Let me just put this out there: I love barbeque. I’ve been fortunate to have traveled to many of the United States’ barbeque hotspots, and have had good (and less-good) examples of nearly every sub-type of the quintessentially American cuisine over the years.
As a result, this tweet on May 19 from The Athletic’s Matt Schneidman during Green Bay Packers offensive line coach Luke Butkus’ press conference recently sent my brain buzzing:
Luke Butkus said he recruited Caleb Jones (6’9”/370 lb Packers UDFA rookie) out of high school when he coached at Illinois. Jones chose Indiana, and Butkus (joked?) that he’s still mad at him. Butkus said all is forgiven because he ate at Jones’ dad’s BBQ place in Indy. pic.twitter.com/O0E3KFYD7s— Matt Schneidman (@mattschneidman) May 19, 2022
Immediately, several questions sprung to my mind. First, Jones is a big man — his size, 6-foot-9 and 370 pounds, is something the entire Packers media sphere noted right away when he signed — so did his father’s cooking have anything to do with that? Second: where is the restaurant? Third, and most importantly: how is the food?
I set out to answer all of these questions. The first part was easy to solve, thanks to an article from August 2021 published by The Hoosier Network. That piece, which discussed Jones swearing off his father James’ cooking for his final year of college football, also provided me with the answer to question number two: the restaurant is called His Place Eatery, which I found to be located just off the intersection of Interstates 70 and 465 on the east side of Indianapolis.
Question number three had to wait, but fortunately, that wait was short. I already had a visit to Indianapolis scheduled for the following week, so the timing of this coming to my attention couldn’t have been much better. Therefore, I set out to find out just how good James Jones (no relation to the former hoodie-wearing Packers receiver, as far as we know) really is at his craft, planning two visits to the restaurant with the tagline of “Chicken & Waffles, Ribs & Soul Food.”
The next step was to plan out the menu for my two meals. In that article linked above, Caleb Jones mentions his father’s ribs as his favorite item: “I absolutely love ribs and my dad has a great dry rub.” Try the ribs — got it. My personal favorite barbeque option is beef brisket, though, so I planned to order a combination plate of ribs and brisket with some comfort food sides to go with it. I would settle on a classic, mac & cheese, and an especially intriguing-sounding option, bourbon creamed corn.
For my second visit, why not get the other item specifically mentioned in the restaurant’s tagline? Chicken & waffles it is. However, a look at the menu reveals that His Place Eatery actually offers the dish with several different varieties of waffle (though all are served with four enormous chicken wings): a classic Belgian waffle, a red velvet waffle served with cream cheese glaze, a cinnamon-sugar “churro” version, and finally a standard waffle topped with peach cobbler. With all of those options sounding amazing in different ways, I decided that I would ask for a recommendation when I got there instead.
Here are my impressions of the two visits.
I arrived just after noon on a Tuesday, on my way into Indianapolis. After a warm, friendly greeting, I sat down at my table, ordered my usual lunch beverage (unsweetened iced tea) and set off to confirm my barbeque order.
I was disappointed, however, when my server informed me that the kitchen was out of ribs. Apparently they make a set amount during the week, smoking them low and slow for a long time to have them ready for the weekend. As a result, when Tuesday came around, they were out.
No matter, though — I would just stick to my plan and get a larger single portion of brisket with the sides I had picked out. To my surprise, I also got my choice of bread, and choosing the cornbread muffin over white or wheat bread was hardly a choice at all.
To the food!
The brisket came unadorned with barbeque sauce, and the server delivered a bottle to the table with the tray, so the drizzle was my own and I followed it with some additional sauce for dipping. Let’s start there: the sauce was excellent — a thick, dark, sweet sauce with a slight tang of spice. It reminded me of some of the great sauces I’ve had in visits to Memphis, and it would pair well regardless of your choice of protein. I could just imagine this sauce caramelizing over ribs, then coated in a dry rub...but alas.
The brisket itself was pretty fatty, but loaded with flavor. It was seasoned exceptionally well, too, and it came apart easily with just a fork — no knife required. Here’s a close-up on the brisket from the restaurant’s Twitter account. I’d note that the batch I ate did not have as noticeable a smoke ring, but the slightly singed crust around the edges was definitely there and made for a nice textural contrast against the smooth, slightly fatty meat.
As for the mac & cheese, it’s a perfect BBQ restaurant style. I think of this style as a “dry” mac & cheese — it’s not gooey or liquidy, instead being sticky and holding itself together in a tight scoop. It’s traditional, and it was just what I was looking for. The cornbread muffin was much the same; it wasn’t trying to do too much or get fancy, rather being a simple, classic, delicious version.
To my surprise, however, the secret superstar of the platter was the bourbon creamed corn. I wasn’t really sure what to expect here, but the texture was more whole kernels simmered in a delightful cream sauce rather than the crushed kernels you might get out of a canned style. And that sauce...I’ll be dreaming about it for some time. Onions and bell peppers were in the mix, along with plenty of garlic and a little bit of a zip from something (cayenne, maybe?) to give it an extra dimension. The ever-so-slight hint of bourbon topped everything off, especially for a whiskey drinker like myself.
One of the best parts about this meal was that I didn’t feel overly stuffed or weighed down afterwards. It was just about the right amount of food for a solid lunch, and the balance between protein and carbs set me off on my afternoon in a good place.
I returned once again later in the week for lunch, this time on Friday. I might have been able to try the ribs this time around, as they were back in stock, but I knew that I had to stick to some version of the chicken & waffles to adequately get the full breadth of the culinary experience.
The same server recognized me from my earlier visit in the week — it probably helped that we had chatted a bit about the owner and Caleb, whom she called “the biggest boy I’ve ever seen,” and that I promised I would be back in a few days. This time, I asked for her recommendation on which chicken & waffle variety I should try. Her take: the churro version was her favorite, with the peach cobbler a close second. When I mentioned that peaches are my favorite fruit, she immediately pushed me in the direction of the cobbler, so I agreed.
Reader, this was one of the biggest single plates of food I have seen in a long, long time.
First we have the chicken wings. There were four of them, each one complete and each battered and fried to a perfect golden brown. Then there was a massive scoop of peach cobbler dropped onto the middle of the large Belgian-style waffle, with two dollops of whipped cream and — yes — a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the middle of it all to finish off the ensemble. The server brought out a variety of sauces as well for me to apply at my leisure — honey, hot sauce, syrup, and the BBQ (just in case).
At the server’s suggestion, I stripped the meat and skin off one of the wings with a fork and knife in order to get a full bite of the entire experience at once. With that complete, I applied a little bit of hot sauce to the first bite of chicken, waffle, and cobbler.
I say this as someone who regularly combines savory and sweet flavors: the combination was magnificent. The saltiness of the chicken and the mild, garlicky heat of the hot sauce contrasted with the sweetness of the waffle and cobbler was delightful; it wasn’t just the flavor, though, as the crunchy breaded skin with the soft, fluffy waffle and gooey cobbler texture worked together in perfect harmony.
Yes, after about 25 minutes or so, I managed to finish off the entire thing (thanks in no small part to having a light breakfast). Unlike my plate from my first visit, I definitely felt this one when I was done, but even so, it somehow managed to still be less weighty than I was expecting.
I have no doubt that the churro version would be delicious, adding in some extra crunch to further highlight contrasting textures, or that the cream cheese drizzle over the red velvet waffle would also pair nicely with the chicken. Still, I left confident that I made the right choice that day for my first crack at this particular item.
Was writing this review anything more than a flimsy excuse to get to eat some great food? You can be the judge of that. Regardless, I got to chat with my server about Caleb Jones and feel the palpable excitement in the restaurant for his potential NFL career — she joked with me that it would be fun to have both father and son be famous in their own rights. Sadly, I did not have a chance to meet James Jones and either thank him for the meals or pass along a wish for good luck to his son.
As for the food, I can see why Caleb would have sworn off his father’s cooking before his senior season at Indiana and why it somewhat eased Luke Butkus’ disappointment when Jones decided to play college football at Indiana instead of committing to play for him with the Illini. Calorie counts aside, after I cleaned my plates I found myself disappointed that there wasn’t more to enjoy, even though my stomach was satisfied (or more than satisfied, in the case of my second meal). I suppose that just means that I’ll need to make more stops at His Place Eatery when I find myself on my way through the East side of Indianapolis.
Plus, I still need to try those ribs.