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No. 1 — Late Harvest Kitchen

8605 River Crossing, 317-663-8063, lateharvestkitchen.com

At a time when the Super Bowl’s magnetic pull was filling downtown with ambitious startups, Late Harvest settled quietly into its northside slot. Within months of the November opening, Ryan Nelson’s handsome lumberjack of a restaurant had us hooked on ruggedly luxe fare, like hulking, bacon-topped hash browns, housemade kielbasa with mustard spaetzle, and meaty short ribs hunkered over root-vegetable risotto—an elegant pot roast. Just mentioning the word “brandade” in certain gastro-nerd circles would trigger testimonials, reverent descriptions of salted cod and fresh cod poached in cream, pureed, and broiled until the top of it goes crisp—served with toasted brioche for scooping. Zipline? What zipline?

Granted, people knew who Nelson was. The former executive chef at downtown’s Oceanaire had been talking up his idea of “fine dining with the accessibility of a neighborhood restaurant” ever since leaving his high-profile corporate-kitchen post last year. The Minneapolis transplant—an avowed white-wine drinker with a passion for hockey—seems to have found his restaurant soulmate. Though deliciously thought-out and well-presented, these are rustic dishes that make you want to roll up your sleeves and dig in. All arrangements of beiges and browns, with not a squeeze bottle’s squiggle in sight. “I wish we would have done this years ago,” says Nelson, whose wife, Laurie, serves as the restaurant manager. Better late than never, Late Harvest rises to the top of this year’s freshman class, showing us that exploring new territory doesn’t have to take us too far from the comforts of home.

"I guess I'm most proud that people are trying new things."
—Ryan Nelson

>> SIMILAR TASTES

Fans of pitch-perfect surf and turf always have the fallback lushness of Peterson’s (7690 E. 96th St., Fishers, 598-8863, petersonsrestaurant.com), especially in its tender osso buco, and row of seared Maine Diver scallops with alternating disks of apple tuille on a bed of risotto > Sporting dark paneling and Germanic robustness, The Rathskeller (401 E. Michigan St., 636-0396, rathskeller.com) pioneered the civilized rustic theme. Oxtail is listed among the soups, and the sides include spaetzle, red cabbage, and warm potato salad.

>> SIDE STORY: The Caviar Pie at Late Harvest Kitchen

Ryan Nelson’s favorite item looks elaborate: a wedge of cream cheese topped with stripes of caviar on a plate scattered with capers, red onions, and fluffed egg. Nelson adapted the recipe from a chef he once worked with, and has used the
combination of savory cream and salty roe as a quick home-entertaining fallback. “I’ll get a jar of creme fraiche and dump it out, and then dump a jar of small krill on top of that and throw out some crackers or chips,” Nelson says. “It’s as good as it gets, as far as I’m concerned.” Late Harvest presses the combination into a tart pan and lets it shore up overnight.

Photos by Eric Lubrick.

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue.