by MEGAN BETZ
The first thing I did when the food arrived at our table at Fat Dan’s Chicago-Style Deli, 221 E. Kirkwood, was roll up my sleeves to my elbows. With three locations in Indianapolis, the restaurant now brings its version of Windy City flavor to Bloomington.
This is not the restaurant where you take your vegan friend or dine with your stuffy boss. Fat Dan’s is honest about what you’re in for. A roll of paper towels sits on your table, and food is delivered on butcher paper rather than trays. There will be sauces and juices running down your hands—and arms. You will not mind.
The menu begins with appetizers like IPA beer cheese fries. The thin-cut fries are topped with a heavy pour of cheese layered with house-smoked bacon and a dusting of blue cheese crumbles and scallions. From there, you could slide into American pub fare. Try the F.B.3., a burger flight that lets you pick three signature combinations like the Fat Havana Fat Havana, a burger-meets-Cuban that draws on the deli’s smoked meat selection, or the Fat Burger, said to have been “ran thru the garden,” like the classic Chicago Dog.
The Chicago Dog itself packs all the flavor you expect, with space for every condiment but ketchup. Tucked into a poppyseed bun, the quarter-pound Vienna beef dog is a vehicle for yellow mustard, “neon green” sweet pickle relish, diced onion, pickled sport peppers, and a sprinkle of celery salt. What at first seems an over-the-top collection of toppings proves to be all about balance. The richness of the hot dog’s fat and the sweet bite of the relish are offset by the sharpness of onion and vinegar. At the same time, the lack of texture found in your average ballpark frank on a bun is elevated by the crunch of fresh and pickled vegetables. Served with a side of chips, you can get this classic lunch for less than $5.
Then comes an unexpected portion of the menu: a collection of smokehouse flavors not typically found in a deli. Hand-pulled and house-smoked brisket and pork are piled onto buttered buns with proportions that demand you eat them with a fork. The dry-rubbed wings with a classic assortment of sauces and a significant amount of meat and flavor could make Fat Dan’s an Indiana University game-day destination.
While adding smokehouse and pub fare to the menu, Fat Dan’s holds on to the meats that, in my mind, make a deli. Here, the hot pastrami and corned beef are highlights. A mild Swiss cheese and a smear of mustard are added to the toasted rye that, impressively, does not give under the weight or moisture of the sandwich. This simple, classic, and deeply savory sandwich is what will bring me back.
Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
For more information, visit fatdansdeli.com.