Now that it’s 2013, which marks the centennial of the year the Omni Severin made its debut in the Wholesale District as the Grand Hotel of Indianapolis, we figured it was high time we stop in and check out the new 1913 Restaurant (40 W. Jackson Pl., 317-634-6664), which quietly opened at the Omni late last year promising dishes popular on menus from the early part of the last century. More than anything, we wanted to toast the milestone with one of the new signature drinks—a Whiskey Daisy, perhaps, or a Rhum Hum Cobbler—from the sleek Severin Bar, one of two new bars (along with the Wine Thief) in the hotel. But neither of those bars open until later in the afternoon, so we would have to order our drinks in the restaurant, which looked just about the same as the last time we’d dined there a few months back, though perhaps streamlined a bit. Sadly, our cocktail orders caused somewhat of a stir—or not, as the case would turn out—when staff couldn’t locate the ingredients for an ambitious-sounding Ginger Ale Cup with Hennessy, Maraschino, Benedictine, and ginger syrup. The drink they did manage to find the components for—a stiff but refreshing sophisticate also beginning with Hennessy and Maraschino but ending with Chartreuse, champagne, and bit of pineapple juice—impressed us enough that we promised ourselves we’d be back for more.
Whether the restaurant menu is more out of 1913 or 2013 is an issue of some debate. Would our great grandparents really have ordered something called a “Pigwich” or called for their cheese plates, meats, and produce by farmstead producer? Were they really starting off their meals with bacon flights? No matter. This was a hotel lunch menu to be reckoned with, offering everything from a small plate of free-range deviled eggs to its sole big offering, a “mess” of fried bluegill. We had to request one of those bacon flights from the dinner menu, but our somewhat deliberate, though utterly accommodating waitress made sure we got our strips of bacon served upright from a peg board on wooden skewers. She even brought us some extra barbecue sauce and a slightly sweet buttermilk dressing to go with them. With a loaf of warm soft bread with a crunchy herb crust, this was a stick-to-your ribs starter our forefathers probably wouldn’t have scoffed at—even if the bacon could have been one notch crispier. A darling short-handled copper bowl of “canned” tomato soup offered a rich, authentic tomato flavor, though an actual aluminum soup can of homemade soda crackers on the side seemed a tad flat.
Jumping in only partway on the house-made pickle plate trend, 1913 offers a board of some homemade items (crisp but slightly under-pickled wax beans with a hint of tarragon) and some out of the jar—Sechler’s quite serviceable bread and butter pickles. Perhaps the star here were some wonderfully sweet preserved Sweet 100s cherry tomatoes which offered up a much-needed taste of summer. These juicy little flavor bombs showed up on a hearty chop salad with tender local chicken, yet more bacon (this one from Gunthorp Farms) and Fair Oaks Farm cheddar, all tossed with crunchy greens and a nicely restrained buttermilk vinaigrette. This alone could have been a satisfying lunch. But then we wouldn’t have tried the house “root beer” ham shaved thin and served on thick-cut slabs of bread with no shortage of butter. The bread might have sent this hefty sandwich a bit over the edge, but the ham was definitely a treat, along with light and crisp fresh potato chips, which gradually won us over to where we couldn’t stop ourselves from munching on them. Quirks in service and a few lackluster details notwithstanding, we were happy to see not just a hipster upstart jumping on the rustic, local eats trend but a time-honored landmark spiffing up its culinary offerings from more standard institutional offerings to something we could get excited about a century after its founding.