Gone are the heavy floral carpet and the curved plush banquettes in the dining room. Don’t look for bowls of mixed nuts or low-slung leather chairs for sipping martinis in the bar. But what Spoke & Steele, the centerpiece restaurant in the recently renovated Le Meridien hotel, lacks in the old Canterbury’s British hunt-club charm, it definitely makes up for in contemporary flourishes such as whitewashed sliced-brick walls from buildings in New York City and floors made from planks of wood grown exclusively in Denmark. One of the finishing touches on a hotel makeover project that topped eight figures, Spoke & Steele, which takes its name from a curious marriage of Indy’s reputation as the crossroads of America and the Hoosier Group painter T.C. Steele, is what Le Meridien general manager Nick Clark hopes will make an impression on guests when they enter the hotel. “We’ve tucked the lobby behind the restaurant,” Clark says. “We don’t want this to feel like a typical hotel, but a place that seems more like a home.”
Ambitious plans for the restaurant, which had its soft opening on December 4 and ran a somewhat downsized menu during the weekend of the December 6 Big Ten Football Championship, include house-aged cocktails on tap and extensive charcuterie offerings cured onsite and sliced in front of customers at the bar. “We’re already tasting our Manhattans,” Clarks says, “and we hope to have two cocktails on tap anytime customers stop in.” The restaurant’s monthly “Barrel Program,” as Clark describes it, will allow regulars their own monogrammed bottles of spirits distilled in Southern Indiana and finished in wood barrels in the hotel basement. Private dining rooms will be completed over the next few months, as well as a living room–style lounge for enjoying drinks and small plates.
To head up the kitchen, the hotel owners pegged the well-credentialed Tyson Peterson, recently of legendary chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s J & G Grill in Park City, Utah. Chef Peterson aims for a playful menu of farm-sourced dishes that draw from Indiana as well as from the rest of the world. “The term ‘farm-to-table’ can be a little limiting,” Peterson says. “Of course, I want to get as much produce from Indiana as I can, but I want to pair those ingredients with the best and most interesting flavors I can find from around the globe.” Peterson currently sources regionally, getting poultry from Ohio’s Gerber Farms as well as breads from Amelia’s Bakery and cheese from Jacobs and Brichford in Connersville, Indiana. His opening-day menu featured plenty of hearty seasonal fare such as a root-vegetable salad and orecchiette with veal Bolognese. But his current playlist has plenty of cheeky comfort-food riffs including the “Indy Schnitz,” Peterson’s luxe take on a pork tenderloin with chipotle aioli and house pickles, and meatloaf “nugs,” his version of meatballs flavored like meatloaf with a spicy glaze. He even pays homage to the casseroles of his childhood in his version of Mormon funeral potatoes—hash browns with a mushroom “creme,” pickled ramps, and the traditional topping of cornflakes. “I want to show Indy diners something they haven’t seen before—particularly in hotel dining.” Clearly he’s going to have some fun along the way. 123 S. Illinois St., 317-737-1616, spokeandsteele.com