If you measured a neighborhood’s enthusiasm for a forthcoming restaurant by the number of Facebook comments inquiring about an opening date, Shoefly Public House (122 E. 22nd St., 317-283-5007) was a hit nearly a year before it served its first beer. Owners and Fall Creek Place residents Craig and Kait Mariutto posted the first teaser photo online in October of 2012, and locals dying for a near-Northside spot to drink a pint and chow down on some grub that didn’t come from a fast-food joint couldn’t stop trolling 22nd Street to check on the progress of the construction. Reviving the century-old storefront that used to be a pharmacy in the 1950s, as well as the Black Curtain Dinner Theatre, the Mariuttos weren’t just opening a new restaurant. They were sparking some life in a part of town that hasn’t had a bona fide sit-down restaurant in decades. No wonder its opening weekend in late September forced the owners to take last Monday off to whip up some more food.
A stop in last week showed that the couple had definitely met their goal of providing a spacious, casual spot for a bite and a quick drink—even if that goal took a bit longer to realize than they had hoped. A spiffy light wood bar with a rustic plank wall behind it, along with plenty of well-worn exposed brick and glass-and-metal pendant lights on chains, lend this place the aura of a tavern that’s been in the neighborhood for years. But there’s little that’s tired about the offering from the kitchen and the bar. An excellent beer menu includes not just the best local microbrews but also some craft standouts from around the country, such as Urban Chestnut, Ommegang, and Widmer Brothers from Portland, Oregon.
The kitchen offerings, for which the Mariuttos tapped journeyman chef Canaan Allen, most recently of Twenty Tap, feature some bold interpretations of pub favorites. And while the flavors were mostly dead-on already, some recipes could have used a bit more fine-tuning. Definitely the most visually arresting was the hummus, made here with butterbeans, not chickpeas. The tasty, well-seasoned dip came on a crackly, platter-sized flatbread, which our server delivered on a wooden pizza peel that had customers at nearby tables craning their necks to see what we had ordered. Unfortunately, the flatbread, which we were instructed to break and dip into the hummus, was neither soft and chewy nor crisp, but rather reminiscent of a slightly stale cracker. A similar textural issue marred the Cuban pretzel flatbread, which hit on all the tangy, spicy, rich notes of the classic Miami sandwich, down to the mustard, but fell flat with a slightly limp, unpleasantly chewy crust. We wished we had ordered this in sandwich form.
A simple arugula salad restored our faith that Allen’s kitchen is, indeed, ready for primetime, with bits of tart apple, crunchy hazelnuts, and a restrained amount of blue cheese. A refreshing vinaigrette with apple cider vinegar and molasses balanced the richer elements. Heartier fare listed on the menu as “After 5” includes a generous portion of spice-rubbed chicken with boursin mac ‘n’ cheese, battered walleye, and a vegetarian meatloaf. Perhaps the most innovative offerings, however, come in the form of burgers, which run from a Hoosier-inspired pork patty to a bison burger with bacon and onion straws. The lamb burger we ordered came dressed with a tangy, nicely spicy chimichurri, as well as sweet roasted peppers and goat cheese—hardly the bar burger we might have expected at a similar place 10 years ago. Two delicate potato pancakes with a creamy aioli made up the modest “chef’s side” for the day.
Given the pub’s name, which the owners say simply came to them rather than having any significance to the address or the concept, we felt compelled to order the Shoefly Pie, the tavern’s take on the Pennsylvania Dutch classic Shoofly pie. While we appreciated the deconstructed nature of this version, which amounted to a disc of gooey, molasses-sweetened pudding with a good kick of ginger both in the “pie” and the homemade gelato, we wondered what this would be like with the traditional flaky crust for some textural contrast. Despite these quirks, Shoefly Public House is more than a welcome addition to a veritable food dessert that has been aching for more dining and drinking options, especially ones with this much promise.
For more visuals, check out the Shoefly photo gallery.