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Indianapolis - "The Journey" (...to where?)

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Okay, I had to post about this place. I kept hearing about this place called, "The Journey"...all you can eat chinese buffet. Whup-dee-doo! That's ALL we need in Indianapolis, is another chinese buffet. I haven't been to one in years, however, because I heard 3 colleagues talk about it after one weekend (and they didn't go together), I decided to give it a whirl...what the heck! Well...it was a "journey" to overcooked frog legs and dried out sushi. Same stuff...more square footage?? The only thing "The Journey" had going for it was the retro furniture. I was highly disappointed that my journey ended in mediocrity.

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  1. It's all too predictable, my friend. One who seeks out the good, simple and honest food amidst all of this mediocrity is yet another reason to believe that Indy will never make it as a food destination...of any kind. I would say that I don't believe in buffets other than Luxor (Fountain Square) or Cairo Cafe (Lafayette Road). A couple of Indian restaurants may be included. It's tough to find it here in the land of mediocre tastebuds. It's amazing what this local public has accepted as decent food. As long as we get filled up for a decent price and our waistlines keep expanding, then that's all that matters. I hope your next food journey will be more memorable...in a positive way!

    19 Replies
    1. re: napolean

      Sorry to keep playing the same note here, but try Bloomington. Only an hour south but another world. (Stay away from our all-you-can-eat buffets too, though -- what were you thinking???)

      1. re: myplateoryours

        Once again the myth of the primacy of Bloomington within Indiana is perpetuated on these pages. Which is truly sad, given how much great Asian food can be had here. Correct me if I'm wrong, but are there even more than about 5 or 6 Asian restaurants in total in Bloomington aside from buffets and Asian takeouts? Enumerate them please. Here, we have a host of Vietnamese places that are really quite wonderful, including the new Sandra Rice and Noodles--arguably one of the best restaurants in the entire city with its refined, aromatic dishes--, Saigon, Sizzling Wok, and King Wok. Shanghai Lil has excellent dim sum and superb Taiwanese/Chinese favorites, as well as great sushi. Shen Yang, Great Garden, Sesame, and a host of other neighborhood Chinese spots serve excellent authentic fare and wouldn't begin to consider a buffet. Mama's, Bando, and Hisago are all quite respectable Korean restaurants. Sawasdee, Thai Taste, Asian Spice, Thai Spice, and Jasmine Thai are all good Thai restaurants, each with slightly different character--and only Thai Taste, I believe, has an occasional buffet. I could go on like this for quite some time. . .

        The point is not that Bloomington doesn't have good restaurants--or that it doesn't have a couple of really superior restaurants (but so does Indy). But the idea that one would simply dismiss the restaurants of Indianapolis and call provincial Bloomington "another world" so out of hand as though it's impossible to believe how anyone could even think about living in such a dispicable place as Indianapolis is so small-minded that it offends basic logic, let alone the reality of this city's good food.

        Sing Bloomington's praises all you want. Crow about the specifc restaurants that you love. Invite us to the tables of Bloomington's great eateries. But don't dismiss another city unless you've had enough firsthand experience to understand that some people might actually *prefer* to live here--and that we're actually very well fed here, and not merely at the hands of corporate buffets. The number of international markets, the places one can go where not a lick of English is spoken, the variety of farmers markets (not just one big one), the neighborhoods that have upwards of a dozen interesting ethnic eateries--there's much to like, even prefer about Indianapolis. It's truly distressing when one comes here and finds a supposedly articulate and sensible food writer/blogger completely dismissing a city and its food scene. One should come here to find the best food possible--not to hear that the city they live in is too awful to imagine being or living or eating in. That's the reason I'm a food writer--to get people to the best food where they are. Not to prove anything about the cultural supremacy of one Midwestern city over another nor to make myself feel better about living in the "superior" place where only people of good taste live. At least if I *were* to do those things, I would have the good sense to have evidence to back it up rather than taking the opportunity of the description of a bombastic and horrible feed wagon of a Chinese buffet (which could be in any city) to cluck one's tongue at Indy yet again. It's really quite petty, and it makes me sad to be a food writer in this state when I know that others have such attitudes.

        1. re: indypoetchef

          Look, I am truly, truly sorry. I am trying to reconstruct what I was thinking when I wrote that and I honestly don't remember but you are right -- it sounds super snotty and I apologize. I just meant to suggest Bloomington as an alternative -- not to dismiss Indy, I promise you that!!

          I don't think Bloomington has any superiority over Indy -- I go up to Indy to eat all the time and I love it (and you are 100% right about the Vietnamese situation -- we don't even have ONE!)

          I do think we are another world -- but I mean that in a much more benign way than it sounded in my response. Small, liberal college town, huge farmer-chef connection, disproportionate number of ethnic restaurants (though with some glaring, embarrassing holes) -- there is just some pretty amazing food energy here these days and we are really different than we used to be!!!

          I guess I am just proud of us and it got out of control in unwarranted boosterism. Thanks for calling me on it.

          1. re: myplateoryours

            Thanks for the quick response. I did my grad work in Bloomington and have a good deal of affection for the city--it's where I first encountered a lot of great world cuisines and became the foodie that I am. It's just that Indianapolis gets bashed time and time again with little evidence on this site. Every time I put Indianapolis into a search, I find a thread disparaging the food scene here--often with only evidence from the worst of takeouts and chains. Sorry that I felt the need to chastise back. I just really wish that people would take the time to discover some of the really fine ethnic eateries and innovative spots up here. It really amuses me that such a big deal is being made about FARM when Regina Mehallick at R Bistro was several years ahead of even Restaurant Tallent in putting largely local products on the table, and Neal Brown, Greg Hardesty, Steven Oakley, and many other chefs have huge farm connections in this city. If you haven't been to Goose the Market yet, it's a jewel of a place that any city could be proud of. Mostly local meats, many cured in house, local gelatos and baked goods, local cheeses and dairy products--and it's a very spiffy and elegant place with super nice owners. Bloomington's Farmers Market also gets so much attention outside of this state when Indy has something like 15 running markets in the summer and a winter market at Traders Point Creamery. Today, someone just told me about a meat and fish market in City Market that has mostly local products. Edibles at the marketplace at Snips in Irvington has products from all over the state and local baked goods. We've got so much of this stuff going on, but it doesn't get national press--just grief. So, I invite anyone to come to Indianapolis and see what's going on. And to visit Bloomington and celebrate it for the great foodie town that it is too!

            1. re: indypoetchef

              As a bit of an outsider in this discussion, I'd just like to point out that I visited Goose the Market on my last visit, at the express recommendation of myplateoryours...so don't think she doesn't promote Indianapolis foods when she finds them.
              I think the thing about Bloomington that impresses me is the amount of good food in a small area. Indianapolis does have some good stuff, but you have to drive all over to get to it (and I hate to drive.)

          2. re: indypoetchef

            I've eaten at several Vietnamese places in Indy and have been underwhelmed. Please tell us more about the new spot. Where is it? What do they serve that is particularly good? I'm willing to make a special trip (from another world here in Bloomington) for outstanding Vietnamese food.

            1. re: pikawicca

              Sandra Rice and Noodles is on the Northeast side of Indy, just north of 56th Street on Pendleton Pike. The fresh spring rolls, a very pristine but aromatic pho, the pepper pork, the chicken curry, the beef salad, and the lemongrass pork chop are all extremely good, and the presentation is especially nice here. And the owners are extremely nice. Definitely worth a trip. Does Bloomington even have a Vietnamese restaurant? I would highly recommend Asian Spice at Emerson and I-465. It's closer to Bloomington, but it's as good as any Thai food I've had in Bloomington, definitely.

              1. re: indypoetchef

                Thank you for the information. I will definitely give SR&N a try in the near future. Do you know if they are open for lunch on the weekend? Alas, Bloomingotn does not have a Vietnamese restaurant, good, bad, or otherwise. There was a lame attempt at a Japanese/Vietnamese restaurant a few years back, but it was pretty awful, and mercifully went belly-up in short order.

                1. re: pikawicca

                  Yes, Sandra Rice & Noodle is definitely open for lunch on Saturdays. Not sure about Sundays, but their information is as follows:

                  10625 Pendleton Pike
                  Indianapolis 46236
                  823-8383

                  Let me know what you think!

                  1. re: indypoetchef

                    Thanks!

            2. re: indypoetchef

              Gosh it is Thur. night and I just read some not so great reviews on The Journey restaurant. You really seem like you know some great places. I am taking my hubby out for his b-day tomorrow and he loves Chinese buffets because of how much you get and there are tons of veggies. I personally hate those buffets with the children hovering over the food and no telling what else and the wilted vegetables that have sat too long. I would love to hear of an oriental restaurant that has good servings at a reasonable price. I am interested in trying a Thai place. Do you know of anywhere that they have the atmosphere of a true oriental dining place? Something exotic.

              1. re: 4thGenerationKitchen

                Thai Taste is good (in Castleton) and the new SIAM SQUARE in Fountain Square (opened 2-3 weeks ago) has excellent Thai food. Atmosphere is more updated/modern, but fortunately the prices are very reasonable. Never been but my foodie friend claims she just had the best thai (indy) at JASMINE THAI on 96th st., i believe. Good luck!

          3. re: napolean

            > It's tough to find it here in the land of mediocre tastebuds.

            For the most part, I disagree with the this statement and the sentiment it expresses. And I should note that I am a Chicago resident who has been a frequent visitor to Indianapolis and central Indiana for many years.

            What I have observed is that both the quality and quantity of options in the Indianapolis food scene have improved dramatically in recent years. When I visited Indy even just ten years ago, for finer dining there were a couple of old-fashioned French places (Glass Chimney and Chanteclair) and that was about it; an interesting place (e.g. Something Different) would pop up, and a year or two later it would be gone. Now, there are some excellent higher-end restaurants with well-established reputations, like Oakley's, 14 West, L'Explorateur, R Bistro, and Elements, just to name some of the better ones, all of which have opened in recent years. There are also plenty of steak and seafood houses, ethnic places of all stripes, and other types of restaurants too, in all price ranges. One example that illustrates the willingness of Indy residents to enjoy quality food is that Adobo Grill, an upscale Chicago restaurant featuring creative Mexican food, chose Indy for its third location.

            Sure, there are plenty of mediocre places around town, from buffets like this to the ubiquitous chain restaurants. People who live in rapidly-developing suburbs complain about chains, but those are the first to move into such areas, for various reasons. And, as myplateoryours notes, all-you-can-eat buffets tend to have the worst food around. But you know what? You have those phenomena in EVERY city, including "food destinations" such as my own home town.

            Sure, you're never going to have as *many* great places in Indy as you do in Chicago, but the Chicago area has almost six times as many people as Indy. A city of under 2 million people may never stand out as a "food destination" but it can have a nice variety of quality food options, and Indianapolis does. You just have to seek them out. And find people and media sources (including, hopefully, here) whose restaurant advice you can trust.

            1. re: nsxtasy

              Thanks for the positive comments nsxtasy - Indy isn't as bad as some would have everyone believe. We have come a long way and hopefully we'll continue to improve.

              OP - sorry for your terrible experience, but... what did you expect from a buffet? I hadn't even heard of this place and, needless to say, won't be going either.

              You are correct in the fact that the last thing Indy needs is another buffet - a new Golden Corral opened in my area and I fell into a state of despair. The last thing Noble-tucky needs is buffet!

              1. re: Cookiefiend

                Of course Indianapolis can only get better. I really am not trying to dream up Indy as a 'Little Chicago' someday, either. Because, being a downtown dweller, I understand the market well enough to not be surprised at the very mediocre and bland food people (AND NOT JUST THE SUBURBANITES) accept just because they're used to it. It's a chain dominated city and I just laugh at the pretentious attempts to compete with the big boys on a daily basis! That's all...and once again, I'm sorry for my observations. I think Yats and Taste Cafe lead in accepting this fact. There still are not enough people who live downtown for local restaurants to thrive naturally because the business is based on convention people and the 8-5 downtown business crowd. Have you tried to find a decent bite to eat in downtown Indianapolis on a Sunday afternoon...outside a bar food? Slim pickn's, buddy. So, if you need some advice for your next 'culinary' journey in the INDY area, feel free to ask. There ARE actually some nooks and crannys around the city way off the beaten path that will serve up some plates of honesty.

                1. re: napolean

                  >> Have you tried to find a decent bite to eat in downtown Indianapolis on a Sunday afternoon...outside a bar food? <<

                  I've had excellent early-ish dinners at both 14 West and the Oceanaire on Sundays.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    Too expensive. Can you tell me where to eat downtown Indy on $5-10? No chains included...SORRY!

                    1. re: napolean

                      India Garden, Barcelona Tapas, Bazbeaux, Amici's, Patachou on the Park (until 2 p.m.), Shapiro's, The Bosphorus

                      1. re: indypoetchef

                        All pretty good places to eat (I work in the "near" downtown area), however, you still need a car to get to those restaurants. I find that my Chicago and NYC friends/colleagues are the first to complain about nothing being centrally located in the "middle" of downtown Indianapolis. One friend from NYC said, "People are really friendly here...but you all don't have diners?" Of course this was before the Red Eye "eat-only-in-desparation" Cafe was even a thought. LOL

          4. Where in Indy?
            Is this place trying to be an upscale buffet (cool, retro furniture) or is it yet another strip mall buffet place?

            I've had fairly decent buffet Indian food but for the most part, buffet and good food are yet to be paired in Indy and surrounding cities. And don't get me started on Ryans. I had the misfortune of going there with a group; it was the single most disgusting dining experience I've had, from the inedible, bland food, to the messy tables and patrons. We needed a kid-friendly place and boy, was this place overrun with kids zooming around from table to stations. Never again.

            3 Replies
            1. re: swissgirl

              The Sichuan Chinese Restaurant in Carmel (116th and Rangeline) is actually quite good. It's a restaurant where Asian people will eat, one that doesn't batter and fry everything. My Chinese aunt told me about it. One note of caution though, it is Sichuan and spicy. Take your colleagues and introduce them to real non buffet Chinese food.

              1. re: porkanista

                You know, I believe I ate there once when I worked in Carmel. It was very good and yes, spicier than the Chinese food I typically encounter.

              2. re: swissgirl

                Right now, I'm in love with The Village Restaurant (my face is now recognizable for bringing in colleages...and I'm about to be on first name basis with the staff). The worse thing about it so far, is its location. Fortunately for me, it's right around the corner from my house and across the street from my church. It's behind Lafayette Square Mall on Century Plaza Dr. (4737 Century Plaza Drive). No...not retro but very cool and the food is always an experience for me. This is probably the ONLY buffet I enjoy right now. I go so I can taste the wide variety of foods...and I still haven't tasted them all!

              3. It's not just another chinese buffet. The chinese food takes up a very small section of the entire assortment of food. Did you happen to notice the all-you-can-eat prime rib??? Hello...that, in my opinion, is worth the price of admission alone. I'm not a fan of seafood, but there was quite a large selection of that, including the dried out sushi you mentioned, plus both hot and cold crab legs, salmon, etc. Plus, there was a crepe chef there, cooking up crepes to order. Plus, there are the two chocolate fountains (one dark, one white) where you can dip strawberries and cookies till your heart's content. I don't know if you missed all of that (I know some of the food is not available for lunch, like the crab legs), but I TOTALLY disagree with you calling it another chinese buffet.

                1. Let's face it, buffets and cafeterias are essentially serving leftovers, regardless of the ethnicity or location. Some foods are less vulnerable to the trials of a steam table (mac and cheese anyone?), but anyone who chooses say fried fish from a buffet is likely to be disappointed.

                  I have lived in the midwest most of my life and the growth in discriminating eaters and the restaurants that serve them is truly remarkable.

                  I do think that the nidwest carries two cultural traditions that do not lend themseolves well to good eating.

                  The first is a tendency to value large portions, the logical extension of which is the all you can eat buffet. The simple economic effect of this model is going to drive down quality of ingredients and preparation (to say nothing of the health effect).

                  The second is a tendency to price resistance. Like anything else, cheap can be good but it seldom is.

                  Of course in the Midwest, some of the most popular restaurants are cheap buffets (whether ethnic or Golden Corral), a perfect storm of really bad food.

                  1. Allow me to ask something first. What dishes/menu do you expect to see for a $7.99 lunch? $16.99 dinner? People complain that the sushi isn't up to par with The Naked Chopstix, sure it isn't. A plate of 10 or so pieces of sushi at NC will set you back at least $10 or more. And that's just your regular California rolls, tuna/salmon/red snapper rolls.

                    It's not exactly fair to compare Vegas buffets to The Journey. Sure, the Bellagio and Rio's totally blow The Journey away. But this really isn't apple to apple comparison. The casinos don't solely rely on the restaurants to generate profits, The Journey does.

                    I have to agree with Indypoetchef on all the "better/finer" Chinese restaurants in Indy. However, for the price you pay, I think it's a bargain for what you get at The Journey. I'm a West Coast transplant, any sushi buffet lovers would know names like Todai, Onami. It costs $14.95 for lunch and $23.95 for dinner in these places. By the way, you won't even find "everyday" items like season seaweed/kelp on their menu anymore. The quality has declined over the past couple of years that my brother (who lives in Long Beach) stopped going.

                    If you have a big appetite and are usually hungry, this is a good place. If you want authentic Chinese, American or just a nice looking plate of sushi, stay away. Go to Golden Corral if you are a meat lover. If you want to load up your plate with salad, an Old Country Buffet will do. But if you want to sample a variety of different food at a decent price, The Journey is it.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: tluroc76

                      sounds good enough to try for me........after i get my skyline chili and white castle fix which i cant get in la......will be in this neck of the woods in ten days and will report back on it after......btw, todai and onami are not true sushi places but more of a buffet type place.....also something similar when in vegas is a place called 'makino'....they hav at least two locations

                    2. Tmdenmark, I am sorry you had a bad experience with Journey. If you ever find yourself there again, I'd recommend the flank steak with scallions and ginger. Their sauteed Chinese greens are quite tasty also, and not greasy. The sushi buffet of course will never be great, but I have never eaten one that is dried out or old. I suggest you give it another try when the place is busier.

                      1. I will always remain loyal to Adobo Grill and Udipi Cafe (South Indian vegetarian) in Indy. Udipi has a pretty good buffet (some unusual items not usual found on Indian menus).

                        As for Bloomington...glad to see someone else question the myth! I've gotten flamed here for daring to say anything about the restaurants in B'ton, but I'll say it again: it's just not the be-all and end-all, esp. the service. I just went to dinner at Finch's Bistro for the first time and for a $60 meal for 2, the service was ATROCIOUS. It took 10 minutes to even get a glass of water, the food took so long we asked for some bread (which was brought during the meal and we were charged $1), and the waitress brought us the wrong drinks twice.