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Monday, December 4, 2023

Raising ‘The Bar’

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Although this week’s restaurant, The Bar at the Ambassador, 43 E. 9th St., is brand new, it is already gaining a good reputation. Since it opened on Sept. 13, customers have been raving about the authentic Cajun and Creole dishes, as well as the old-fashioned American comfort food that it offers.

Owner Tom Meganhardt, who has operated restaurants for decades, is thrilled about his new eatery.

“I’ve never been as excited about a new place as I am about The Bar,” says Meganhardt, who opened his first restaurant, The Distillery (now Bourbon St.), on Indiana Avenue in 1980. “It’s a great atmosphere, it’s comfortable, it’s in the beautifully restored Ambassador building, and the food is great.”

Customers agree.

“It is excellent,” remarked Alixandra Shank-Mulligan, a patron who is already a regular. “All my food had this great Cajun spice and the fish was tender. I love this place.”

One could be forgiven if she thought she left Indianapolis and entered the Big Easy upon entering The Bar. It has a relaxed feel to it, with dimly lit, cozy tables surrounding a central bar that seems like it is transplanted straight from Bourbon Street. And the food enhances the experience.

Head chef John Maxwell ensures that. He recently moved to Indianapolis from New Orleans, where he cooked at such legendary restaurants as Mother’s, featured in “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” and “Man Vs. Food,” and Antoine’s, a French Quarter institution since 1840.

His understanding of Louisiana cuisine starts at the cultural level.

“Cajun and Creole are different,” he explains. “Cajuns lived in the swamps. They sold all their best stuff to the people in the city, and used spices to make inferior ingredients still taste good. The Creoles lived in the city, were more affluent, and had ingredients from all over the world. Both had influences from all over – Africa, France, the Caribbean. It all sort of went together, like a gumbo.”

Food at The Bar is influenced by both traditions, as well as broader American flavors. Favorites include jambalaya, sweet corn and andouille chowder, and bananas foster (the delicious dessert where bananas and a sauce they are in are set ablaze). However, even the poorest Cajun would appreciate the prices – everything on the menu is below $10.

I tried fried catfish with fries, slaw and an avocado salad. The fish was great: tender, lightly breaded and well seasoned. It came with a homemade tartar sauce that was especially flavorful. Both the fries and the coleslaw featured unique, flavorful blends of spices. I especially enjoyed the slaw, which had a little kick and a flavor unlike any slaw I’ve tasted. The salad was also unique and tasty. It featured half an avocado stuffed with crabmeat along with field greens with red wine vinaigrette – pretty much nothing not to like.

Meganhardt and Maxwell both believe that the restaurant will get better as it gets older, which is good news for any Indy native interested in tasty food.

Call (317) 602-2279 to learn more about “The Bar.”

You can e-mail comments to Aaron Rimstidt at aaron-recorder@indy.rr.com.

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