Back for Seconds: A Review of Tinker Street
Missing in action for more than a decade, a legendary restaurateur returns to fine dining.
No one would guess that the huddled masses squeezed inside Tinker Street’s enclosed patio on East 16th Street are looking at a 20-minute wait to be seated. We probably seem too happy and content, sipping our $10 glasses of earthy, dense pinot noir poured generously into Riedel crystal stemware, previewing a menu that pings from blistered asparagus to pan-roasted chicken to crepes gateau, and chatting away with a charming host who introduces himself by name: “Hello, I’m Peter.”
Twenty minutes is nothing. Some of us have waited 12 years for this place to open—dined in limbo over the decade-plus since Peter George shuttered his last restaurant, Bistro 936 (the final descendant of his beloved Peter’s), and then sat tight while he and co-owner Tom Main rehabbed a 900-square-foot former real-estate office in the wildlands of Herron-Morton. Indy’s restaurant scene blossomed in the interim, spawning a food-geek culture that embraced eating as a hobby and turned hotshot chefs into local celebrities. But when George reemerged in January, serving fried Brussels sprouts tossed in Egyptian dukkah spice, pastured pork belly with purple kimchi, and craft Twinkies in that immaculate urban cottage, it was like Mary J. Blige taking the stage at the Grammys—a master of the craft showing up just to give us all a taste of how it’s supposed to be done.
Chef Braedon Kellner commands the kitchen and much of the menu’s daily construction, yielding a tidy page of surprisingly affordable options under the headings of Small Plates, Botanical, Land/Water, and Confections. The plating takes artistic liberties with ingredients like bright, rich beet-root puree, pooled under molten bonbons of ricotta gnudi that taste like a savory, chewy cross between gnocchi and Japanese mochi. The most delicate crab salad sits at the bottom of a little jar, sealed in by a psychedelic-green layer of cucumber gelee just salty enough to bring out the sweetness of the shellfish. On top: a scoop of mustard “caviar”—really just mustard seeds plumped until they pop in the mouth like fish eggs.
The kitchen might as well be a performance space, the impeccably trained staff putting on a different show every night.
Seafood gets the attention it deserves here. Crispy-skinned trout with flesh as smoky and buttery as salmon rests on a bed of pureed sunchokes sweetened by pomegranate sauce. A meaty plank of halibut, pan-seared for the most concentrated flavor, is joined by spring peas and asparagus stalks cut on the bias, all soaking in a brothy lemon beurre blanc. And though the scallops don’t always arrive with the perfect springy density, fat Gulf prawns nestled on a mound of grits and drizzled with spicy-sweet green-tomato chow-chow do the Southern-comfort standard proud.
Kellner, a Culinary Institute of America grad who honed his skills at Oakleys Bistro, focuses on seasonal ingredients and gets a pretty good bead on the ephemeral nature of Hoosier produce. By the time you read this, the charred ramps will have likely disappeared from the sliced-sirloin presentation. Strawberry-rhubarb crisp won’t appear on the menu. There will be no morels in the campanelle.
None of which will diminish the dining experience at Tinker Street, where the kitchen might as well be a performance space, the impeccably trained staff putting on a different show every night in their jeans and fitted white dress shirts, a Gap commercial come to life. It’s easy to be wowed when a little glass of Prosecco appears at your table almost the second you sit down, sweet bubbles to cleanse the palate and get the party started. Lindsay Slone, Tinker Street’s resident somm, can talk you through the small, well-curated wine list (with options available by glass, bottle, or case). And at some point during your meal, George himself will probably stop by to ask how you’re doing, adjust a wobbling table leg, or remove a barely visible stray crumb. His presence—vibrant, happy, and nearly evangelical in his enthusiasm for the restaurant—sets the tone for the entire meal. Maybe he’s making up for lost time, back in the trenches with a renewed zeal for the business. Whatever his motivation, it’s good to have him back.
402 E. 16th St., 317-925-5000, tinkerstreetindy.com
Hours Mon.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat. 5–11 p.m.; Sun. 5–9 p.m.