Black Bear Diner
975-A N. Academy Blvd., 314-3616, blackbeardiner.com
It's a bad idea to expect high cuisine anywhere that hawks its own branded merchandise before you hit the hostess stand. But while Black Bear isn't earning itself a Michelin star anytime soon, it's not a bad nosh after a cheap Picture Show flick. The chicken pot pie ($10.99) comes off as quaint, with thin pastry covering a bowl of chicken, indeterminate but inoffensive veggies and a rosemary-glutted sauce with a nice black pepper bite.
The Parmesan sourdough burger ($9.99) belies the chain's California origins, the burger's combo of Swiss and Dijon mustard feeling very deli. Though the Parmesan grilled into the mild sourdough adds little flavor, the staff can produce a serious medium-rare burger on request. Bountiful Parmesan kettle chips come out inconsistently done, some french-fry soft in spots, but all are well-seasoned and beg for a starring role in Irish nachos. A side of onion rings ($5.99), stingily portioned, bears good batter. — GS
Mountain Fold Books
121 E. Costilla St., 330-9395, mountainfoldbooks.org
Mountain Fold, an IndyGive!-participating nonprofit literary center, specializes in artsy, small-press poetry books and the like, hosting many public readings as well as monthly art openings. Guests of the year-old venture can join a subscription-based lending service, or linger among rows of happily busy bookshelves and a couple of couches, or at a community table.
But the recent addition of a coffee counter gives a new reason to idle and indulge in intellectual exploration. Keep a bound craft-work in one hand and pick up a cappuccino ($3) in the other. Barista Han Sayles buys beans from highly lauded Lakewood outfit Sweet Bloom Coffee Roasters. She handles them deftly on a three-group-head La Marzocco machine, which equates to bringing a tank to a knife fight for the tiny space's demands. Capable latte art completes the pervasive sense of something special, mindfully created within these walls. — MS
Rock City Cafe
405 N. Union Blvd., 694-8344, rockcitycafe.us
King's Chef Diner has produced a rival cafe with a clear identity and good food. Rock City's new owners, Ricky Meggison and Angel Sanfilippo, are both vets of the downtown standard, and their expansion of this former Coney-and-slider joint displays a promising array of bites. The frugal sliders and Coneys remain, but customers can now pick from a full menu ranging from pancakes and corned beef hash to burgers and sandwiches.
Try the pretzel turkey bacon avocado melt ($10.50) if you're feeling higher-end. Criss-crossed with crispy bacon, this well-seasoned sandwich needs all the toothpicks it can get to hold slippery slices of avocado and tomato inside its soft-but-substantial bun. The accompanying house-cut fries deserve praise, cut to fast-food thickness, fried with a little pepper, and mounded for a good diner plate. It's a shame Rock City's only open until 3 p.m. — this food would make for a great meal after a show at the Black Sheep. — GS