he took a bite from the middle. Not good.
Recommendation: We think cornbread should be its own food group, that’s how much we love it. We’re bummed that this fell short.

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Beignets ($4)

Desserts

There were only two desserts and they were both four dollars, so we had to try them both. The Beignets ($4) came topped with an espresso cream sauce that really didn’t have too much flavor. The beignets themselves (five in all) were good, but if you have ever had beignets at Cafe Du Monde or Cafe Beignet in New Orleans, these don’t really compare. The dough was more dense than we were used to and the beignets were rolled in sugar, rather than dusted with powdered sugar. Powered sugar is a staple on beignets. We’re of the belief that if you change a classic dish, you should knock it out of the park. These were more like small donuts than beignets.
Recommendation: Good, but we wouldn’t order them a second time.

Peach Upside Down Cake ($4)

Peach Upside Down Cake ($4)

The last item we had was the Pear Upside Down Cake ($4). The cake itself was moist and airy. Perfection. The pears added a subtle flavor and sweetness to the dish. The cream on top was clearly homemade, thick and delicious. Everything about this dessert was wonderful.
Recommendation: We didn’t expect to love this as much as we did. We’ll be ordering it again. And again.

Overall

You can’t expect perfection at a soft opening and while there were a couple of kinks, we’re already VERY impressed. The servers were very friendly and attentive, although they didn’t seem to know the menu very well (again, this is only their soft opening, so we understand). We all said that we would have liked to have seen some appetizer options on the menu, since it’s a bar, but for the most part the food was awesome. Some drinks were excellent, others were just okay. As with most craft cocktails, you probably have not heard of at least one ingredient in the drink, so be sure to talk with your servers/bartenders and tell them what you like so they can make recommendations. We loved their creativity in all aspects. We most certainly will be returning here. It can only go up from here and they’re already off to a very impressive start.

Rundown:

Food: 4/5
Service:
4/5
Price:
$$
Location:
Downtown (Fountain Square)
Cuisine:
Southern, Gastropub
Dress Code:
Casual

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