small but mighty

By Sara McAninch  //  Photography by Jana Jones

Pint-sized plates satisfy at a sharing table

You hear it: the telltale sound of a stomach rumble. You’re hungry, but you don’t want a full heavy meal. Or maybe you can’t settle on just one flavor and want to sample from small plates and share with your tablemates. Whether you’re feeling generous or need to feed your cravings, here you’ll find four southside small plate options, each of which serve sensational flavor without the entrée commitment.

Scotch Egg
Red Lion Grog House, 1043 Virginia Ave., Indianapolis, (317) 822-4764,

At Red Lion Grog House, you and your family can get a taste of England right in Fountain Square. Tapping into his wife and father-in-law’s experience owning a pub in Liverpool, owner Wally Bolinger strives for the genuine. “When we designed the place, we wanted it to look like an authentic English pub,” he says.

In addition to tin ceilings dating to the 1870s, rustic lighting and hardwood floors, the restaurant also boasts a British menu inspired by Bolinger’s father-in-law and his recipes. A great small plate option is the Scotch egg, which is a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage, breaded, baked, then deep fried to create a satisfying crunchy outer shell.

While a hard-boiled egg might not be something you’d typically order at a restaurant, this is no ordinary ovum. The sausage is freshly ground and seasoned using garlic, onion powder, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper and a few eggs for binding. It’s wrapped around the egg, dipped in seasoned breadcrumbs, given an egg wash and then dipped in more crumbs. A bake in the oven fully cooks the meat, then a quick deep fry finishes the process. This large quartered egg dish is served with a side of chili aioli dipping sauce. When you bite into it, “you’re going to feel the warmth of the outer shell, then a little cool on the egg, and some warmth from the dipping sauce,” according to Bolinger.

If you’re on the fence about trying this British novelty, Mondays are half-price appetizers and $4 pints. Bolinger says, “It’s a cheap day to come try something new.”

Pan-Seared Blue Crab Cakes
RFD Franklin, 55 W. Madison St., Franklin, (317) 733-7333,

Nestled in the historic post office and former city hall, RFD Franklin embraces its past lives with its historically accurate décor and some modern upgrades. “You get a sense of history when you walk in the door,” says owner Lesa McDaniel Talley.

The lobby tiles and woodwork are original to when the building opened as a post office in 1937, and the newly refinished maple floors have endured thousands of footsteps in the past 83 years. High ceilings and authentic-looking pendant lights give you “a great feeling of space and time that you don’t get in a lot of modern buildings,” says Talley.

In addition to atmosphere, RFD Franklin offers flavorful fresh food that’s sourced locally as much as possible. There are several small plate menu options that will sate your hunger. One of the more popular ones is the pan-seared blue crab cakes. The mix of jumbo lump crab meat, diced onion and eggs is carefully formed into two large cakes and then served with a caper remoulade sauce and curled celery ribbons. Warm crab, a little saltiness from the capers and a satisfying celery crunch offer a delightful mouth feel.

“Unfortunately, a lot of times you have a crab cake and you’ll taste more of the Old Bay Seasoning or feel the breadcrumbs or whatever. Here you notice the flavor and texture of crab, and that’s what we’re going for,” says Talley.

The family-friendly restaurant will celebrate its first year in business in May. In warmer months, the outdoor patio is open. If you have a larger group, the restaurant has two private dining areas: one used to be a postal vault and the other was the postmaster’s office. As you savor the crab cakes in a unique environment, Talley and team encourage you to share your memories of the building to help others learn about its unique history.

Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Court Street Cafe, 39 E. Court St., Franklin, (317) 739-0208,

After almost five years in business, Court Street Café still maintains its warm and welcoming atmosphere along with homemade menu options. When you wander in, you’ll immediately notice the 18-foot-long communal table that runs down the center of the restaurant, the sprinkling of individual tables on the sides and some counter seating.

Although it’s not the most frequently ordered item, the chicken lettuce wraps are a delicious small plate option that’s also diet friendly. This dairy-free, low-carb dish “is a great combination of sweet, sour and salty,” says owner Sherry Young.

Chicken and fresh garlic are sautéed quickly in olive oil and then combined with fresh mushrooms, onions and water chestnuts. The ingredients are finely diced and cooked in a stir fry sauce before being plated with an Asian sauce and chopped peanuts on the side. Four large romaine or green leaf lettuce leaves serve as the mode of munching from the plate to your mouth. Young advises you to grab extra napkins, though, because the wraps can be a little messy, especially with the sauce.

One of the more unique aspects of Court Street Café is that the sauces and salad dressings are made from scratch, and the other ingredients are fresh and prepped in house. “Nothing comes prepackaged. We portion everything here,” says Young. If, for example, you order a meal that has strawberries, they’re not sliced until right before being served to maintain optimum freshness. Young acknowledges that it’s a different approach to running a restaurant, but people drive from some distance to get a taste of the scratch-made food.

Meatball Sliders
Vino Villa, 200 N. Madison Ave., Greenwood, (317) 882-9463,

In a historic house near downtown Greenwood sits a family-friendly wine shop and bistro. Opened in 2011, this establishment offers a laid-back vibe along with its large wine selection and full menu. “It’s a very nice casual, easygoing place. One of the rooms is even outfitted with a couple of couches,” says owner Paul Jacquin. “Our goal is to make people comfortable.”

If you get hungry for something savory while enjoying a glass or two of wine, try the meatball sliders. Parmesan cheese, oregano, thyme, cracked pepper and red pepper flakes are added to a combination of ground pork and beef to make pool ball-sized meatballs. The substantial spheres are then sliced and put on top of four pieces of toasted baguette with goat cheese before being covered in provolone cheese and house-made marinara sauce. After a bake in the oven to brown the cheese, the open-faced sliders are covered with shaved Parmesan and some parsley flakes. According to Jacquin, the dish is a nice shareable starter before a meal, or it can be a meal on its own.

While the menu does vary from time to time, he says the meatball sliders have been a classic so it’s likely they won’t say arrivederci anytime soon. Another popular menu item that’s been around since the restaurant opened is the baked brie. A French brie wedge is oven-baked, then topped with fresh blueberries and homemade berry compote. “One of the tastier elements that goes with it is our house-made maple walnut crostini that it’s served with,” says Jacquin.

During warmer months you can enjoy your small plate dishes and wines on the travertine patio. Live music is offered sometimes, and a newly created bocce court will open this spring.