OK… How do I start? Fat Dan’s on Broad Ripple Avenue has been a favorite lunch location for my friend Jeff and me for quite a while. It is one of the few, if not only, places in Indy to serve a genuine Chicago Dog using Vienna Beef hot dogs and Old Style Beer. It also serves up some of the best fries in the city. We were awfully disappointed to see the sign at the old location removed, and thought the place was gone forever.
Imagine my delight when I discovered Fat Dan’s merely relocated a few blocks down College Avenue near 54th Street! I set an appointment with Jeff for lunch and we headed down to Broad Ripple.
Fat Dan’s Chicago Style Deli is a burger and dog joint that just happens to sell some pretty good barbecue as well. When you walk through the front door on a sunny afternoon, it takes a moment for your eyes to adjust to the dimness inside.
The first thing you notice is the long bar on the right side of the single room and a large three panel chalk board on the wall with the menu written on it in multi-colored chalk. At the far end of the bar you see a fellow sitting down in front of a laptop. That fellow is Dan Jarman, the Dan in Fat Dan’s. The waitress, Amy walks by on a way to serve a table and tells us to sit wherever we’d like. Jeff and I find a comfortable spot to sit down.
Once seated I take a good look around at the way the restaurant is decorated. The ceiling is bare to the joists of the floor above us and the rough concrete floor is bare as well. The tables are clean and also bare. The bar top is peppered with small galvanized steel buckets filled with menus and the word “Bait” painted on them. Each table has a bucket as well. The two flat screen televisions above the bar are tuned into the MLB network. Painted on the wall above each table is a small square patch of chalk board with chalked doodles drawn on them. Above our table was a roughly drawn Tardis and a Dalek among the other drawings. The décor is somewhat shabby and it is deliberate.
Everything on the menu except for the Dry-Rubbed Ribs and Smoked Jumbo Wings and sides are served between two pieces of bread. The sandwiches and dogs are served wrapped in wax paper, the wetter sides in paper baskets and everything to include the fries is served up on a big piece of white butcher paper. The butcher paper acts as a sort of community plate for the table. What cutlery there is, is plastic and you tear your napkin off a brown paper roll. Everything except the coleslaw and cottage cheese is made for your fingers, the forks nature gave you, so go ahead and use them.
The ambiance is noisy, voices and noises from the bar and kitchen bounce off the walls ceiling and floor, so don’t expect to be able to have a quiet romantic dinner together. It is a great place; however, to meet with friends for a meal before heading into Broad Ripple.
Fat Dan’s can seat up to around 65 people if you include the sidewalk patio area. Amy our server, tells me they have anywhere from 3 to 5 people staffing the place depending on the time of day. She tells me Dan is a hands on owner. He’ll take a shift working the grill, the bar, or serving tables. He’s the one that built the menu from his childhood memories of Chicago. Oh, and by the way, the service is great. The staff and owner are easy to talk to and very helpful. They also have suggestions ready for anyone who can’t decide on what they want to eat.
Tables are cleared and washed quickly after the guests leave. The kitchen is separated from the public by an 8 foot wall with an open ceiling. From what I could see of the fry hoods and the cooking area as I walked around it, it is kept very clean. I’m not all that surprised because at the old location the kitchen was completely open and kept clean as well. The two available bathrooms are unisex, like the restaurant they are deliberately shabby but clean.
Amy comes and takes our order. I ask her what beers they have. She names off a litany of microbrews and domestic big label beers. I seize on the Old Style, although many of the microbrews sounded really good, especially the couple types of Founders beers they have on tap. Jeff orders a Diet Coke. Amy leaves us with tri-fold grey scale printed menus and goes to fill our drink orders.
A quick perusal of the menu makes it clear this restaurant is geared towards the unapologetic carnivore. Vegetarian offerings consist of the Not-so-Fat Black Bean Burger, Peyton’s Grilled Cheezy, coleslaw, cottage Cheese and fries. If you are a vegan there’s nothing on the menu for you. If you are an ovo-lacto vegetarian, to say the menu is restricted is putting it mildly. Fat Dan’s is a place both of you would rather avoid. Everything is ordered à al carte so don’t expect a side of fries or coleslaw without ordering it.
Amy comes back with our drinks and takes our order. Jeff orders the Fat Dan’s Brisket, I order a Chicago Dog, a small order of the Best Fries in the Universe and a Fat Frenchy that Dan recommended when I talked to him about the menu.
A short time later Amy returns with our order. I start by taking a couple of fries off the butcher paper it is served on. The fries at Dan’s are cut fresh and fried skin on, right there in the restaurant. They’re a bit different from a standard side of fries (as if anything is really standard anymore). They are a mélange of the traditional long cut fries and thinly sliced potato rounds. Some of the rounds and smaller fries are crisp like potato chips and the rest are soft. They are well seasoned as well. Fat Dan’s fries are excellent. They have no need of a condiment.
Jeff is a little surprised his smoked brisket is a sandwich. He’s on a low-carb diet six days a week so he gives up the buttered grilled bun and hits the beef with gusto. The meat is both tender and chewy with a light smoky flavor, over all I’d say it’s very good. The barbecue sauce served on the side tastes like KC Masterpiece. The sauce is good enough for a backyard grill out but does not do the brisket justice. Lucky for Jeff the brisket tastes great all on its own.
The coleslaw is creamy with just a hint of sweetness. It is mostly shredded red cabbage with a little green mixed in for color. In a word, delicious.
I open the wrapper to the dog and the colorful glory of that which is the Chicago style hot dog assails my eyes. The vinegary pungency of the mustard, relish, dill pickle and sports pepper make my mouth water and I get in my first bite. It is wonderful, everything you expect a great Chicago style hot dog to taste like.
The Frenchy is a great burger. A large hand formed patty of well seasoned beef seared to a mouth watering mouthful of beefy joy sits on top of grilled buttered bun with a smear of mustard, some lettuce and a tomato. On top of the burger is a pile of sliced smoked ham topped with melted brie dotted with capers. Very tasty, I was half way through the burger before I remembered I was supposed to be reviewing it.
Fat Dan’s is one of the few places in Indy where you can order your burger medium rare. Dan orders his hamburger meat custom ground from a local market and the meat is delivered fresh.
The portions are generous especially the fries, as I ordered a small fries and there was enough there to feed both Jeff and I if Jeff hadn’t been on a low-carb diet.
Oh, and Dan’s also offers weekly and weekend specials of food not normally on the menu. You can find out about these specials by following Fat Dan’s on Facebook.
The Juicy Bits
Fat Dan’s Chicago Style Deli is burger and dog joint that just happens to sell pretty good barbecue as well. The restaurant is ideally located as a meeting place to stop in at with friends for good beer and a meal before heading into Broad Ripple.
Dan’s has a nice selection of micro-brews and big label beers on tap. The wine list, while short, is a pleasant one featuring a few California wines and a handful of others from various wine regions around the world and can be ordered by the glass or bottle. Being part French, I was a little disappointed that nothing from France was listed. All the typical non-alcoholic beverages are available as well.
The menu is built from Dan Jarman’s (The “Dan” in Fat Dan’s) childhood memories of Chicago and is definitely geared towards the unapologetic carnivore. Dan’s Chicago Style Hot Dogs are made with Vienna Beef hot dogs as they should be. The flavors are wonderful, everything you’d expect a great Chicago Style Dog to taste like. His burgers well seasoned and are hand formed from custom ground beef ordered fresh from a local market. The burgers are delivered to your table fresh from the grill, seared to perfection. His smoked meats have a great smoky flavor and are tender. His portions are generous, especially his hand-cut fries. To keep his menu fresh, Dan offers weekend specials and the occasional weekly one too.
In summary; the service is good, the food is fresh, it tastes great, and there is plenty of it. I’d be happy to go back any time.
Fat Dan’s Chicago Style Deli
5410 North College Avenue
Indianapolis, Indiana 46220
Tel: (317) 600-3333
Hours: Monday-Thursday (11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.); Friday & Saturday (11:00 a.m – 11:00 p.m); Sunday (11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.)