Provide and conquer: The newest from Cunningham Restaurant Group, crowd-pleasing Provision is a sure bet, even when it takes risks.
If you are like me, prone to embracing life advice that comes in the form of bumper stickers and inspirational memes—forever striving to be the change you wish to see in the world or, at the very least, the person your dog thinks you are—then maybe you have seen this one: Live life as though everything is rigged in your favor.
I gave this a try once. But even when I visualized an enchanted, trust-funded universe that would have my back no matter what, the idea didn’t stick. I wondered if that mind game only works if you actually know that you’re set up to succeed anyway, if you can take some risks without worrying about things like keeping the lights on. In other words, it’s a mantra that a place like Cunningham Restaurant Group’s newest golden child, Provision, could get behind.
The Indianapolis-based business with more than 20 entities across Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky debuted this 200-seat industrial-mod dinner spot in September, on the second floor of the brand-new Ironworks Hotel near Keystone at the Crossing. With its subtly curving layout, broad windows, and mellow slate-on-sandstone color scheme, it’s effortlessly handsome and confident—exactly what you would expect from a restaurant that inherited good bones from a successful parent company, can take its pick of chefs under that corporate umbrella, and sits on prime northside real estate with the benefit of both a complimentary valet and free parking as far as the eye can see. From a perch at the spiffy centerpiece bar with its rows of shimmering stemware and sweeping view of the Ironworks metropolis, it certainly looks as if everything is rigged in Provision’s favor.
You can taste bravado in dishes like a luscious puck of cold, raw chopped steak in a modern tartare presentation, with the sweet pop of pickled mustard seeds bound in with the farm-egg yolk. The salmon is “everything-crusted” in dried onions and garlic, with sesame and caraway seeds, like the bagel, and served over lentils and a puréed plantain curry. Pickled onions, cucumber salad, and a dollop of yogurt-style harissa riata add layers of contrast and richness, which is a signature move of Provision’s chef, Layton Roberts, whose flavors are always big and universally delicious, as if every dish he sends out has been fawned over and focus-grouped until it hits that wonderful balance of salty, meaty, creamy, and comfy. That means something as delicate as five little pinches of tortellini share the plate with a scattering of fried potatoes, asparagus, and candied onion, all arranged over a swirl of truffle fondue sauce.
Instead of standard tubers, poufs of silky robuchon potatoes and layered potato-and-bacon terrine headline the roster of $8 à la carte sides. And if tater tots are trending right now, why not exploit the starchy nubbins with a grown-up treatment called Loaded Tater Tottlers? Chunks of fried potatoes pressed into muffin shapes, secured to the plate with pimento cheese, and lavished with sour cream, bacon, and chives check every box on the guilty pleasure questionnaire. Perhaps more than anything else on a menu that groups items into Share, Graze, Main, and Farm sections, along with a three-course prix fixe Farmer’s Platter Tasting for $85, Loaded Tater Tottlers represent the crafty dichotomy of Provision—which might also be the key to its success.
A restaurant can present itself as a fine-dining powerhouse until the USDA Prime cows come home, serving foie gras with preserved lemon-orange marmalade, doing its burger grind in-house using short ribs and steak trim from New York strips and filets, and pouring a mean Cold Brew Manhattan. But it can also feed the basic meat-and-Tater–craving Guy Fieri in all of us. Roberts says that while the last few restaurants in the CRG portfolio, including the strikingly experimental Vida and Latin fashion plate Livery, were “designed for a certain type of diner,” Provision leans more in the direction of the fun-loving Union 50 and family-focused Bru Burger Bar contingent. “I think we are getting back to the roots of CRG here,” says Roberts, who served as the executive chef shaping the menus at several other Cunningham restaurants. “We’re covering this broader area of dining that I had gotten away from a little bit.”
Most noticeably, he drops a full steakhouse menu right in the middle of his high-functioning farm-to-table offerings. New York strips, filets, and ribeyes (the priciest one an 8-ounce luxury Wagyu cap for $60) are trotted out alongside a pork chop, lamb rack, and gloriously fatty, perfectly burnished 14-ounce veal chop. Each cut of meat gets the star treatment: smeared with bone-marrow butter, drizzled with a sweet-sour agrodolce reduction, and finished with crispy slivers of garlic. True to form, the flavors are turned up to 11.
These are the expectations that come with such an established bloodline. But that same pedigree makes any missteps even more glaring and disappointing. People will call out the lackluster scallops, deem the burger’s English muffin bun too heavy, turn up their nose at a lovely citified outdoor dining area abrim with sleek, blocky all-weather furniture because its 86th Street view is far from bucolic, and maybe go out of their way to find the cracks in Cunningham’s armor.
Which brings us to Brownsburg, of all places. That’s where restaurateur Mike Cunningham opened his flagship venture, Boulder Creek Dining Company, in 1997. And that’s where I went, after two very polished dinners at Provision, for what I assumed would be a vastly different experience. If this perfect restaurant family had the equivalent of a weird uncle, wouldn’t it be this boxy faux lodge with its timber facade that has loomed at the end of the same Hendricks County strip mall for the last 20 years?
The answer is no. Boulder Creek is doing just fine, thank you, its sweet, suburban servers hustling campfire pizzas and racks of ribs around the flagstone-festooned dining room. I ate a succulent hunk of crab-topped walleye laid over silky, cheesy risotto. On my way out the door, I had to bob and weave through a dozen or so diners waiting for tables. If anything, this place made me appreciate the people behind Provision even more. Pull your weight, and it doesn’t matter if everything is rigged in your favor or not. Put that on a bumper sticker.
2721 E. 86th St., 317-843-6105, provision-restaurant.com
Mon.–Thur. 4–10 p.m., Fri–Sat. 4–11 p.m., Sun. 4–9 p.m.
Elaborately plated standards
Keystone at the Crossing
The 14-ounce veal chop and lemon-coconut cake
Mains $22–$42, steaks and chops $32–$60, sides $8