The Indy Burger Guy visited Fat Dan’s Deli on Saturday, September 18.
As someone who used to live within short driving distance of the SoBro neighborhood (that’s South Broad Ripple, for those of you not “hip” to the “lingo” of Indy), I used to drive by Fat Dan’s Deli on College Avenue quite frequently but never really bothered to pop in. Occasionally, someone would mention how good the Italian beef or the burgers were there and I would check a little mental box in my mind that someday, somehow, I would need to pay Fat Dan a visit.
Tonight was my night. On the way out with a good friend, I decided to reconcile the mental check in my mind and move Fat Dan’s from the To Visit pile and into the Visited pile.
The ambiance around Fat Dan’s is difficult to put my finger on directly. It’s part sports bar, part hipster dive, part neighborhood grill. The building is very industrial in appearance, all high ceilings and walls composed of large bricks. Added to that, however, is a decor that would make any Chicago expatriate feel as at-home as possible in Indianapolis – Chicago sports team logos, authentic-looking Chicago street signs (including 1060 W. Addison – home to Elwood J. Blues and the Chicago Cubs), and a really nice mural of a Chicago-style hot dog. Flatscreen TVs hang from the ceiling playing sports; a couple displayed a college football, but the clear star of the day was the Cubs game, which appeared to be what pulled most of the clientele in that day.
I bellied up to the bar, seeing as how it was just going to be me eating and I didn’t want to take up a whole table. The bar was a light-colored wood right in the center of the room, which really opened up the space and made it feel more welcoming. I was greeted promptly and provided with a menu* and it wasn’t long before I selected Fat Dan’s FatBurger.
The food at Fat Dan’s is served on a large sheet of white butcher paper, cradled by the server not unlike a hobo’s bindle or a stork’s bundle. This ensures that the wooden countertop is kept free of grease from the burger or fries and makes for easy clean-up at the end of your meal. Quite smart, really.
The burger itself was quite beautiful to behold. Piled high on a golden brioche bun was a thick patty comprised of 1/3 lb. of ground beef topped with melted American cheese and nestled on a bed of veggies and condiments – shredded lettuce, sliced tomato, onion, pickles, mayo, ketchup, and mustard. It came with a small side of ruffled potato chips. In addition, I ordered a side of the housemade cole slaw.
The FatBurger was cooked to a perfect medium, just like I’d asked for, and was thick and juicy. This is a well-seasoned, well-made burger. The major problem was the overwhelming amount of condiments applied to the lower bun. For more than half the burger, I felt like I could taste little more than mustard, specifically, accompanied by the bitter taste of char from the over-toasted brioche bun. That didn’t make for the most enjoyable experience. I found myself pulling a piece of meat from the rest of the burger in order to provide myself with a sample not soaked in mustard. It was incredibly tasty.
As I got more than halfway through the burger, the flavors became more balanced and I was able to finally get a feel for what the FatBurger should be. The brioche holds up well, but the burger and condiments provide enough liquid to start to soak into the bottom bun. Again, everything held up well, but eatability was a factor here.
As far as sides are concerned, I opted for the housemade cole slaw which was, seriously, one of the best cole slaws I’ve ever had. It was tart, creamy, and just a little bit sweet with a peppery aftertaste that really wowed. It was a great accompaniment to my burger! Fat Dan’s also serves french fries and tater tots (the couple next to me at the bar ordered some and they looked sensational).
Don’t let my ‘disillusionment’ from some of the above paragraphs confuse you: Fat Dan’s makes a mean and mighty burger that is every bit as tasty as it looks. Should you get an opportunity, you’d do well to stumble by Fat Dan’s for a serious burger and a serious shot of Chicago-style hospitality. You’ll be quite glad you did!
Fat Dan’s Deli – SoBro
5410 N. College Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46220
Fat Dan’s Deli – Mass Ave
420 E. Michigan St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Cost Range: $$ ($7-$12)*
*FYI: The prices on Fat Dan’s menu have not been updated online. The price of the FatBurger on their website is $8.95, but the price on the printed menu offered in-house was $10. I was fine to pay the stated price, but wanted you to be made aware of the possibility of a price change.