Book Ends

First, let’s clear up the confusion that nearly turned last week’s dinner planning into an Abbott & Costello bit. There are two library-themed restaurants in the Indianapolis area: The Library Restaurant & Pub (2610 S. Lynhurst Ave., 317-243-1124) on the west side, and Woody’s Library Restaurant (40 E. Main St., Carmel, 317-573-4444) to the far north. The two are unrelated and located on nearly opposite ends of town, and yet you will need to make sure that everybody in your party is on the same page when you say, “Let’s meet at The Library for dinner.” Take our word for it.

Chapter 1, in which a terrific airport-area restaurant flies in under the radar

A midweek girls night out took us to the former, Mary and Al Wei’s elegant west-side chateau dripping with crystal chandeliers and softly lit neoclassical art against cobalt blue walls. Liberace would feel comfortable dining in this sprawling restaurant/banquet hall that once housed the high-end French restaurant Mon Reve and whose menu occasionally references its predecessor—as in the Mon Reve Salad (with gorgonzola, roasted walnuts, cranberries, and raspberry vinaigrette), and the Mon Reve Wild Mushroom Sauce, a steak topper. We took a table in the more casual bar and ordered what you might call a flight of cocktails from the printed list—sweet and fruity girlie potions. “When the cocktail menu is printed out this nice, you know it’s going to be $10 for a drink,” one diner theorized, correctly.

A basket of warm bread appeared, a crunchy French loaf cut into four hunks that melted butter on contact. And then, the salad course. The standard plates of leafy greens dressed in house-made vinaigrette held their own just fine. But an upgraded grilled romaine version combined flavors, textures, and temperatures so deliciously—the char with the wilt, the hot with the chilled, and threads of Parmesan and a garlicky dressing punctuating the flavors—that it alone might be worth the trip. Entrees included a textbook hunk of prime rib with a thin skirt of fat and a side of dreamy, creamy skins-on mashed potatoes; a Mediterranean Pork Chop glazed in sweet wine sauce and stuffed with a salty hash of sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, spinach, and fontina cheese; an elaborate sauteed Chicken Normandy layered with mushrooms, apples, and Calvados brandy cream, crowned with two grilled jumbo shrimp; and fettuccini Alfredo gussied up with a well-balanced combination of sweet peppers, pine nuts, gorgonzola, and bite-sized hunks of tenderloin. Stuffed Brownie dessert, warm brownie cups upturned over scoops of good vanilla ice cream—drizzled with more chocolate and topped with whipped cream and strawberries—capped off the evening’s theme of good, sound eating.

Chapter 2, in which an old-town Carmel restaurant writes the book on casual dining

Far more casual, Kevin Rider’s similarly named restaurant sits on Carmel’s main drag, a fixture years before the district was discovered by Palladium-night crowds (actual crowds on the streets!) like the one we witnessed Saturday. You might be hearing more about Rider in coming weeks and months, as the restaurateur puts the final touches on his next Carmel venture, a small-plate house in the Carmel City Center called Divvy. For now, he has made great use of a modest space that’s been around since 1913. Housed in a refurbished Carnegie Library, with an authentic schoolhouse brick exterior and a wide set of concrete steps leading up to the front door, Woody’s stands out among the rows of faux-Mayberry storefronts.

Tables are situated cozily in quiet alcoves, walls lined with books and tables lit by votive candles. The menu wanders, gets a little lost in wraps and pitas, and eventually finds its way home to a selection of comfort-food favorites like pot roast with red-wine gravy, pork chops with brandy-glazed apples, and Chicken-n-Biscuits with green beans, mashed potatoes, and herb gravy. A chicken pot pie places a delicate puff-pastry square over a thick and peppery stew of meat, baby carrots, green beans, and sweet onions. Sunday afternoon in a bowl.

And yet, an impressive vegan/vegetarian section of the menu lists some nontraditional items done well, including a vegetarian version of that pot pie, a dish called Bean Bordeaux, and a falafel “meatloaf” sitting on a mound of mashed potatoes and topped with marinara sauce and onion rings. Dessert could be as simple as grilled pineapple and caramelized bananas with a scoop of ice cream, or as indulgent as six individually torched metal spoons of cheesecake-flavored crème brulee. The novelty of six crackles might outshine the actual quality of the dessert, which falls just short of the perfect custard consistency. Next time, we might try the Bananas Foster Bread Pudding or the plate of bite-size lemon squares.

Because nothing is more delicious than unearthing a restaurant gem. Finding two great restaurants in one week? That’s one plot twist we didn’t see coming.

The End.