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Lunch at The Libertine

O, Fortunta

Neal Brown fans uttered a collective groan at the recent news that the chef/restaurateur had dropped plans for a Nora-area outpost of his much-loved Carmel pizzeria, Pizzology (13190 Hazel Dell Pkwy., Carmel, 317-844-2550). While a downtown Pizzology may now be in the works, Brown’s disciples have been waiting for something new from one of Indy’s epicurean prophets since the debut, last year, of Brown’s lunch delivery service The Brown Bag, offering gourmet versions of noontime four-squares packed in clever metal tiffins, couriered by brave bicyclists with huge Rubbermaid containers strapped to their backs. But that’s so 2012.

What’s a lover of artisanal cocktails, small-plate cuisine, and scorched-edge Neapolitan pizza to do in the meanwhile? Our suggestion: Stop in for an actual sit-down lunch at The Libertine (38 E. Washington St., 317-631-3333), which is exactly what we did last week. While The Libertine has featured daylight hours in the past, this is its first attempt at a selection of elevated lunch offerings unique from its dinner menu. And while the menu is short, with just around nine items, this is no afterthought of suppertime imitations aimed at downtown workers who escape home at 5 p.m. If you’ve got the luxury of an afternoon off—or a very liberal employer—you can live it up with a “Bloody Mary Lunch,” complete with the iconic brunch cocktail dolled up with San Marzano tomato juice, a BLT with Smoking Goose’s jowl bacon, and a side spring salad for good measure.

Taking a more temperate approach, we started with some perfectly roasted cauliflower mixed with plenty of deeply browned sweet onions, a bit more a side than a starter but a far-from-guilt-inducing way to get our veggies. A salmon burger might have been slightly crispier around the edges, but it packed in plenty of rich salmon with appropriately minimal filler and a pool of delectable sauce gribiche, a tangy take on tartar sauce made from chopped egg with a nice, tangy bite of capers and herbs. Duck fat frites on the side also weren’t as crispy as we would have hoped, but we couldn’t stop eating them owing to the delectably unctuous, earthy duck fat. But what sent us back to our desks singing was the curiously named “Fortunta,” essentially a shower of nicely salty lamb ham (also from Smoking Goose) served atop thick-cut toasts slathered in creamy egg salad with subtly spicy, perfectly funky kimchee. Oh, to be fortunate enough to have a lunch like this every day.