A meal at Love Handle is unlike any other in the city; sure, the sandwiches and biscuits and gravy are always unique and the taste equivalent to sitting down after a five hour hike (which maybe isn't a bad idea after eating here), but what truly sets meals here apart are the wonderful owners Chris and Ally Benedyk.
"I love everybody that comes into Love Handle," Ally says. "People come in and they're not sure what to expect at first, but you can tell as soon as they're sat down and you talk to them, the guard kind of comes down, and people are comfortable, and they love the food. It's so wonderful when they just come in and sit at the counter, I just talk to people and I almost feel like about 70 percent of our regular customers and I have some sort of a friendship."
When you walk through the front door at the corner of 10th and Oxford Streets you'll be greeted by the wonderful, mouthwatering aromas of seared meat and fresh coffee and generally the sound of obscure, but rad tunes and laughter. The laughter will be coming from the kitchen where Chris is having a long-distance convo with bar patrons while he is busy busting out pork belly sandwiches, bowls of biscuits and gravy with headcheese eggs and plates of Ally's cheesecake or brownies. Ally will be there to greet you and get you a cup of Tinker Coffee (be careful with the coffee here, it's like Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, rich, strong as hell and amazing.)
While sitting at the bar you'll quickly get a sense of what this place and the couple behind it is all about. It's a no frills place. When I ask Chris his philosophy on food — a question that oftentimes will lead to a thoroughly deep and intricate answer — he simply responds, "I dunno, I like when you eat something and then you're like, 'Oh man, that's so good.' Like a leveling of 'good' in your head. Like, 'Oh shit, that's like, super good.'
"We make sandwiches and biscuits and gravy and stuff. And Ally make cheesecakes and lemon bars and brownies, it's all super tasty stuff. So just try to makes it super tasty."
This may seem like a funny answer to some, but when Chris says it, you know he's being honest. He and Ally just want to do the most straightforward thing you can do with food — the main thing that drives us to love food — to simply make it taste good. They succeed at, and surpass this goal with everything on the menu.
The menu may throw some people off due to the use of many less-used cuts of meat like tongue, heart, tendons and belly, but Chris has spent so much time working with these cuts that he is able to craft them into something seemingly magical, and he's able to keep lower prices on the menu while doing it. "We're able to keep our price point lower because we use a lot of tongue and heart and tendons and stuff like that. They're cheaper than filet mignon, I guess. There's probably other things in between there, too," Chris says, with a laugh. "So, yeah the price is good and then you can manipulate them. You can ham stuff, or cure stuff, or roast stuff, or smoke stuff, and it ends up tasting super tasty."
Ally adds, "He typically gets the more obscure cuts [from Fischer Farms in Jasper, Ind.], just because it makes it more interesting, and it's a little more challenging that way."
While Chris handles the entrees, Ally is a master when it comes to making desserts. Her fascination with baking has been a longtime love. "Ever since I was little," she says, "I know that sounds kind of cheesy, but I always was really into food for the most part, especially when I was little. I'd stay home when I was sick and watch The Discovery Channel and there's a show called Great Chefs, and I saw them do like a croquembouche with the spun sugar and that just like blew my mind."
From those early experiences, Ally went on to a vocational school focused on baking during high school, and then followed up with culinary school in Louisville. Now she bakes continuously to keep up with demand for the desserts at Love Handle. "I do a lot of cheesecake, because everybody seems to just love it; people are obsessed with the cheesecake. It's just like a New York style cheesecake, straightforward...I do brownies the same way. I keep it pretty simple, but done really well and put toffee and raspberry jam. I'm really a big fan of fruity and chocolate stuff."
While she is doing simple desserts for the most part, she gets outside of the box sometimes, especially with her ice creams. "It depends on the day," she says. "Some days, if I get an idea for a really cool ice cream, like right now we have charred pistachio and Amarula ice cream. It's really tasty. I'm really into that." She explains that, like Chris with the meats, she uses some unusual ingredients in her concoctions: "I'm a big fan of malty flavor, a lot of salted flavors, like I always put soy sauce in caramel. Miso is in like everything that has a caramel or chocolate aspect. Ovaltine goes in like everything I make, because I love it. That's kind of my favorite stuff."
There is no better way to understand just how lucky we are to have a place like Love Handle in Indianapolis than to make your way to the bar, order some food and enjoy conversations with the owners and your fellow guests. As Ally says, "It's cool, it's very relaxed, we're not trying to present anything false or any sort of gimmick. It's like have a cup of coffee. 'You want that sandwich? It's very good.' It's very important, I think, to be genuine and to have a relationship with everyone that comes in the door."
And it's very important for you to walk through that door.
Get a behind-the-scenes look at Love Handle with the latest episode of Indy's Table: