Review: The Ripple Inn

An eclectic menu teaches us how to eat in the post-steakhouse world.

If the last millennium’s culinary scene ended with the luscious aged cuts and luxe accoutrements of steakhouses, our current century’s gastronomy has begun a lot closer to home. Indy’s abundance of chophouses is getting brisk competition from a new breed of cozy but no less elegant spots serving up dishes your mother might have made—had your mother, for instance, bathed her roast chicken in champagne and chestnuts.

The modified comfort-food movement has touched down in the former Broad Ripple Steakhouse, where a new tenant, The Ripple Inn, is introducing filet mignon to roasted-tomato ragout and serving a gussied-up risotto called Porridge of the Gods.

A lounge across from the dining room, a nightclub upstairs, and weekend deejays mean this place will still attract a clientele that wants to be seen as much as served. (And the decor retains the clubby nature of its predecessor while tossing in some color and whimsy.) But the focus here is clearly on the food: a menu created by chef Michael Powell and chef de cuisine Jason Naaman. The team’s idiosyncrasies run from a full list of plentifully topped potatoes named Ripple Skins to an artful—but curious—plating style, as Powell tends to add one more sauce or garnish than might otherwise be required. Duck confit Ripple Skins have both goat cheese and creme fraiche, which blunt the duck somewhat. A buttery strudel with chicken and chorizo lacks the spice one might expect from the sausage, though its roasted-lemon vinaigrette perfumed with coriander adds a slight tang.

Thick cuts of calamari come liberally crusted in polenta, but the Spanish romesco sauce and Argentinean-inspired chimichurri they’re served with nearly cancel each other. Salads and entrees assert their flavors more successfully, especially a garlicky Caesar salad with generous hearts of romaine and the kick of fried capers. A wedge salad suffers from a little too much deconstruction, with slabs of iceberg stacked like a mountain and toppings spread out at the base. Drag the smoky hunks of bacon and sweet cranberries up the hill, however, and this ends up being a tastier, lighter treatment of the steakhouse standard. Lobster bisque sticks closer to the book, save for one large wonton garnish that holds the meat.

A small but creatively conceived list of entrees includes the familiar (duck and short ribs) as well as less usual suspects like black grouper and Spanish mackerel. The generous—if oddly chunked—ribeye that we ordered came lightly smoked over cherry wood, adorned with both a Cabernet glace and a pat of good butter. The accompanying veggies and toss of spinach and arugula practically made an entire meal. Another varied plate combined bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin with flavorful creamed spinach and a cooling apple-radish salad.

Surprisingly well-seasoned was the flaky mesquite-smoked salmon with its miniature “flan” of cheddar and roasted poblanos—one of the few spicy items on the menu. Bouillabaisse takes on a warm sweetness from Pernod, pickled fennel, and saffron. But few dishes satisfied as much as a simple roast chicken we almost passed up. With a rich, ultra-milky five-cheese mac ’n’ cheese and a lusciously thick Champagne sauce flecked with earthy chestnuts, this was a dish your mother would have been proud to serve—or thrilled to be served on a special night out.

Desserts also showed some quirky combinations, such as basil-infused blueberries and coconut foam beside a (not so) molten chocolate cake—a dessert-list standard that rarely impresses us these days, even when executed correctly. A plate of coffee and doughnuts with a New Orleans twist amounted to beignets as heavy as pie dough and a cafe au lait panna cotta that was neither sweet enough to stand on its own nor fluid enough for beignet-dipping.

The most original dessert (coincidentally, the one that most resembled something you would order at a steakhouse) was a raspberry-lemon cheesecake that traded the graham crackers for a puff pastry square filled with a luscious citrusy cream, a perfectly smooth scoop of vanilla ice cream, and a not-too-sweet sparkling raspberry sauce. Like much of our meal, it made us rethink expectations, from both the chophouse and Mom’s kitchen.

The Ripple Inn
929 E. Westfield Blvd., 317-252-2600
HOURS Mon.–Thurs. 5–10 p.m.;Fri.–Sat. 5–11 p.m.

This article appeared in the February 2011 issue.