Local Hero: A Review of Bluebeard

In Fletcher Place, this locavorian darling takes a novel approach to Hoosier cooking.

If there were a playbook for new restaurants, mapping out everything hot and covetable right now in the ever-changing game of dining out, Fletcher Place newcomer Bluebeard would already have it memorized. Farm-to-table ingredients and handcrafted cocktails served in glass jars? Check. A courtyard communal table made from a single slab of timber? Got it. Exposed-brick decor layered with vintage typewriters and architectural fragments from the building’s 1920s past? Hut, hut, hut! It’s no surprise that at a cool rookie named after a Kurt Vonnegut novel, a dinner of champions is served.

This, in spite of what other startups might have seen as a rough beginning. Behind the dusty scrim of Virginia Avenue’s Cultural Trail construction, orange tape and jackhammered sidewalks welcomed guests at the June opening, and Bluebeard didn’t even have a sign up during its first two weeks of business. Diners lucky enough to get a table in the main room could sit comfortably in the light of a huge arched window, sipping crushed-ice cocktails while watching incoming customers search awkwardly for what might be the front door. One evening, I set down my hibiscus-infused Sanctuary cocktail, with its smoky Scotch punch and “baking spice” flavors, to motion some wayward hipsters to the correct entrance. We gastro-nerds are all in this together.

From day one, Bluebeard had a deep cheering section. Father-son owners Tom and Ed Battista—known around town as the redevelopment forces behind Mass Ave real estate (most notably the buildings housing Black Market and R Bistro)—put John Adams, former executive chef at H2O Restaurant & Sushi Bar, and his wife, Abbi Merriss Adams, former sous chef at Recess and Room Four, in charge of the kitchen. They, in turn, brought in a house staff of local pros such as Ball & Biscuit bartender J.B. Andrews and front-of-the-house manager Nick “we-ask-that-you-use-the-soy-sauce-sparingly” Hammond from H2O.

If you pace yourself, you can talk your table into ordering all four-or-so of the desserts on offer, something I highly recommend.

The Adams’s print a new menu daily, culling from the Hoosier larder to create dishes as seasonally perfect as a high-summer salad of fresh peaches and red-ripe tomatoes tossed with mozzarella, arugula, and herb-oil–soaked bread, all haystacked, neatness be damned, nearly six inches off the plate. They look at cauliflower and see it pureed with horseradish beneath a sliced-up, velvet-red flank steak with seared gnocchi. Their watermelon gazpacho comes flecked with a ceviche of fluke and sweet corn. And they can make a delicate ravioli of beef tongue and goat cheese so light it floats in its chive cream sauce. For these gems, you can forgive the occasional over-salted pork chop or lackluster cobia brandade.

Bluebeard drinks from 2012
Drinks at Bluebeard

Menu items are organized sensibly into snacks; charcuterie; cheese; salads; sides; and an ascending series of small, medium, and large plates—almost everything suitable for sharing. If you pace yourself, you can talk your table into ordering all four-or-so of the desserts on offer, something I highly recommend. Just be ready to fight over the last bites of vanilla-bean chess pie—silky, creamy goo garnished with blueberries—and buttermilk bread pudding presented like a honey-soaked crumb cake with prosecco-pickled cherries and sweetened ricotta.

A commercial bread oven next door plays a starring role in Bluebeard’s theme of “contemporary Italian-style cuisine,” which features  roasted meats and simply sauced pastas. But I am not in the gentle hills of Tuscany when I pop a nib of pickled watermelon—garnish on a plate of local cheeses—into my mouth and think of bread-and-butter cucumber chips plucked from a canning jar. A plate of salted radishes, their tips simply dipped in butter that hardens like a savory ganache, reminds me of the green onion–and-butter sandwiches that my family munches at the end of pitch-in dinners, a culinary ritual that uses up all of the rolls and brings the aunts together to laugh about the time one of them drove her car into the open grates of a car wash.

Somehow, Bluebeard has managed to make the trendiest of foods taste like home—like comfort food before comfort food was cool. So thank you for this, Bluebeard, even if your Italian accent gets lost somewhere in the translation.

Photos by Tony Valainis 

This article appeared in the September 2012 issue.