For sheer wow factor and Super Bowl shout-outs from Tom Colicchio, no place did more this past year to put Hoosier food and drink on the map than Neal Brown’s temple to vintage mixology and small-plate cuisine. “Katy Perry DJ’ed here” might long be this hip draw’s claim to fame. But Brown earned the ovation long before the red carpet rolled out. Every detail—lamp-lit tree branches sprouting from the back wall, cubbyholes filled with jars of housemade potions—seems bent toward the pure, unadulterated pleasure the bar’s name implies. The Libertine’s old-meets-new cocktails, mixed by barkeeps in vests and rolled sleeves, set a new standard with their herbal undertones, fresh-squeezed juices, and gorgeous garnishes. Recent star elixirs include the Gun in the Glovebox, a smooth mix of spiced rum and Cocchi vermouth, and the Gaslight, an old-fashioned charmer with bourbon, bitters, maple, and a floating lime wedge set aflame.
Chef de cuisine Erin Till proves her muster at coining cleverly decadent bar snacks and heartier fare, including sumptuous duck meatballs atop springy gnocchi flecked with herbs, all crowned with a single, jewel-like egg yolk. If you want your eggs cooked, Till takes deviled eggs to new heights with smoked fish and caviar. A constantly evolving menu with sincere vegetarian and sustainable seafood offerings, as well as Lindy Brown’s expert wine list and plenty of local brews, makes this place both the one to impress out-of-town friends and to call your regular downtown haunt.
>> SIMILAR TASTES
To experience some speakeasy decadence (and that famous shrimp cocktail), climb the stairs to St. Elmo Steak House’s second-story 1933 Lounge (127 S. Illinois St., 635-0636, stelmos.com) > Sazeracs and Chartreuse Swizzles are among the classic pours at Ball and Biscuit (331 Massachusetts Ave., 636-0539, ballandbiscuit.com), paired with Chef Brad Gates’s small plates > Vodka drinkers flock to Tini (717 Massachusetts Ave., 384-1313).
>> SIDE STORY: The Gnocchi at The Libertine
Chef Erin Till started the “Gnocchi Program” at Pizzology while she was Neal Brown’s chef de cuisine at the popular Carmel pizzeria. She researched the classic Italian dumplings, practiced several recipes, wrote the specials, and made the dumplings herself every week. “It was my special project, and I spent a great deal of time perfecting my recipe,” she says. You can taste the fruits of her labors in tender, delicate gnocchi with just the right amount of bite.
Photos by Tony Valainis.
This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue.