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My first job was as a waitress in a tiny Italian restaurant in South Carolina. The owner, Robin, had just sunk her life savings into the off–Main Street storefront. Using recipes she learned from a couple of paesanos in New York, she bestowed our little hometown with an authentic red-sauce trattoria, proudly calling it “Robino’s.” I got paid $2 an hour (under the table) and all the eggplant parmigiana I could eat. Years later, sitting on a piazza in Rome, I remembered Robin’s mouth-watering marinara and thought, Yep—it was pretty spot on.
The natives, however, forgot to be grateful. This was a small city, after all, and the culinary offerings began with a string of fast food joints and ended at Bo’s Fish Camp. No one went to Bo’s for the fish, thank goodness, as the town was nowhere near water; instead, people clamored for its “calabash” chicken. Robin cursed it. “That orange chicken!” she’d spit. To top it off, her $8 entrees cost twice as much as a plate (with fries) at Bo’s, which meant poor Robin and her fresh pasta and quality ingredients were always regarded with a little suspicion.
By the time school started in August, I knew the restaurant was finito. A few loyal customers trickled in, but most nights I spent vacuuming up phantom crumbs from breadsticks never broken and humming along to “Party Lights” as it echoed through the empty dining room.
I thought a lot about that summer while reading assistant editor Trisha Lindsley’s “Made from Scratch,” a behind-the-scenes look at how a soon-to-launch Italian restaurant, Bluebeard, came to be. Robino’s may not have benefited from Bluebeard’s capital, or enjoyed its sophistication, but it did have its heart—and its own share of inaugural-year headaches.
Whether Bluebeard or any of our top ten new restaurants survives is up to us. As a newcomer, I’m trying to do my part, adding them all to my list of Hoosier “must dos.” Completed: My first sip of Sun King. An amble along the White River with my husband and dog at Holliday Park. Going the wrong way down a one-way street—twice.
Up next on my list will be that succulent-looking Late Harvest Kitchen pork chop. I’m counting on it putting “that orange chicken” to shame.
Amanda Heckert is the editor of Indianapolis Monthly. See her bio here.
This column originally appeared in the May 2012 issue.
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