IF RESTAURANTS, like movies, had a glitzy televised awards show, Kan-Kan Cinema and Brasserie would get a seat in the front row right next to Meryl and Leo. Windsor Park’s gleaming dinner-and-a-movie venue that raised the curtain on its in-house restaurant in August had automatic star power in executive chef Abbi Merriss. The five-time James Beard nominee at the helm of sister restaurant Bluebeard also oversees the Brasserie’s tucked-away kitchen, focusing on lusty, flavor-dense dishes like potted fish and scallops au Provence with mounds of crab mascarpone floating in its white-wine butter sauce. And the high production value of this 14,500-square-foot chunk of modern architecture with a cantilevered awning and rainbow-lit marquee, positioned so nicely at a dramatic curve in the road where industrial meets residential on the east side, made it one of the hottest tickets in town—and the most eagerly anticipated.
After a host of initial delays, COVID-19 then threw the project off schedule by a year and a half, a plot twist that feels almost cliché these days. Still, Merriss did not stray far from her original European-inspired concept during the long pandemic intermission. Those very same mascarpone-kissed scallops, along with Brasserie’s showstopping chicken under a brick, its succulent boudin blanc sausages over pommes puree, and an ingenious crusty tartine topped with baked spaghetti were on the chef’s spec menu back in March 2020, when the dining room was originally set to open.
Luckily, those dishes didn’t get lost in the reshuffle. The chicken, cooked under a foil-wrapped brick to crisp the skin while keeping the meat super tender, is drizzled in its own roasted jus and served with nutty wild rice. The sauteed boudin blanc sausages made with chicken, veal, and pork are silky to the core, with a stripe of caramelization from tip to tip and a truffled demi glace subbing for gravy over the potatoes. And Merriss’s spaghetti tartine makes a convincing argument for carbs on carbs, placing a nest of sauce-thickened pasta atop toasted garlic bread and covering it all with a layer of parmesan snow. It’s a knife-and-fork sandwich served open-faced on a plate smeared with spicy nduja that you’re supposed to scrape up bite by bite. I didn’t get it at first, mistaking the salami paste for some kind of over-ambitious Nike swoop of garnish. But then I took a proper bite, almost by accident after dragging the edge of my fork across the meaty, complex nduja. And wow. This dish has delicious layers, even if it makes you work for them.
Much like Kan-Kan’s arthouse programming—a thinky mix of genres like documentaries (such as the Anthony Bourdain bio Roadrunner, of course), foreign films (Wife of a Spy, set in 1940s Japan), and quirky dramas (The Eyes of Tammy Faye)—Brasserie’s menu leans in the direction of edgy and cerebral. There is nothing pandering about a dish of chicken liver pate, as smooth and creamy as unctuous pudding, that is encased under a layer of congealed chicken schmaltz. Little piles of pickled elderberries and mustard seeds provide a sour punch of acidity that cuts through the funky richness. But offal parfait isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK. If you want to smear something a little more mainstream onto your slip of rosemary crostini, order the bacon-cheddar dip, which is basically the velvety innards of a very decadent sour cream cheeseball. Or go completely bistrocore with the simplest order of “bread & butter,” a plain length of crusty, chewy Francese bread from Bluebeard’s companion bakery, Amelia’s, that is plated with a ramekin of whipped European-style Plugra butter sprinkled with some coarse-grain Maldon salt.
Even the seemingly boilerplate entrees manage to be both crowd-pleasing and inspired. The fish and chips consist of a pile of extra-crispy battered cod with a scattering of lacy-thin plantain, parsnip, and sweet potato chips. The steak frites arranges slices of ruby-rare flank steak over a puddle of extra-dense ranch dressing spiked with cayenne and caramelized onions. It’s sprinkled with dehydrated tomato powder and plated with chunky quarter-potato home fries that are crisped brown on the outside and fluffy on the inside. For dessert: chocolate pot de crème, olive oil cake topped with strawberries and black pepper, or jumbo Candy Bar Cookies to be lavished with sweetened creme fraiche.
The Brasserie’s snug dining room wraps around the side of the building, past the concession stand and a full bar that sends out smart cocktails like the dark and boozy Hollywood Boulevardier, made from Backbone bourbon, and the gin-based 35MM warmed with botanical notes, orgeat, and lime. A few PG mocktails are equally well crafted and elegant, especially the tropical Rupert Holmes, a frothy concoction of coconut, lime, orange, and pineapple soda.
The room has a distinct multiplex aesthetic, all carpet and upholstery in busy patterns and bright colors that trigger the buttered popcorn impulse. The booths are tight, and the chairs feel flimsy. But diners seated at the window tables have a nice view of the Spades Park library, a handsomely compact Carnegie branch that, until Kan-Kan came along, served as the focal point of this spunky neighborhood of big old homes in various states of renovation.
With that same spirit of revitalization, Kan-Kan’s father-and-son owners, Tom and Ed Battista (along with their father-and-son partners, Sam and Ben Sutphin), obtained this piece of property in a part of town once referred to as “the swamp.” Their original plan had them simply refurbishing the old Baptist church that sat on the property. When the structure proved unsalvageable, they opted to demolish it and rebuild from the ground up.
And then they just kept building. Next door, the Battistas transformed an 1890s workers cottage into a second Amelia’s location. Next door to that, someone has opened a cute new hair salon. You can tell by all of the central casting young couples out walking their dogs that the neighborhood is changing in an exciting and dramatic way. Applause!
1258 Windsor St., 317-700-7079
Mon.–Fri. 5–11 p.m.; Sat.–Sun. 11 a.m.–3 p.m., 5–11 p.m.
Hearty European-style dishes, thoughtfully garnished with Old World–meets–New World flair.
The CC’s bacon and cheddar dip, steak frites, and a hunk of olive oil cake. Or, feed the table with the market-priced seafood tower loaded with ice-packed tiers of lobster, crab, oysters, shrimp cocktail, and pickled herring.