A decade ago, if you had said you were opening a restaurant in Indiana with comforting farmstead dishes paired to a full 16 taps of local beers, you probably would have roused a few chuckles. A full-bodied lager to go with that root-vegetable salad? Maybe a pale ale for the trout with Brussels sprouts? Is it Black Swan Brewpub’s location just off I-70 west of the city or its stark, neo–machine shed decor that makes the proposition still a bit surprising? Whatever the case, this gastropub arrives just as the state’s ascendant beer scene is becoming a bona fide movement. Who wouldn’t want to pull off on the long haul for a plate of sweet-potato gnocchi with braised duck or a Hoosier bison burger with truffled frites?
It’s the beer-savvy locals who have, in the months since the eatery opened, made the place their haunt. Off-roaders are trickling in, but Black Swan is bound to become a destination restaurant now that owner D.J. McCallister, a Beech Grove native, has his tanks going and will be filling those taps with house-brewed beers, like a cream stout or crisp Belgian wit. With dark, rustic paneling and domed metal lampshades, the place is less a classic British pub than the kind of bucolic tavern you might stumble across hiking in Central Europe, and the restaurant’s swan logo seems practically borrowed from a Hapsburg crest. Black cafe tables rimmed with chrome seem a little incongruous, more at home in a vintage diner, and windows facing the parking lot offer too clear a view of nearby gas stations and drive-throughs. But Black Swan avoids the typical shtick of contemporary beer halls and asserts a clear vision and personality all its own. The waitstaff is knowledgeable about the beers, and a full explanatory chart allows diners to drink full or half pints or even order sample sets for tasting.
Chef Nick Carter, formerly a chef at Nordstrom and kitchen supervisor at Wolfgang Puck Catering, has foregone all-too-familiar pub staples in favor of Belgian gastropub classics. Fried pickles still appear among starters along with a more refined baked Brie accompanied by a marmalade of cherries and onion. An ambitious board of artisan meats includes a housemade pork terrine and a smoked-trout spread—perfect with just about any beer you order. Most surprising among appetizers, however, are tiny sweet peppadew peppers stuffed with chorizo, sitting in a luscious goat-cheese fondue. Too bad this one is so tiny.
» More: Black Swan won Best Fried Pickles in our December 2011 Best of Indy issue.
Salads are perhaps the most unexpected resident on the menu, especially a hearty one topped with roasted sweet potatoes and parsnips with hand-torn greens and a red-wine vinaigrette enriched with Parmesan. The only burger is a lean yet succulent half-pound bison version with meat from nearby Putnam County. Creamy fontina, crisp onion straws, and a sundried-tomato aioli dress the burger without making it too gloppy or gaudy.
Entrees showcase Carter’s true skills, though some hit the mark more than others. By far the highlight is light sweet-potato gnocchi drenched in a cream sauce with braised duck, shiitakes, and sweet scallions. Try finding that at any other tavern in town. Lightly grilled trout garnished with crispy leeks and paired with roasted Brussels sprouts (yes, you’ll like them) and lentils with bacon also won’t weigh you down. A generous slab of meatloaf made with both pork and beef is more tasty than it is moist; the chili–pale ale sauce is a welcome addition.
Chicken schnitzel with a ruggedly crunchy crust also has a deliciously earthy mushroom sauce, though the rough-cut braised cabbage on the side is disappointingly somewhere between crisp and tender.
Desserts, too, diverge into sigh-worthy finales and curious near-misses. Paired with a dark stout or even a light, sparkling cider, a trifle of nicely spiced gingerbread with an expert pumpkin cream sauce and clearly homemade whipped cream is a treat you simply don’t expect when you head out of the city on the highway. A citrus tart has similar aspirations but lacks polish in execution, its filling runnier than you’d expect. But you would excuse it at the end of such an unanticipated meal paired so thoughtfully with carefully crafted beers—the buzz of which you’re happy to wait out before you head back on the road.
Black Swan Brewpub
2067 Hadley Rd., Plainfield, 317-838-7444
HOURS Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–midnight; Sun. 11 a.m.–10 p.m.
This article appeared in the March 2011 issue.