A few of the newly upholstered church pews serving as stylish banquettes had yet to be raised to comfortable table height. And the bathrooms were still “mostly functional,” owner Craig Baker lamented with a chuckle. But most everything else, from the custom 800-degree flat plancha grill to the new dishwasher tucked behind the end of the renovated bar, seemed more than ready at Plow & Anchor (43 E. 9th St.,317-964-0538), Baker’s new farm (and sea)-to-table restaurant in the Ambassador building just north of the Central Library. Tables fashioned from repurposed Brown County red oak and perched on wrought-iron bases lined the bright and airy dining room, and old barn wood twice reused from the former Do317 Lounge framed the smaller, cozier bar, which will feature craft beers, wine, and fresh oysters. Funky industrial chairs with open backs, an eclectic mix of pendant lights, and an assortment of tropical plants completed the decor, though Baker is still thinking about the art he hopes to use around the restaurant for accents.
Definitely ready for primetime were chef John Adams’s fresh, spring-inspired dishes, which he worked on over the last month after returning from stints at Louisville’s Milkwood and Proof on Main to help Baker open his latest enterprise. An approachable but definitely high-aiming lunch menu currently features several playful starters and a short list of “mains,” including a burger seared on that plancha and a grilled cheese with three types of fromage and a mushroom jam.
Knowing what Adams could do with octopus at Bluebeard, his last Indianapolis employer, we ordered the octopus panzanella alongside lamb tartare and a salad of spring peas and radishes. The panzanella—with almost double the surprisingly tender, plancha-grilled octopus than hunks of bread—gave evidence that Adams refined his skills with textures and plating even further in his short few months in Louisville. Bites of salty Spanish chorizo and olives lent depth to the mild octopus, and dollops of exceptionally creamy yogurt and a tangy dressing, as well as shaved radishes, helped lighten a rich and satisfying lunch salad. Just as impressive was the utterly smooth and pure lamb tartare, served on Amelia’s bread with the traditional egg yolk not on top but cleverly bracing the bread at the bottom of the plate. Tender peas were definitely the bulk of a spring pea and radish salad, the only dish that might have wanted for more texture or a bit more bite. But wafer-thin radishes and shavings of nutty Parmesan rounded out this super-refined take on the salad-bar classic.
Heading deeper into the “anchor” portion of the menu, we opted for the roasted halibut for our lunch entree. And while the light, flaky fish with a golden coating was as good as any we had eaten in town of late, the accompanying radishes, a theme on Adams’s menu that came fork-tender and drenched with the butter they had been poached in, were what really made the dish. (Wilted ramps and a lusciously viscous clam broth didn’t hurt.) Just to see what Plow & Anchor’s kitchen could do with desserts, we finished with perhaps the most intriguing creation of the meal, a lavender-scented biscuit topped with fresh strawberries, rhubarb, and more of those sweet peas and pea shoots, as well as traditional creme anglaise enriched with pureed peas. The slight vegetal quality of the peas and the tang of the rhubarb offset the sweetness of the biscuit and berries in one of the most balanced desserts currently featured in the city. It was a great reminder of why local diners so mourned Adams’s sudden departure from Bluebeard last fall—and why they are so glad to see him returned and cooking at the top of his game.
As a kickoff to the new restaurant, Plow & Anchor is featuring a Celebrity Chef Dinner on Memorial Day, May 26, at 6 p.m. with dishes by Food Network host and chef Ben Vaughn, Kenmore brand chef Kari Karch, Circle City Sweets’s Cindy Hawkins, Baker, and Adams—all paired with St. Supery wines.