NEW IN TOWN: Sabbatical

Not so long ago, you could mark the start of spring by the crowds of Corona-sipping customers lounging on the patio at La Jolla in Broad Ripple. Not exactly known for its cutting-edge cuisine, this watering hole with its iconic al fresco deck along Broad Ripple Avenue was the place to hang in warmer climes. So when it closed last year, it was pretty certain someone would come along and make it a hit again. Unfortunately, recent ownership changes have left some doubt in the minds of locals about whether this is a viable business address. Last spring, when record temperatures should have drawn throngs to what was then The Night Porter, the place was practically deserted, perhaps owing to its bar menu light on local brews and its dinner offerings, which ranged from a build-your-own grilled cheese to a burger to little else.

Over the summer, a new crew came in. After its second paint job in just a few months, the location opened as Sabbatical (921 Broad Ripple Ave., 317-253-5252), almost to the day that new proprietor David Queisser shuttered his former club, Locals Only. Billed as a venue that supports local musicians and art (as well as the owner’s near fanatic loyalty to the Chicago Bears) Sabbatical has actually restored some of the culinary potential that has been lacking at the address for some time.

Snacks and small plates rule, a risky but so far successful approach at a place that is aimed as much at football fans as foodies. Among a variety of dips and spreads, the Muhammara is a complex mixture of roasted peppers, walnuts, and Middle Eastern spices, though this might have had just a bit more acid or a bit more of a kick to it. But it was a lighter prelude to richer choices such as a  dense but flavorful risotto cake held together with five different cheeses and a roasted pepper sauce. Turkey meatballs stuffed with tasty bits of brie arrived under a not-too-sweet cranberry chutney. These, as well as wonton “tulips” stuffed with a delectable chicken salad of pumpkin seeds, bacon, and pesto, weren’t exactly your typical bar food. We were glad our informative, friendly waitress suggested them, though.

The highlight of the savory items were a pair of pork sliders filled with fiery tequila-braised pulled pork and topped with a fantastic Cajun remoulade. Desserts impressed as well, especially a light, smooth espresso-inflected creme brulee. We loved the biscuit-like shortcake “dumplings” that came atop a somewhat overly pureed peach chutney with cranberries and caramel sauce. They made for good cold weather fare while we sat dreaming of warmer days and sipping beers on a patio with food we’d actually want to eat.