The Flip Side: A Review of 317 Burger
The newest member of a sprawling restaurant family carries on the casual-dining tradition.
With part-ownership in a string of easy-to-like restaurants around Broad Ripple, Bill and Nancy Ficca might be the most successful trend-surfers in town. They, along with a rotating cast of partners, perfected bistro-noir date night with Usual Suspects (2006); poured drinks for college kids in the sticky, subterranean Casbah (2006); transformed a former biker bar into white-upholstered stunner The Northside Social (2010) and then turned its adjacent parcels into the darling sandwich nook Northside Kitchenette (2010) and tobacco-chic Village Cigar (2012); and went on to master empanadas and tostones with a pan-Latin beauty, Delicia (2013). Now, with the December opening of 317 Burger, gussied-up patties and craft beers are about to have their own moment on the Ficcas’ timeline of Indy’s culinary evolution—in the form of a high-class honky-tonk that grinds its own steak burgers. Would you like duck-fat fries with that?
You could argue that Boogie Burger pioneered the genre on this same block of Westfield Boulevard with its tiny walk-up shack that moved (and expanded) to its current location east of the strip. But 317’s version—in the former Ambrosia spot—has the polished veneer of a burger boutique, complete with faux-leather walls, linen-shaded sconces, and high-backed wooden booths upholstered in actual white-and-tan cowhide. “With apologies to our vegetarian customers,” Bill Ficca says. “But you came to a burger place.”
He uses the term loosely. A paper menu that also serves as your placemat lists just nine signature burgers, and only the first two contain beef. A hulking, gloppy None the Wiser seems oddly specialized, its jagged-edged meat puck engulfed in Swiss cheese, a caramelized ring of grilled pineapple, bacon, jalapeño, and barbecue sauce. Bite in, and the juices release like a geyser that runs down your hand, while the combination of smoky and sweet flavors validates the oddball toppings. It’s all jammed inside a Cornerstone Bakery bun toasted just enough to support the architecture. The other cow-based option, the 317, layers on a ganache-like coating of four cheeses—plus pepper bacon and garlic aioli—to build the king of cheeseburgers.
The remaining seven “burgers” sport alternative patty contents, ranging from a stacked, wasabi-dressed Spicy Tuna so substantially dense with meat that it might as well be a tuna steak underneath that cool slice of avocado, to a beet-based Veggie with the kind of musky, earthy flavor and shocking red hue that only a devoted herbivore would love. Some of the concoctions work gloriously, like the tasso-, sausage-, and bacon-topped Pork Love. Others flop: The Kentucky Hot Brown’s turkey patty, though uncharacteristically flavorful for gobbler meat, gets lost beneath too much brown mustard. And some sound better in concept: Not even fennel jam and goat cheese can save the underseasoned lamb burger.
Beyond that, customized DIY creations can be adorned with a la carte options that include seven types of bacon, 10 cheeses, and other add-ons as random as apple chutney and chicken gravy.
The bacon fetish is addressed too, of course. BLTs come in three sizes, topping out at a 2/3-pound, $15 goliath. One hard-to-resist starter, country-fried bacon, is batter-dipped and frizzled into planks as big as chicken tenders. And you may order extra shards of bacon on 317’s textbook version of the Canadian neck-thickener poutine—stout, russet-y fries scattered with softening bits of mozzarella and cheddar, served with salty brown gravy for dipping.
Even in its most indulgent moments, 317 doesn’t claim to be a gourmet restaurant. It’s not even on the cutting edge of burger innovation. And it doesn’t tout local sourcing of ingredients, as so many of the playbill-style menus do these days, though Bill Ficca says he is exploring more homegrown options. In the meantime, he’s just giving the people what they want. “I didn’t grow up thinking I wanted to open a burger place someday,” explains the restaurateur, who says he
simply chose a new theme that he thought the Broad Ripple market would support. Or, maybe more accurately, he was running out of choices.
915 E. Westfield Blvd., 317-251-1317, facebook.com/317beer
Hours Sun., Tues.–Thurs. 5 p.m.–midnight; Fri. and Sat. 5 p.m.–1:30 a.m.
This article appeared in the March 2014 issue.