The Wild Brunch: A Review of Milktooth
Serving early-day grub in a remodeled Fletcher Place auto-repair shop, Milktooth is a wake-up call for unstuffy fine dining.
When its young owners first teased it, the restaurant concept that would become Milktooth sounded almost too good to be true. Jonathan Brooks, a Recess alum, and his wife, Ashley, were already on their way to becoming the new darlings of Indy’s edgy dining scene as the hosts of a site-specific underground supper club called Dented Ladle Dining. This new undertaking, which their Indiegogo funding campaign described as a “fine diner,” would bring “eggs, bacon, doughnuts, booze, & sweet tea fried chicken” to a former auto-repair shop in Fletcher Place. Fans of all those things were on board in a big way.
After months of anticipation and a slow, sexy rollout that included a series of preview brunches, Milktooth was finally ready for business in October. Playing to a packed house during those first few weeks, the Brookses’ offbeat brunchery didn’t just live up to its breathless hype, but possibly surpassed it. For those customers who were turned away at the door (sometimes after waiting for an hour) when the kitchen ran out of food, the place was indeed too good to be true.
The wide-open, 2,800-square-foot space is equal parts Parisian flea market and Urban Outfitters, and endearingly rough around the edges. An old baker’s table, patinaed with years of flour, is lined with vintage glass milk jugs that serve as water pitchers and baskets of folded harvest-gold linen napkins. Tables are rough-hewn slabs of bark-on timber ringed with a mishmash of salvaged chairs. And chef-owner Jonathan Brooks is as much a part of the decor as the taxidermied mountain-goat head on the back wall, working the room like the mayor of Virginia Avenue or striking a Top Chef pose in the open kitchen behind the diner counter as he cuts pieces of pork steak for pan-roasting.
Brooks reinvents simple Granny dishes—first mastering the classic cotton-apron recipes and then elevating them.
Those tender slabs of meat get plated with grits and salty redeye gravy, bringing together components of a hearty weekend breakfast that I polished off like a famished field hand. Across the table, a gorgeous, crispy-edged cornmeal Dutch Baby—like an inflated pancake stuck with a pin—cradled amaro-peach jam, dried berries, and a dab of creme fraiche in its savory-sweet pillow. Brooks reinvents simple Granny dishes—first mastering the classic cotton-apron recipes and then elevating them with new ingredients and methods. The result of that tinkering can be something as perfect as three crunchy curls of sweet-tea fried chicken tucked onto a plate of biscuits and thick sausage gravy (the kind that’s for chompin’, not chasin’, as Granny might say) with a sunny-side egg on top. That perfection comes with a caveat. In a move that diners regard as either a stroke of chef brilliance or an example of micromanaging on steroids (or the ultimate narcissistic gesture), a line printed at the bottom of Milktooth’s daily changing menu lays out the rules in no uncertain terms: “MODIFICATIONS ARE POLITELY DECLINED.”
“What if I don’t like eggs? What if I’m allergic to dairy?” a friend of mine groused as she carefully plucked the threads of a local egg baked into the surface of her rich, breakfast casserole–style uovo al forna—a hunk of semolina bread soaked in garlicky, spicy tomato sauce and sprinkled with Parmesan. Two grilled merguez sausages, their skins charred to give the spicy, earthy meat a nice crunch, clung to the edge of the plate. This was the perfect kitchen-table brunch—just not for someone who doesn’t like eggs.
If you wanted to poke fun at the current precious state of dining—and the new love language of food—Milktooth provides plenty of targets. The bruleed grapefruit is topped with honey and sea salt; the biscuit is called a 5 a.m. biscuit; and there is a bacon, potato, and kale scone. This would all be good fodder for a church giggle at the restaurant’s expense, if not for the fact that Milktooth is in on the joke, too—and probably getting the last laugh: It’s already on the radar for the best places to eat in Indianapolis. Other restaurants might play to the masses with their sure-fire frites and bacon-topped proteins. Milktooth isn’t quite so worried about giving diners what they want but rather telling them what they want, before they even know it.
534 Virginia Ave., 986-5131, milktoothindy.com
HOURS 7 a.m.–3 p.m. Wed.–Mon. (counter-service coffee and pastries only 7–9 a.m.)