Friday, July 22, 2011

Restaurant Review: Dats in Bloomington

Earlier this summer, my good friend Cathy (who is in Bloomington for the time being finishing her masters degree at IU), informed me she wanted to spend more time this summer just getting to know the city better. Knowing me for long enough to understand if it involves food I'm always game, she anticipated I'd be up for coming along. When we started talking about places to go and things to do I realized I've spent over two years here and apparently haven't gotten out as much as I'd thought. It's not entirely surprising (full-time job, volunteering, traveling on weekends, finding time for my own kitchen, let alone someone else's...) but I felt this would be a nice opportunity to hit up some places I'd managed to have missed during my first two years here.

In our effort to do more exploring of Bloomington, Cathy and I went out for dinner at Dat's last Sunday night. Neither of us had been there before, though we'd both been meaning to go for a while. I was a bit surprised upon going in the restaurant. I was expecting a sit-down style, but quickly realized it's an order-your-food-and-grab-a-seat kind of place. For this type of establishment there's plenty of seating and bit of outdoor seating on a lovely little porch. The inside has decor a bit reminiscent of the French Quarter and feels extremely casual.

The menu is chalked up behind the register and varies a bit from day to day. It seemed a very cost effective option to us to both order the "half and half" (half a portion of two entrees) so we'd have four entrees between us to sample. We asked quite a few questions about the menu to the friendly guy behind the counter. He seemed pretty knowledgeable about the menu and ingredients. I decided on the gumbo and caramelized corn and black beans. Cathy went with the spinach and artichoke etouffee and red beans and rice.

The heaping portions came out fast and hot. I started with the gumbo. It was good, but I wish it had been a bit thicker and less salty.  Cathy didn't mind the salt, but agreed on the thickness noting that she missed the okra that is typically in her homemade version. Next was the caramelized corn and black beans. It wasn't what I was expecting based on the name (it didn't look particularly caramelized), but it was absolutely delicious. It was surprisingly sweet, but not overly so. If I'd ordered just this dish, the entire portion would have been absolutely devoured. And I would've had to exhibit serious restraint to not lick the plate for good measure.

Over on Cathy's plate we started with the spinach and artichoke etouffee. We both enjoyed it and likened it to a spicy spinach and artichoke dip. The red beans and rice had a stronger acidic flavor than other varieties we've had before; a change welcomed by both of us. I wanted it to be just a bit saucier to give more substance to the rice below, but wasn't by any means displeased with the taste.

Cathy and I realized an entirely unfortunate oversight on our way out. They have an entire bar area dedicated to dozens of bottles of hot sauces, oils and other delightful condiments. The hot sauces range quite a bit in style and heat intensity (from what I could gather from the bottles). Had I done proper homework ahead of time, a slew of reviews from diners raving about the hot sauce bar would have came across my radar. So, this time around we get an F in preparation, but an A in excuses to go back and visit again.

The total bill for our dinner for two (with whopping portions to boot) was $13.50. A good price for decent food and a great price for food like this. I'd recommend Dats to anyone in Bloomington, especially someone looking for a casual meal out, a change of pace from some of the more common ethnic flavors of 4th street, or a quality, inexpensive carry-out meal.

Dinner for two (that could feed three!) at Dats

Dats on Urbanspoon


  1. Were the entrees uniformly spicy?

  2. Spicy as in seasoning? There was some variation on how robust the dishes were, but overall they were uniformly "Cajun flavored". However, the black beans and corn was a bit more sweet where the others were more savory.

    Spicy as in heat? Yes, they all came out at a pretty low spice level. The only exception would be the gumbo: the sausage gave it tiny bit more heat from the get-go.

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