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Review: Baby’s

Smashburgers and boozy shakes take center stage at Baby’s, a family-friendly neighborhood spot in a former drag bar.

It was a tough act to follow, but Baby’s exploded onto Indy’s dining scene like a glitter bomb, aggressively fresh-faced and ballerina-colored in a certifiably artsy pocket of Herron-Morton. Focused on burgers, shakes, and sweet young Millennial families, it took over the 3,500-square-foot shell of Talbott Street Nightclub’s drag stage in August. The space had sat empty since 2016, a ghost of its glammy heyday when Montana Melons, Asia LaBouche, Sage Summers, and the other queens of Talbott Street held court on a tiny spotlit stage. Countless bachelorette parties went off the rails in this very room. Noses were contoured, wigs prepped, drinks spilled, dollars bills tucked. Honey, if these cotton-candy walls could talk.

Baby’s puts its customers in a different kind of happy place these days. Suitable for date night, family night, and girls’ night out, it looks like the adorable love child of Mel’s Diner and the Barbie DreamHouse, with hot-pink vinyl booths and mural-covered half walls that open onto a four-seasons patio packed with mod chairs. Pink neon glows behind a glossy white-brick bar with an 18-foot resin bar top streaked in pink, yellow, and green, like ribbon candy. Every darling detail, from the peeled-banana wallpaper in the bathroom to the honeycombed climbing sculpture by artist Brose Partington on the lawn, was part of co-owner Kendall Lockwood’s master plan to create a neighborhood hang that pays clever homage to Talbott Street’s fabulous past. “This place has been a part of the neighborhood for so long,” she says of the cute brick structure built next to the Talbott Theatre in 1929. The address housed a family grocery store, thrift store, seafood restaurant, and jazz cafe prior to its most recent run as an LGBTQ institution.

Diner chow down under one of the murals that capture Baby’s vibrant personality.Tony Valainis

You’ll pick up on the winks and innuendos if you look for them; the menu’s chicken sandwich icon wears a tasteful bouffant, the rotating seasonal milkshake is dubbed “curious,” and a boudoir-style chandelier hangs extravagantly in one corner. Lockwood (who shares ownership of Baby’s with attorney Trevor Belden, a partner with Faegre Baker Daniels) plans to do drag brunch, drag queen story hour, and a Dragsgiving pub crawl. She also wants families to share some quality time over piles of Talbott Street Style fries, crispy McDonald’s knockoffs glitzed up with bacon, cheese sauce, white barbecue sauce, and pickled jalapeño. She encourages students at nearby Herron High School to stop in for “High School Happy Hour” milkshakes. “You know how the kids on shows like Riverdale have their own hangout? Wouldn’t it be cool to have something like that right down the street from your school?” says Lockwood. Her current vision is in sharp contrast to her last gig, as general manager of craft-cocktail purveyor Ball & Biscuit, where she made her mark as one of Indy’s most talented mixologists. The Mass Ave bar’s brick-and-squished-mortar walls foster the quiet nursing of brown liquor under Edison bulbs. Lockwood thinks of Ball & Biscuit as her Zen space. That would make Baby’s her carnival midway?

Unlike the decor, the menu has a simple flow, offering little more than burgers, broasted chicken, and milkshakes. A thick house veggie burger, composed of black beans, oats, sweet potatoes, and dried shiitake mushrooms, subs in nicely for the meat-averse, especially when topped with sautéed onions and a slip of Swiss cheese. And you can order a grilled-chicken sandwich, Sriracha broccoli slaw, or a Big Salad if that’s all you think you deserve at a restaurant that specializes in diner-style smashburgers. Squished wafer-thin on the grill so that the meat forms a sizzled salty halo, the burgers get stacked inside vegan buns—single, double, triple, and beyond—and dressed with toppings that include, in addition to the standard run through the garden, sautéed mushrooms, bacon, hot honey, Louisiana hot sauce, and white barbecue sauce (ranch dressing minus the herbs, with a little extra black pepper and vinegar, Lockwood says).

 

Broasted chicken and fries are served on paper-lined trays.Tony Valainis

The menu lists just a single house burger, the Strut Burger, as if Baby’s dropped the mic after coming up with that one. You can’t blame it, really. The double-stacked Strut works some strange magic with its hodgepodge of accoutrements: a slice of smoked Gouda, pickles, bacon, mango chutney, and a liberal glob of housemade citrus-chili aioli called Dazzle Sauce. It all collapses together inside the soft bun, the ingredients hitting every salty, sweet, smoky, funky, meaty note.

It makes no sense—like the famous Curly Dog of Edinburgh, a road-trip delicacy of my youth. On our way to visit relatives in Columbus, my family would pull over to pound down the gloppy monster: a twisty-cut, deep-fried hot dog curled inside a hamburger bun and layered with tartar sauce, Coney sauce, shredded lettuce, and American cheese. I still think about those long-gone Curly Dogs and crave their weird alchemy—the same way I struggle to order anything beyond a Strut Burger at Baby’s now that I have tasted one.

The mango-based Fruity Pebble milkshake.Tony Valainis

If you get enough people around your table, you can try nearly every milkshake offered. The standard chocolate and strawberry are joined by a rotating cast of elaborate one-offs, such as the mango-based Fruity Pebbles that is topped with the breakfast cereal; a caramel-apple flavor; and a white-chocolate-peppermint treat for the holidays. Add in a selection of boozy mix-ins and a nondairy option made with coconut milk and coconut cream, and you have what amounts to a whip-topped, rainbow-sprinkled appetizer course. Customers slurp them from old-timey fluted glasses before the food arrives—giggling over the RuPaul’s Drag Race–style names of the cocktails: the Tongue Pop, the Throwing Shade. the May I Call You Jiggly, and yes, the Yaaaaaas.

It primes the stomach for chicken broasted in sealed pressure cookers to lock in moisture. The pieces arrive piping hot inside a crunchy brown bark of skin with a sidecar of hot honey. Everything is as good as you would expect it to be. It’s not fine dining. It’s not a fine-tuned franchise that has worked out all of the bugs of being wildly popular, either. But it’s hard to throw shade at an unmelted slice of Gouda on your double stack or forebodingly spicy broccoli slaw at a place that tries this hard to show everyone a good time.

BABY’S

2147 N. Talbott St., 317-600-3559

HOURS
11 a.m.–10 p.m. daily

VIBE
Barbie’s party

TASTING NOTES
Smashburgers, broasted chicken, and milkshakes, with house cocktails on draft.

NEIGHBORHOOD
Herron-Morton

MUST-ORDER
One of everything, but especially the dressed-to-the-nines Strut Burger. Start with a strawberry or whiskey-spiked chocolate milkshake.

TAB
Burgers $8–$14; whole broasted chicken $24 or a half for $12; à la carte sides $4; milkshakes $6–$7

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