Review: Late Harvest Kitchen

Ryan Nelson creates an ambitious new shrine to hearty seasonal eats. Expect seafood, of course, and a whole lot more.


If you had followed Ryan Nelson’s career from the beginning, you might have predicted the scene: Just 10 days after he opened Late Harvest Kitchen in the former Smith & Hawken storefront near The Fashion Mall, Nelson strolled from table to table in the packed, candlelit dining room of his first solo enterprise, talking to customers with the ease of a seasoned restaurant professional. But in many ways, he was still the guy from Minneapolis, the onetime English major and avid hockey fan a tad uncomfortable in his chef’s whites, humbly hoping you enjoyed the food he had cooked for you. Only now he was not answering to the corporate offices of The Oceanaire Seafood Room, where he established himself as both team player and rising star, garnering an invitation to cook at the revered James Beard House in New York City at age 26.

Nearly a decade at one of Indy’s most polished eateries definitely taught Nelson how to run a restaurant. For his own place, he’s taken pains to make every detail matter: the see-through window to the cozy bar tucked inside the foyer, the gently flickering fireplace, the well-lacquered tabletops made from repurposed barn wood from all over the Midwest. Candles cast shadows across silvery taupe walls framed with Douglas fir planks. A south-facing outdoor pergola with its own firepit promises one of the best al fresco dining spaces in the city. Only a soundtrack heavy with indie rockers seems a bit forced, particularly with a mature clientele who might prefer the Sinatra and Tony Bennett ubiquitous at Nelson’s previous employer.

Nelson has always excelled at the edges of “surf,” celebrating lesser-known maritime ingredients like halibut cheeks and sea beans—and often interpolating bacon and pork belly along the way. Here, he breaks out with a whole host of hearty braised-meat dishes, integrating surf and turf in tasty creations. A lusciously golden skate wing came with thick slices of andouille sausage, a light touch of a buttery meuniere sauce, and peppery watercress. Walleye, while a bit modest to be called a “shore lunch,” arrived richly garnished with sweet cippolini and housemade bacon.

Where he focuses on the “turf,” Nelson rarely stumbles: pork cheeks fall apart on the fork; short ribs show that they have been braised for 12 hours.

Surprisingly, the rare misstep in early dishes came mainly with the seafood. Generous filets of Hawaiian ono seemed cooked to the far side of medium, leaving them slightly dry, though gnocchi and roasted cauliflower made for delectable sides. Small, superfluous clams atop a juicy pork chop with tender butter beans retained all too much of their grit. But where he focuses on the “turf,” Nelson rarely stumbles: pork cheeks fall apart on the fork next to lush wild mushrooms; short ribs show that they have been braised for 12 hours, with textbook risotto soaking up the juices. Small plates and sides run from elegant—a “pie” of American caviars with traditional garnishes of chopped eggs and capers—to rustic: housemade kielbasa with spaetzle and a noticeably buttery brandade of salt cod with toasted brioche.

Thankfully, Nelson didn’t leave everything behind at The Oceanaire. Those irresistible inverted domes of creamy, crispy hash browns are dressed up a la Minneapolis here, with bacon lardons, plenty of sour cream, and chives—a must on any visit. And the sticky toffee pudding, a trumped-up recipe for the British standard Nelson and his wife, Laurie, encountered on a trip to the Cayman Islands, is glorious here with its deep dark sauce, pillowy cake, and crunch of sugar crowned with a cloud of cool whipped cream.

Indeed the desserts, including a super-thick chocolate mousse and an apple tarte Tatin with a buttery crust and vanilla ice cream, were some of the clearest signs Late Harvest Kitchen was ready for prime time. A varied, largely affordable wine list and elegant cocktails such as The Sancho—tequila, sweet agave nectar, and pineapple juice with the vegetal bite of green chiles—also showed good planning. As much as Nelson made a national franchise spot into a restaurant with a local personality, it was only a matter of time before he put his own stamp on Indy’s culinary scene, welcome news in the sea of chains on the northeast side and a win for the city for retaining such a talented, still-evolving chef.

8605 River Crossing Blvd., 663-8063,
HOURS Monday–Saturday 5–10 p.m

Photograph by Tony Valainis.

This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue.

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  • kj

    I went to a highly anticipated birthday dinner in early june 2012. although we had reservations,a group of walk-ins were seated first.i ended up ordering the most expensive item,the bone-in ribeye. the steak showed up being half fat and grissle and NO BONE!!! i immediately mentioned this to the server who simply stated “that’s never happened before”,and he left it at that and left the table.after another mention of my disappointment on his next appearence,again nothing was done,and without making a scene i began to eat.after the meal i made a third comment to the server,which at this time got the chef/owner to our table. the owner asked if i ate the steak,which i replied”most of it,as apparently i didn’t have a choice” .not much sympathy there either.for myself who dines out quite often at the likes of elmo’s,turner’s,oakley’s,sullivan’s,etc.,i was very disappointed with the service,food and the owner himself for the manner which he handled the the end,there was a small discount given.this restaraunt and staff has a long way to go to be considered close to fine dining….a waste of time and money on what was supposed to be a memorable occasion,a complete failure of a dinner..

  • Ryan C

    In what will certainly go down as one of our most bizarre restaurant experiences, we made a reservation and confirmed that a group of toddlers would be allowed for a family reunion that included a group from Indonesia. From the outset the waitstaff was curt and openly rude to our children, which didn’t make much sense until Chef Ryan Nelson himself came over and quite rudely told us our kids were being disruptive. He continued with a heated discussion with my brother-in-law for some time and when I came over to discuss it with him, he was combative and argumentative. I initially didn’t believe an owner would act this way to any patron, but he said he was looking out for his ‘other’ paying guests. He felt our kids were loud, but as a parent I can tell you we believe our kids are well behaved and were just acting like standard toddlers do. Needless to say, we are not at all comfortable to recommending this establishment to families. Food was fine, and obviously caters to adults. Perhaps Mr. Nelson was having a bad day, but he has now continued the argument with me on twitter (he has since deleted my comments). Mr. Nelson – you are a fine chef, but we found your lack of professionalism shocking. As a business owner, you should learn not to offend any of your guests, target market or not. Feel free to respond – at this point we are not at all pleased with your actions or follow up to date and feel compelled to put other families with young children on notice they are not welcome.

    • JeremyI

      Yes toddlers will act like toddlers but the toddles in that group were screaming and running around the restaurant. Many other tables were complaining and you didn’t even see it. I’m sure if I ran around your house screaming you wouldn’t like it either.

  • BW

    Had dinner there last Saturday. My husband jokes with me all the time that I don’t give other Indianapolis restaurants a chance but given what we have to pay for babysitters I don’t like to venture far from my favorite restaurant, Recess, where I have NEVER been less that wowed. Well I guess I didn’t have high expectations for Late Harvest Kitchen given my bias but I was excited nonetheless since it made best Indy 25 restaurants list. We started with pork belly, brandade, fried oysters. I am disappointed to write that first time in my life I had pork belly that was tough and chewy. Brandade was OK and not because I don’t like cod because salted cod fish was a staple Sunday morning breakfast in my family but the dish just was not spectacular. Though the bread that came with it was incredible. For our main, we had their house dish, pork chop. It was decent, well cooked with a lot of supporting cast to add flavor. All in all, I was hoping for a more satisfying experience but maybe I’ll have to give it another chance after I get through the rest of 25 best list.