Staying on Indianapolis' northwest side on a recent visit to the area, I found that there were few dining options in the area. One place I found was a small place just inside the I-465 beltway at W. 71st Street - Chef Mike's Charcoal Grill. It appeared to be popular with people staying at a handful of hotels in the immediate area - probably because there weren't many alternatives close by. I drove over to Chef Mike's Charcoal Grill to give it a shot.
Chef Mike is Mike Atherton, a certified executive chef for over 35 years. He's also a member of the American Culinary Federation and a former "Indianapolis Chef of the Year" award winner. Mike's dream was to open a small restaurant where everything - down to the buns for his burgers - were made from scratch. He loved the concept of cooking over charcoal and he procured a 42" Weber industrial grill, similar to the ones that are used at Weber Grill restaurants in the Chicago area and Indianapolis.
Atherton found a location in northwest Indianapolis that formerly housed Gallahad's - a bar/restaurant that was popular in the 1990's. After some sprucing up and redecoration, Chef Mike's opened in June of 2009. Mike Atherton also operates Chef Mike's Catering which can handle weddings, parties, corporate events or any large gathering.
Chef Mike's Charcoal Grill is sort of tricky to get to. First of all, it's located in a small strip mall that has seen its better days directly behind a McDonald's at the corner of W. 71st and Woodland Drive. (see map) Now, don't make the mistake many people do of pulling into the McDonald's thinking they can get to Chef Mike's from there. There's a large field in between the McDonald's and Chef Mike's with no access to the strip mall's parking lot. And don't make the mistake I did - pulling into what is nothing more than a large lot that is used for truck parking for the hotels in the immediate area thinking that was the access point. You pull into the street that takes you to the Holiday Inn Express, then take a left into the strip mall where half the mall is empty and the parking lot chock full of pot holes and crumbling asphalt. Chef Mike's is on the far end of the strip mall, visible from W. 71st St.
Entering Chef Mike's, there's a vestibule that has a door on the left and a door on the right. I took the door to the right and was met with a sign that said that section of the restaurant was closed. I took the other door and stepped up to a hostess stand. One of the servers - Tina - met me at the stand and asked me where I'd like to sit. The restaurant was about half full and there were a lot of options. I spied a booth along the wall and told her that I'd take that. She left off a menu for me to look over.
A large big screen projection television with crappy resolution was showing an Indiana Pacers basketball game. It was difficult to follow the action because the projector was so bad. The rest of the place seemed a little worn and tired. There was a bar area but I didn't see a bartender, per se. There was someone moving back and forth behind the bar and waiting on tables. She was only one of two servers along with Tina.
Chef Mike's Charcoal Grills features steaks, chops, seafood and even pizza on their menu. And all are cooked on one of Chef Mike's big Weber grills. But the emphasis seems to be on Chef Mike's menu of burgers. All the burgers are made from a combination of ground short rib, brisket, chuck and sirloin. He also had a Wagyu beef burger available, as well. His signature burger is the bourbon and chive burger. There was also a barbecue burger that was topped with a housemade barbecue sauce. Two interesting burgers - the Red Devil burger and the Burger from HELL - popped out at me. The Red Devil burger featured Havarti cheese, fresh jalapenos and a housemade hot sauce. The Burger from HELL stepped it up a couple notches by using habanero peppers instead of jalapenos and Sriracha sauce instead of Chef's Mike housemade hot sauce. I sort of thought about trying the Red Devil burger, but was worried that the spicy taste would cover the overall taste of the burger.
I had plenty of time to look through the menu as Tina and the other server were the only ones on the floor. I wasn't in any large hurry, but I could see where the slower than usual service may irritate some people. I sat enjoying my Walkabout beer - it gets its name from the Australian hops they use in the brewing process. It didn't have quite the forward pale ale hoppiness that I seem to like. The Walkabout was more like a smoother American pale ale. But it was still quite good. The other good thing about Chef Mike's is that they had free Wi-Fi allowing me to get fast access to e-mails, Tweets and Internet information.
When Tina finally made it over to get my order, I ended up getting the bacon, mushroom, Swiss cheese burger - a burger that is squarely in my wheelhouse. I had a choice of sides which included something called potato skins. Tina explained that they were basically sliced and fried red potatoes. It was either that or fries, potato salad or something called red raisin slaw. I took the fried red potatoes.
It took about 20 minutes and another beer before my food came out. The burger was big and thick with a slice of Swiss cheese on top of the sauteed mushrooms and bacon. It wasn't even melted onto the burger like you'd find elsewhere. It seemed rather strange to get it that way. A garnish of lettuce, tomato and a large dill pickle slice came on the side. But I wasn't going to add that to the burger.
I had ordered the burger "medium" which Tina described the meat as being "pink". But the burger had little pink in the middle - it was more medium-well. A little overcooked in my book, but it was still juicy and flavorful. I still couldn't get over the fact that the Swiss cheese slice was sort of an after thought during the cooking process - almost like the chef forget to put the cheese on until it was dolled up on the plate.
Still, the burger was pretty good. The bun held together well with all the stuff on top. It had a good chargrilled taste and was well above average in taste and composition.
The red potato fries were good, but they were very greasy. I just had a few of them because I was concentrating on trying to finish the rather large burger. After finishing the burger, it laid in my stomach the rest of the evening like a gut bomb. But it was rather tasty going down. It was just - almost - too big.
While one may look at the outside of the mall that Chef Mike's Charcoal Grill is located in as worn out and run down, and the interior of the restaurant is a little tired, you need to look past that to realize that he has a pretty good burger on the menu. Don't be in any type of a hurry when you go, either. It was well over an hour from the time I entered Chef Mike's to the time that I finally left. If you can wrap your head around the fact and accept that the good burgers trump the peripheral visual noise and slow service, you'll enjoy Chef Mike's Charcoal Grill.