Binkley's at last. As before, parking was atrocious and the wait was quoted at "55 minutes" but unlike my previous attempts, we actually gutted it out and found ourselves eating a meal. Was the wait worth it?
In a word, yes. If you're looking for consistent crowd-pleasing fare in a pleasant inoffensive atmosphere, then go to Binkley's. Or Applebee's. Or TGI Friday's. Or any other number of chain restaurants where you'll find Brave New Food, market tested and lowest-common-denonminator approved. The only problem is, Binkley's isn't a chain restaurant. It just feels like one.
It's Friday night, about 6:45. I don't mind waiting if you don't have a reservation, but Binkley's doesn't take reservations unless you have a party of twelve or more. Someone please explain to me why restaurants don't take reservations. It perplexes me.
A note about arriving at Binkley's: you'll want to go in the back door, via the parking lot. You can walk through the front door but you might be waiting a while for someone to stumble onto you, because the hostess station is in the back.
After putting our names in, we went to the bar area. It, like the restaurant, is sleek, with exposed black-painted ductwork, large terra cotta tiled floors, and cool wood tables. A stone fireplace splits the bar and dining areas. The bar was crowded, a mix of the happy hour and waiting-for-dinner contingents, and it was difficult to find a comfortable place to stand where we weren't in the way. Despite standing in the servers' bar station area (a big no-no) we didn't get any flack. In fact, all of the servers we jostled elbows with were friendly.
We ordered from their wine list, which isn't steak-house big, but offers a good breadth of choices. They have a nice selection of wines by the glass (lots of whites and even more reds). It's a pretty predictable list but there are some nice choices including a Two Tone merlot that I'd recommend for any red drinkers.
We were seated after about 35 minutes in a smaller room off of the main dining room which also had a smaller second bar. The charm of the fireplace in the room was diminished by the presence of a few TV sets, which were thankfully muted. I had to brush old food off of my chair before I sat down.
Binkley's has the standard appetizer selection: nachos, crab cakes, wings, calamari, breaded mushrooms, etc. etc. One standout is the sesame seared tuna with a carrot cucumber slaw in a mango dressing, criss-crossed with stripes of wasabi and teriyaki sauces. The tuna was fresh and the portions ample, and the wasabi gave it a nice bite.
The rest of the menu offers plenty of choices — soups (veg, chili), salads (Caesar, Cobb), sandwiches (pork tenderloin, wild mushroom panini) as well as steaks, burgers, chicken, pizzas and a few seafood and steak entrees. The entrees are accompanied by a veggie and starch side, or you can choose to order sides a la carte for $2.25. The entrees seemed uninspiring to me (char-grilled chicken, North Atlantic Irish salmon, fish and chips). Instead, I tried one of their pizzas and my husband ordered the Cobb salad.
My Hawaiian pizza was excellent, featuring lots of ham, pineapple and almond slivers. The crust was coated with corn meal and very crisp. Even though it had a ton of mozzarella cheese it wasn't greasy or heavy. The Cobb was huge, with lots of crispy romaine, avocado, bacon, ham, egg, and a tangy bleu cheese dressing. We barely made it through half of what we ordered and took the rest home.
Service throughout the meal was very good. Our server was friendly and downright motherly, making sure we were always topped up in the beverage department and helping me choose a pizza (the Hawaiian is her kids' favorite).
The food's good, the drink selection is good, the service is good. So what's my damn problem? Why don't I like this place? My husband had the same vibe. We really want to love Binkley's. Our neighborhood needs more restaurants, and we were so looking forward to the opening of this place. But something is just...missing. Despite the tremendous effort they obviously put into the renovation, it feels a bit soulless. A bit chain-restaurant. Binkley's, despite its name tie to the past, feels like it has no past. As my husband pointed out, it would have been a good restaurant for Carmel or Fishers, but it doesn't seem to fit its location. It lacks the charm of Mama Carollas, or the quirky freaky rules of the Red Key. I wish they would be a little more adventurous with their menu and take a few chances. Maybe it just needs a few scuffs and cobwebs and personalities to define it. In the meantime, you'll find me down the street at the Aristocrat.
Binkley's Kitchen and Bar
5902 North College Ave.
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