I was excited to check out Ed Rudisell’s new Rook venture yesterday for lunch with an old friend. I like what Ed’s got going on at Black Market, and had high hopes for his new Vietnamese banh mi sandwich shop.
The little eatery’s located directly on the Cultural Trail as it leads to Fountain Square from downtown via Virginia Avenue. Definitely a smart move, location-wise. Rook’s on the south side of the street just down a block from Bluebeard and in the same building with some sort of shared co-op space for creative types. Customers enter in the same entrance as the co-op, and as I sat in the front of the restaurant, I’d say more than half of the people who came in tried to go in the co-op first before realizing it wasn’t the door into Rook. No biggie, but might be something worth addressing?
Rook is small and industrial-chic with concrete floors, white walls and tables, strings of bare-bulb lights, and these awesome distressed yellow metal chairs. The vibe kinda felt like hanging out on a really trendy patio in someone’s backyard.
Ed was chatting about the food with another customer when I came in, and I overheard him saying that this was the kind of stuff chefs like to eat when they get off work. I don’t blame them. You can’t beat a good sandwich with a can of soda and something crunchy on the side.
The menu here is fairly short, but offers a nice range of options. For the uninitiated, Vietnamese banh mi is a long, flat sandwich made on soft bread and filled with yummy things like pork, steak, and sausage and topped with pickled vegetables. Not really all that different than a sub or hoagie when it comes right down to it. Rook offers nine varieties to choose from with whimsical bird-themed names like the Raven, the Nighthawk and the Magpie.
My friend ordered the Rook, stuffed with Vietnamese pork roll and chicken liver terrine; I went with the Crow’s Nest with Chinese BBQ pork. Both were garnished with a light smear of mayo, cilantro, thin slivers of jalapeno and a bit of shredded pickled radish/carrot slaw. We jazzed things up with some spicy sriracha – it’s the only condiment here, but available in mass quantities via a shelf full of bottles for help-yourself service.
The sandwiches (all $8) were good and the ingredients were very fresh. A few pieces of my pork were a little chewy, but it had good flavor, and I loved the fresh garnishes. The pickled radish and cilantro really brightened up the whole concoction. My friend seemed pleased with his banh mi as well, polishing it off in short order.
The only sides here are pork cracklings and shrimp chips (although on my visit, the chalkboard menu included lotus chips as well). For fried food fans and pork rind enthusiasts, the cracklings were like little bites of crack. Seriously, I could have easily downed a couple bags of these with a nice light summer beer and called it a meal. The shrimp chips were fine, but the crunchy still-warm (!!!!) pork cracklings were definitely the winner.
For dessert, Rook carries several Circle City Sweets macarons in Asian-themed flavors like black sesame, green matcha and lemongrass.
Overall, Rook was a great little lunch stop. Nothing fancy, just distinctive, fresh, reasonably priced sandwiches and chips in a fun atmosphere. Banh mi is something unique for Indianapolis, and I hope it catches on. Check it out.
For more info, www.rookindy.com.