If cider is still that quaint, sweet alternative to beer you occasionally order at a British pub, then the opening of the new Ash & Elm Cider Co. Restaurant and Cider Bar on Washington Street this past week makes it the perfect time to discover just how diverse and complex this ancient, fruit-based beverage can be. It’s also a good time to pair cider with something that makes it truly shine: food. That’s because the long-awaited move of Indy’s premier cider-maker to its airier, more colorful location in The Assembly building a few blocks closer to downtown has also ushered in an expanded menu of cider-friendly dishes cooked up by talented chef Tracey Couillard. But don’t just think cheese plates or fish and chips. As with Ash & Elm’s surprising selection of cider variations, from blackberry to mango, the food at the new location ranges from a Cajun-inspired burger to veal chops to fresh lake walleye.
The move to The Assembly building, the former Ford Motor Company plant that dates to 1914 and also houses luxury lofts and the offices of TWG Development, means a clean and industrial setting with soaring ceilings and street-facing windows that let in tons of light. The Homoyas have harnessed that light with white walls and pillars dressed up with Mondrian-like murals, hanging glass planters echoing elements of the brewing process, and plenty of wood shelving for company merch. A courtyard to the side of the tasting room offers shaded picnic benches for al fresco sipping. And contrasting light- and dark-wood seating with high tables along the Washington Street side takes the space far from dingy cider halls of the drink’s past.
Ciders, adult and kid-friendly watermelon slushies, and intriguing collaborations (such as the McClure’s Collab that mixes the Peru, Indiana–based company’s RAD cider with an Ash & Elm cider featuring the Indiana varietal Gold Rush apple) mean that just about any drinker will find a flavor to suit their palate. But what’s truly exciting is the menu that Couillard, recently of The Wine Market and Ash & Elm’s former location, where she was brought on earlier this year, has dreamed up to pair with the ciders, which features such starters as super-tangy, creamy deviled eggs and light, crispy elotes fritters with a kicky, herbaceous mayo for dipping. Sandwiches include a seemingly simple but well-executed apple-cheddar melt that’s a no-brainer with cider and a burger of the moment, which currently echoes the flavors of the Creole favorite étouffée.
A simple-sounding roasted chicken breast is one of the more flavorful and tender chicken dishes you’ll find, accompanied with an accordion-cut Hasselback potato and sauteed broccolini. A summer harvest ratatouille with golden triangles of fried polenta is a hearty offering for vegetarians, and the weekend’s special veal chop with handmade gnocchi, ricotta, and spinach was the kind of fare you’d find at the best local farm-to-tables. Both of Couillard’s desserts hit the mark, including the deeply dark chocolate skillet brownie with an eye-popping scoop of vanilla ice cream and hints of coconut. But light cinnamon doughnut holes with a restrained sweetness and a welcome caramel sauce was the winner when paired with the featured ciders, a culinary marriage that the Homoyas have long been spreading the joys of since they started their cider operation in 2016.