Serpentine lines waylaid our early attempts to hit downtown's new Punch Burger (137 E. Ohio St., 317-426-5280) for lunch. In the weeks immediately following the burger joint's early October opening, we would poke our heads inside the glass door, survey the scores of business-attired patrons queued up at the counter (with the line snaking down the center of the bustling dining room), and quickly go to Plan B. Holy cheese paper, it's just burgers. So we thought.
Now that we have tasted nearly every specialty burger on the wall-spanning chalkboard menu, including the Good Morning (topped with bacon, cream cheese, and a fried egg) the Texan (dripping with barbecue sauce) the Aloha (which leaves rivulets of teriyaki juice at the bottom of the basket), and the Burnt Cheese (onto which extra edges of grill-kissed cheese are folded), we get it. We absolutely get it. Like Long's Doughnuts on a weekday morning and an Animal-style Double Double at 1 a.m., the dense, smoky 1/3-pound pucks of locally sourced beef squished between glossy egg-washed buns at Punch Burger are worth standing in line for an excruciating length of time.
Using only the pristine grass-fed Angus beef from Jasper's Fischer Farms, Punch's owners (including the always-present Travis Sealls of Pita Pit) offer a quick list of their own creations and then provide a build-your-own flowchart that instructs customers to pick a bun (classic white, wheat, or pretzel), meat (options include ground turkey and a mushroom steak), cheese, toppings (perhaps red onion and house-made cooler pickles), and sauce (a squirt of anything from mayo to Sriracha). A la carte sides get no fancier than sweet-potato tots, waffle fries, and Asian slaw. Six (mostly local) beers are on tap.
Indianapolis has a long history of chomping down on gussied-up burgers, dating back to those halcyon days of Fuddruckers and G.D. Ritzy's, taking us right up to the Boogie and Bru era. Punch offers its own version of the genre, keeping things simple with a streamlined concept.
You get a burger. You get a side. You get a number. And it all arrives at your table in a paper-lined metal basket, for about what you would find in your sofa cushions at home. The branding, featuring a lot of stark red and white, takes the same pragmatic approach. The dining room has a spartan aesthetic, all hard surfaces with George Jetson curved chairs. It works wonderfully, even with the occasional imposing line. In this case, good things come to those who wait.