BY CHRISTINE BARBOUR
Some people will do anything for good corned beef. For Malibu Grill managing partner John Bailey (JB) the quest began with a visit to Zingerman’s—the legendary Ann Arbor deli—where they serve a whopping doorstop of a sandwich. Something like that was missing from the Malibu menu, he decided, and he determined to bring that sandwich home.
With dogged thoroughness, JB tested every corned beef he could find. None measured up. Finally he resorted to consulting Zingerman’s food guru Ari Weinzweig who sent him to Sy Ginsberg of United Meat and Deli who set JB up with the corned beef that is on the Malibu menu today. Rich and lush, with just the right blend of lean and fatty beef, layered with Swiss cheese and spicy slaw on rye bread, the Malibu sandwich may be the closest thing Bloomington has to real New York corned beef (diehard New Yorkers, of course, can order it without the cheese, slaw, etc.).
But Malibu is not really all about corned beef, although the other menu items get the same attention to detail that produced that sandwich. The food at Malibu is steakhouse eclectic. Not only is there food from the grill,
but also entrées that may have once had their roots in ethnic cookery (Mediterranean Chicken, for instance, or Wasabi Shrimp Cocktail, Penne alla Vodka, or Thai Chicken Linguini), but that have been, as JB puts it, “first Americanized and then Malibu-ized.” The result is food that feels familiar and friendly, but that gives adventuresome diners the opportunity to go beyond the steaks, chops, and fish that Malibu does so well. The menu is crowd-friendly and “veto-proof”—if a large group is going out to eat, everyone will find something to like.
Warm and comfortable, the Malibu Grill has the feel of a place that has been around much longer than its 13 years, and in a way it has. Malibu is but the latest in a line of restaurants owned by Rick Coombes that began in the 1970s with Poor Richards over on the east side, and included J. Arthurs, on the current Malibu site (where JB got his start in the business as a busboy in 1986). The Malibu concept has been tried in Indianapolis, Muncie, and Louisville, but Bloomington is where it has thrived.
Today the place has regulars who are loyal to the core, and if you ask them what they love about Malibu almost all of them mention JB in the first or second breath—he is a manager who makes his presence and his welcome felt. Not surprisingly, he says, “it is all about the people for me,” and the restaurant puts a premium on service. He quotes a former partner in the business who liked to say, “Service is what you see; hospitality is what you feel.” Must be that feeling of hospitality (as well as the bar’s exotic Pomegranatinis and Godiva Double Chocolate Martinis) putting the happy glow on the faces of satisfied Malibu fans.