By: John Carlson—
They were, to say the least, spectacular meatballs.
About the size of racquet balls, they were carried to our table by our friendly young waiter, an intense-looking kid bearing the two crowning meat jewels that topped each bowl of rotini pasta. Tomatoey scented, the bowls’ contents were thick with melted cheese.
Just a quick look and one thing was obvious: If you were beaned by one of these babies, thrown at your head by a Major League Baseball pitcher, you’d be on the disabled list for a week. Well, either that or you’d have one heck of a meatball splatter on your noggin.
But these meatballs didn’t just look and smell great. Nicely spiced and stuffed with mozzarella, their taste was as impressive as their appearance. As sort of a little extra snack, Nancy and I picked off the thin, crackly, spill-over cheese baked onto the side of the bowls in which they rode. That was delicious, too.
The eatery was a longtime Muncie one, Allegre
If that has you scratching your head and asking “Allegwhat?” you should know it’s Ball State’s student-run restaurant. Plenty of people know of this place, but I also suspect plenty don’t. Located near the first-floor entrance to the Applied Technology Building on West Riverside Ave., just down and across the street from Cooper Science, it’s staffed by students from the Hospitality and Food Management Program. This means it should be close to your heart if, like me, stuffing yourself with all the good-tasting food you can get your grubby little mitts on is a favorite activity. That’s because Allegre is turning out the next crop of young folks who will be developing the new restaurants to which someday we become hopelessly addicted.
It’s an attractive, sparely-decorated place, zen-like in the simplicity of its red-and-white décor, with its kitchen in full view. This is nice, though as I always used to remind folks back when I was the Chowhound, you can’t eat what a place looks like. But the food? For our dinner, Nancy began with the cranberry almond salad, which she enjoyed. I started off with the butternut squash soup, which rocked, it being the perfect antidote to a frigid night outside. Following our super-size meatballs and pasta, we split the crème brûlée for dessert, with Nancy wolfing down an entire spoonful before I snatched away the plate and swallowed the rest in one wet slurp.
We washed it all down with some blood orange Italian cream soda. It was so good, I didn’t even miss not having alcohol.
OK, that’s a lie. It was good, but when I dine out, I do generally like a teensy drink just to prep my tastebuds for the experience. But for any number of good reasons, alcohol isn’t served at Allegre. That’s OK, though. As Nancy reminded me while rolling her eyes with exasperation, “Sheesh, you can survive without booze for onemeal, can’t you?”
“Yeah,” I admitted, staring at my shoes, thoroughly chastised. Speaking of shoes, seated alone at a table near us were a perfectly behaved boy and girl – Nancy guessed they were eight or nine years old – whose shoes didn’t quite reach the ground. “Oh! They’re so cute!” my wife whispered.
Yeah, they were. But back to the food …
Having looked up Allegre on the Ball State University website the other day, I was soon scrolling down a list of previous meals served there. They ranged from the seemingly fancy, like smoked salmon mousse and savory autumn tartlets, to down-home dishes such as chicken pot pie and chicken ‘n’ waffles. More random culinary highlights included teriyaki steak kabobs and bacon-wrapped jalapeños.
There were also rather exotic-sounding dishes like polenta crustini, one of my personal favorites.
OK, that’s another lie. My idea of exotic fare is when you squirt a thick swath of ketchup across the top of a meatloaf before baking it. I have no idea what polenta crustini is. But when it’s available, I bet it’s darned good. What I’m saying is, you needn’t scope out Allegre’s menu very long to know this place offers some pretty cool outside-the-box dining experiences.
As for other Allegre particulars such as when it’s open, prices (which seem VERY reasonable), accepted forms of payment and updates on future menus, I’ll let you go onto BSU’s website and check it out for yourself. Just keep in mind that in patronizing the place, you’re doing what you can to help future BSU graduates prepare to open some outstanding restaurants.
In other words, you may be helping insure that the next big idea in culinary creativity – say, Crusty’s House of Polenta Crustini – opens in Muncie, before it does in West Lafayette or Bloomington.
A former longtime feature writer and columnist for The Star Press in Muncie, Indiana, John Carlson is a storyteller with an unflagging appreciation for the wonderful people of East Central Indiana and the tales of their lives, be they funny, poignant, inspirational or all three. John’s columns appear on Muncie Journal every Friday.