Divide and Conquer: A Review of Divvy

Kevin Rider’s chic new eatery in Carmel City Center offers up an extensive menu of playful small bites.

The first thing you notice at Divvy, after you have strolled by packed communal tables in the bar and passed under raw-wood lampshades curved like Mobius strips, are the menus. Long, horizontal, and leather-bound like an old-timey razor strop, they contain sections upon subsections with suggestive monikers such as “Motion in the Ocean” and “Grazers Galore,” spanning more than 20 pages. You could dine here five nights a week, as some have, and never conquer the dozens of “Tidbits,” “Liquid Goods,” and “Mini Morsels” offered by this new foodie oasis in the shadow of Carmel’s Palladium. “The fun part was coming up with the names of the dishes,” says owner Kevin “Woody” Rider, the restaurateur who also brought Woody’s Library Restaurant to northside diners and helped open Bonge’s Tavern in Perkinsville.

Divvy, which opened in December, six years after Rider’s “handshake deal” to occupy a space in the newly conceived Carmel City Center, is a far cry from the old library and hardware store that house his earlier efforts. With his most ambitious—and in many ways his riskiest—enterprise, he is banking on the longevity of the small-plates trend. Banking quite a bit. A good deal of thought has gone into the decor, down to contrasting wood block–tiled walls and sink basins in the bathrooms hewn from slabs of stone. Crowds swell before and after performances at nearby theaters, almost drowning out a soundtrack of indistinct techno. Stacks of “sharing” plates and canisters of flatware at the tables imply a casual air. But price tags for drinks and dishes suggest a decidedly upscale intent. Wisely, Rider has tapped his wife, Richelle, who served as chef at Scholars Inn for nearly a decade, to head up his kitchen here. Inspired by meals they have eaten in great foodie cities, they’ve collaborated to offer patrons hints of Asia, midcentury chophouses, and everything in between.

However, the sheer volume of offerings means a meal here can get muddled. “Mixers,” for instance, both revisited iconic cocktails and fruity elixirs by the pitcher, drew mixed reviews. A maple Manhattan offered a sweet, smoky edge with Maker’s Mark, and blood-orange puree added a fruity punch to sparkling Syrah in a “Black Mimosa.” But an elderflower gimlet lacked the citrus bite of the best of these classic pours, and sangria, though refreshing, drew no real character from fruit. The “Dirty Rooster Tini,” named for the spicy Sriracha or “rooster sauce” it mingles with Ultimat vodka, impressed the heat-lover at the table but seemed too one-note and bracing for the rest of us.

Dishes, which range from somewhat substantial to little more than a bite, can sometimes make sharing difficult and occasionally lack character. A “pickle trinity,” a ramekin of cucumbers and pickled beets, was a tad limp, though fried chorizo-stuffed olives lent a briny edge to our cocktail sipping. Seared scallops were only lightly seared and swimming in an indistinct oily sauce, supposedly with brandy and pecans. Lamb “latkes” had none of the crisp character of potato pancakes and also wore a flat, greasy sauce, with only a bare hint of the promised chipotle jelly and creme fraiche.

Highlights outnumber the misses, however; hoarding your favorites, once you find them, is wise. A well-braised bacon “steak” of pork belly is a luscious indulgence with an understated blackberry barbecue sauce and rich melted leeks. Delectably
creamy mac ’n’ cheese with lobster is a bargain at $10 and allows many spoons to get in for a bite. A surprising top seller and one of Chef Richelle’s clearly inspired coinages is the corn “creme brulee,” a ramekin of creamed corn laced with Romano and jalapeño with a signature browned top. New York strip bites drenched in Worcestershire sauce could make a light lunch or pre-show dinner.

Order plentifully if you stop in for apres-theatre sweets. Chocolate mousse enriched with sea-salted caramel, a pecan “triangle,” and Dreamsicle cake with blood orange and white chocolate are all good. But divvying them up could leave you low on the flavor quotient. Sharing is nice, but sometimes it’s best to keep things to yourself.

71 W. City Center Dr., Carmel, 317-706-0000, divvycarmel.com
HOURS Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–11 p.m.; Sat.–Sun. 3–11 p.m.

This article appeared in the February 2012 issue.