Snow swelled into drifts at the side of the country road heading north toward Cicero, our headlights cutting through the winter storm as we squinted to make out street signs. Surely, on such a blustery night, we would have the dining room to ourselves once we arrived at our destination, a new little Hamilton County gem named 10 West, home of the Wednesday-night $11 filet and all-you-can-eat catfish on Thursdays.
As we rounded the corner onto the town’s main street, that hunch slid away like a Mini Cooper on black ice. Parked cars, wedged fender-to-fender along the bumpy snowpack, filled every curbside spot within two blocks of this crammed restaurant. Speakers piped Diana Krall music into the street, and awning-capped windows glowed warm and pubby, framed in boxes of decorative tall grass. What fresh Brigadoon had we stumbled upon?
Cicero businessman Brett Morrow opened the place in early November, putting former Harbour Trees Golf & Beach Club chef Bill Wampler in charge of the kitchen. Wampler specializes in the kind of ruffled gourmet that matches the restaurant’s exposed-brick, red-leather decor. Diners belly up to a gleaming custom-made community table crafted from bark-on slabs of poplar to devour 10-ounce Delmonicos and 14-ounce New York strips freshly cut at the nearby Cicero Market and Harbour Market, both owned by Morrow. (He also helms a Kokomo bar, The Social.) The six-ounce filet, aged for 21 days (as are all of the steaks), is dense with flavor but tender enough to cut like butter, so it is no surprise that 10 West goes through as many as 170 of them during the special on Wednesday night, when customers huddled in the small sitting area just inside the door will wait for more than an hour to snag a table. “And if it’s 8 o’clock and we’re running low, all we have to do is call down to the market,” Morrow says, “and they can cut us some more.”
The rest of the menu spans the casual culinary spectrum, from a plate of soupy chicken and noodles served grandma-style—which is to say they come on top of whipped potatoes—to a half-pound barbecue burger piled with bacon, cheddar, and enough lacy frizzled onions soaking up that smoky sauce to qualify as a side order of rings. Even the appetizers have an elegant rusticity. Bacon-wrapped shrimp are skewered, grilled, and drizzled with ginger barbecue sauce—so the crunch of pork fat seals in the tenderness of the perfectly cooked crustaceans. Giant crab-stuffed mushrooms bubble with cheese and buttered breadcrumbs. And while fried ravioli and breaded chicken tenders play to the lowest common denominator, a serving of grilled-cheese crostini—buttery-crisp finger sandwiches spread with pimiento cheese and plated with a shallow bowl of tomato-soup dip—perfects the humble after-school pairing and begs the question: Why has nobody thought of this before?
Chef Wampler, who also worked in the kitchens of several Indianapolis hotels, culls the Hoosier larder for side dishes, like creamed corn as thick and sweet as custard and whipped sweet potatoes topped with a pat of melting maple-pecan butter. The house salad dressing is a thick, garlicky Green Goddess zippy enough to appease thick-necked steak-eaters and ladies who lunch in equal measure. And Wampler’s grilled salmon BLT gets a swipe of dill mayo that turns the diner-counter standard into something ambrosial.
Downstairs in The Cellar—an actual basement with seven-foot ceilings, a stocked bar, and a grand piano—patrons sunk into deep leather chairs by the fireplace sip froufrou cocktails like the sugar-rimmed White Cosmo and Tiramisu Martini, as well as an Old Fashioned that will put hair on your chest. You could spend the entire evening in that man cave without stirring, especially considering the quality (and potency) of some of the spirits.
But why open a place like this in a Carhartt town with a population under 5,000? People ask Morrow that question a lot. “All I can tell them is that I believed in it,” he says. “I knew we could make it happen, with this chef and this neat little town. You know what they say—if you build it, they will come.”
10 W. Jackson St., Cicero, 317-606-8542, facebook.com/10westjackson
Hours Tues.–Thurs. 4:30–11 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 4:30 p.m.–midnight, Sun. 4:30–9 p.m.
This article appeared in the April 2014 Issue.