Photograph courtesy Elijah Vandine
A FEW BITES into my short rib sandwich with its meat braised to velvety tenderness under a layer of chunky chipotle slaw, the wall behind the bar began to throb and thump with the sound of live music. The startled customers of Fountain Square’s Easy Rider Diner, a casual morning-to-night spot that opened at the end of October, looked up from their plates.
Our server smiled knowingly while a kick-drum and bass boomed in the “intimate, 400-capacity” music venue next door, the Hi-Fi. “I didn’t know there was a show tonight,” she said as she refilled our waters. But no one squeezing in a late Cubano or plate of garbage-can nachos at this funky little dining room wrapped in flowered red wallpaper and thrifted art should have been surprised when the whole place turned into a boom box. Josh Baker, a prolific local music promoter who is CEO and co-founder of MOKB Presents, owns both Easy Rider and Hi-Fi, tucked side-by-side in the historic, sprawling G.C. Murphy Building (now called the Murphy Arts Center). He put chef Ricky Martinez in charge of an effortlessly cool menu packed with surprises. The choices are delightful but unfancy: simple beer-battered fish tacos, chilaquiles drenched in tomatillo, mini Belgian waffles to dunk in a flight of sweet spreads, and bread pudding a la mode. Keeping with the greasy-spoon protocol, the doors open at 8 a.m. (or 9 a.m. on the weekend) for customers who want to kick-start their day with some chorizo breakfast tacos or a pastrami-and-Swiss sandwich fortified with egg and bacon. Prepped and wrapped breakfast sandwiches (scrambled egg and cheddar; steak and cheese with bacon, pickled onion, and roasted peppers; and a compact Fischer Farms cheeseburger topped with egg and caramelized onion) are stowed in a heated case at the front counter for easy grab-and-go access next to the branded glass coffee mugs and “Take It Easy” T-shirts.
With snug vinyl booths and bold red French bistro–style pendants hung over the tables, the place is unrecognizable from its previous life as the subdued Pure Eatery. A first-time restaurant owner, Baker snapped up the space last January, before he knew exactly what he wanted to do with it. “It has been a learning experience,” Baker says. “We were pretty blessed to already have a team of people who know how to produce events. A restaurant isn’t much different. You just add in the food component.”
Martinez, a veteran chef who has worked in a variety of kitchens around Indy—Adobo Grill, The Ripple Inn, Delicia, Bocca—adds some Southwestern flavor to dishes, like an omelet that’s cheesy with queso and garnished with pico and lime crema. The short rib eggs Benedict has chipotle Hollandaise, and you can get either wonderfully sticky and starchy sweet plantains or a dish of Mexican street corn on the side of your short-order huevos rancheros. Just keep in mind that Martinez’s chili-forward flourishes are more novelty than homage. Satisfying and rib-sticking between cold swigs of Topo Chico, sure, but if you’re a West Coast stickler craving true taqueria comfort food, you won’t find it here.
The menu switches to dinner at 4 p.m., subbing in dishes like a skillet of mac and queso embellished with pork belly and roasted peppers, a Buffalo-style fried fish sandwich, and a plate of roasted beets and rainbow carrots laid over a pouf of goat cheese mousse. And like a true rock star, Easy Rider keeps the late-night B&Gs and hard seltzers flowing until the house lights go up.