For selfish reasons, I would rather not tell you about my recent bowl of utterly perfect shrimp and polenta bathed in white wine and spiked with nibs of housemade chorizo under a buttery drift of manchego cheese. The same goes for one decadent serving of butternut squash bisque swirled with chunky apple compote, pumpkin oil, and toasted pepitas—and that puffy loaf of rosemary focaccia that was properly presented with an olive oil sidecar one dark and drizzly evening just off the courthouse square in Noblesville, probably the last time I’ll be able to snag a table at Samir and Rachel Firestone Mohammad’s 9th Street Bistro. It pains me to broadcast that this 35-seat, shotgun-style restaurant that quietly debuted in September should be at the very top of everyone’s culinary bucket list right now.
But here I go, so don’t dawdle.
The tiny, adorably rustic bistro nestled like a Wes Anderson backdrop among the town’s historic red bricks should have launched in April 2020, when the husband-and-wife owners originally planned their grand opening. Who knew, in those innocent pre-pandemic times, what the coming months would have in store? “I think everybody had at least a couple of weeks, maybe even a month, of going, ‘Oh shit,’” says Rachel, recalling those early, bewildering days and nights when she and her newlywed husband (having just relocated from Colorado to Indiana to open their dream restaurant) huddled over jigsaw puzzles, pondering their options in such an uncertain world. As restaurant veterans, they always knew they would need to be flexible in their industry. “We wondered what we could do that we would really be proud of,” Rachel says. “That’s how we came up with the ready-to-heat dishes.”
For well over a year, they kept their business alive by designing their own line of gourmet to-go meals, using ingredients from hyperlocal sources like Teter Organic Farm and Redwine Family Farms, as well as their own garden. Even after the restaurant finally opened up, they continued selling the meals. The menu for Supper Club, as they named it, still changes weekly, featuring ambitious foods like beautifully burnished spanakopita in a foil bowl and a veggie-and-rice maqluba designed to be flipped over after reheating.
When chef Samir assembles braised-beef enchiladas and stuffs Bull’s Horn peppers with yellow squash, beans, and rice, he is channeling his Southwestern roots. A child of Taos, New Mexico, he went on to spend four years in the Coast Guard, train at Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco, and travel the South Pacific and Asia as a consultant. Most recently, Samir built up his culinary career at a series of restaurants (including his own Italian scratch kitchen, Bettola Bistro) in Colorado, which is where he met his Indiana-born bride, who was climbing the ranks of a Denver tech company at the time.
They relocated to Indiana to be closer to her family. “We wanted to be able to work with local farms, to know where our food was coming from,” Rachel says. “Our one-day dream—our retirement plan, as Chef likes to call it—is for us to have enough land that we can grow all of the food for our own restaurant.” And they’re off to a promising start, putting this year’s tomato harvest to delicious use in dishes like a slow-smoked lamb shank Bolognese that’s saucy and rich, the meat falling apart in tender strands over sheets of housemade pappardelle pasta. It’s topped with a generous dab of 9th Street’s own burrata cream that is surprisingly light, almost fluffy.
The wild mushroom risotto is built around a chef-coveted version of the Italian rice that has aged for seven years. The Fig & Pig Tart’s puff pastry holds house-cured bacon and caramelized onions slow-cooked into submission with balsamic vinegar and local honey. And the Duck Confit Toast is slathered with fat-enriched leg and thigh meat, black-eyed pea hummus, Asiago cheese, and lemon olive oil—ingredients with salt-of-the-earth synergy. Diners can also pick from the evening’s one-off special menu, which always includes a Fried Thing of the Day, perhaps corn-and-crab fritters or delicate quartered artichoke hearts flavored with za’atar.
Admittedly, the restaurant’s snug setting and exposed-brick aesthetic make the food even more endearing. Tables tucked between tastefully stocked vintage bookcases are arranged in sweet little vignettes. Accent walls provide a pop of robin’s-egg blue, and a compact bar with tidy wooden shelves of spirits occupies the back corner. Somehow, the room feels both bustling and low-key, and Rachel works it like a pro, gliding from table to table to drop off a plate of burrata that sits on a lovely bed of delicata squash marmalade … to annotate the Old Towners cocktail list that name-drops the restaurant’s friends and supporters … to explain that the coconut chocolate cashew gelato is actually vegan … or to simply hype her husband, the chef.
It’s not such a hard sell. Everything on this menu is a delightful testament to Samir’s expertise, from the pickled peach salad to the Nutella brownie that comes out in a wee cast-iron skillet. The dishes are thoughtful (almost personal), and 9th Street’s gentle demeanor feels like the big hug we all craved after COVID-19’s isolation marathon.
Maybe 9th Street Bistro can chalk up its spot-on flavors and smooth operation right out of the gate to that unexpected gap year, when the state of the world forced its eager owners to pull back and embrace the ready-to-heat model. If the dumpster fire of 2020 had any redeeming quality, it might be this.
56 S. 9th St., Noblesville, 317-774-5065
Wed.–Sat. 4:30–9:30 p.m.
Hearty comfort food made with hyperlocal ingredients.
Housemade burrata, the Steak & Frites combo of a hulking 16-ounce New York strip aged in house and fingerling frites flavored with duck-fat salt. Finish with a light-as-air vanilla crème brûlée.