Photo by Tony Valainis
THOSE OF US who have yet to figure out our most flattering angles owe a debt of gratitude to places like Ash & Elm Cider Co.’s gleaming new location on East Washington Street. Housed in a large, open-concept room with high, exposed ceilings and polished-concrete floors, it’s framed in stark-white walls and massive windows that were, until very recently, bricked in. The lighting is kind, conducive to selfies and really good food porn, like some kind of perfect ring-lit world where everything looks a little more attractive and pulled together—from the salmon-topped avocado toast to the customers sipping sparkling ciders at the bar, beside a colorful Shamira Wilson abstract mural. One day at lunch, I recognized a local Instagram influencer (by her stylishly round glasses and salon hair) seated at the next table. That’s how I knew I was in the right place, at the right moment, to witness one of Indy’s coolest new hangouts stepping into the spotlight. But Ash & Elm is no overnight success.
Located on the sweet, street-level corner slot of the historic Ford Motor Company Assembly Branch (now transformed into a mixed-use apartment building called The Assembly), this tasting room that beautifully plays up its industrial-grade architecture is an impressive step up from Ash & Elm’s former home base of five years, a modest storefront half a mile away in the Neidhammer building where the brand established itself as a near-eastside go-to for fermented apple juice. Ash & Elm 2.0 substitutes its original exposed-brick scruffy charm with the preserved grandeur of a bona fide Indiana landmark, a 1914 structure where workers once assembled Model Ts.
The cidery’s aesthetic wasn’t the only thing founders Aaron and Andréa Homoya upgraded. They brought chef Tracey Couillard onboard in June to expand upon a constricted panini-press menu that had always shown glimmers of inspiration. Couillard, a 20-year member of the U.S. Army National Guard, has put in time at a string of local kitchens, including The Wine Market at Fountain Square, Field Brewing, Cerulean, Nourish, and The Legend. Her task here was to inject Ash & Elm’s former bar-snacky menu with more advanced plates, like this summer’s handmade beurre blanc–slicked fettuccine twisted around sauteed summer veggies and blistered tomatoes, as well as a simple, tender, sliced hanger steak spiked with gremolata and laid out over chanterelle mushrooms and mixed grains. A roasted chicken breast proved juicy and surprisingly dense with flavor, served with accordion-cut potatoes and sauteed broccolini. The grilled eggplant sandwich with roasted tomato and tofu aioli represents the menu’s solid representation of vegetarian fare, as does a chunky ratatouille that comes with a crispy little polenta cake. The revolving Burger of the Moment might involve pimento cheese and a pickled green tomato, etouffee shrimp, or a fried duck egg. And Couillard, a huge fan of seafood who grew up eating it in Connecticut, loves breaking down a whole fish and using as much of it as she can, perhaps in a pan-fried walleye with pepperonata orzo or a softshell crab po’boy. Her gnocchi is not to be missed, either. “I can’t keep up with it to put it on the menu,” she says. “If I add it as a special, people who have been following me for a while know to come in.”
In keeping with her pared-down approach to fancy cooking, Couillard plans to transition into fall with dishes like a pork chop alongside mixed greens and barley, fried Brussels sprouts in a gastrique of cooked-down Sunset Tart Cherry cider from the Ash & Elm catalog, roasted delicata squash, and venison.
Andréa Homoya has her own delicious visions for the company. She wants to add brunch charcuterie to the lineup—not the standard meat-and-cheese boards that every other restaurant brings out, but rather something more intricate and Scandinavian featuring pick-and-choose baked goods, yogurts, and other nibbles that play off her chef’s love for fish and pickles. She sees ticketed, end-of-year dinners in Ash & Elm’s future, elaborate 12-course marathons that call back the featured Ciders of the Month and pair each with a corresponding dish. “We want it to be a big, over-the-top feast,” Homoya says. “We’ve already talked about ordering thrones and bear skin.”
That last part is more of a joke, she says. Hopefully not, though. It’s been a while since restaurant owners have dared to think about the future of their life’s work. Ash & Elm not only does that, but manages to look good in the process.
1301 E. Washington St., 317-600-3164
Tues.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–8 p.m.
Local ciders by the glass and seasonal dishes, from open-face sandwiches to elaborate plated entrees.
Elotes fritters made with Indiana corn and served with cilantro crema for dipping, pan-fried walleye, and a skillet brownie topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Order a flight of ciders, and be sure to sample the one-off Cider of the Month.