Raising the Barn: A Review of Rail Epicurean Market

A locavorian restaurant stocked with gourmet goodies, the Westfield restaurant lives up to its lofty ambitions.
The seating area inside Rail Epicurean Market is tight-quartered enough—just a handful of two-tops and one long, polished farm table—that everyone in the room looks up from their Ball-jar iced teas when a customer walks through the door. One might even detect a territorial glint, perhaps a little bit of “Who do we have here?”

After all, it’s no easy feat finding the place. Toby and Melanie Miles’s gourmet trading post, a refurbished barn with a full kitchen cranking out pantry-chic dishes like duck-sausage cassoulet and seared pork belly fanned under a drizzle of LocalFolks Foods mustard sauce, sits back on a shaded lot a couple of blocks off of the main street in Westfield. And though Rail has been open a little more than a year, this food-lover’s haven has the kind of hidden-gem quality (equal parts Barefoot Contessa and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe) that tempts people to keep it all to themselves.

We approached the owner, and he was like, ‘No way are we going to put a kitchen inside this place.’

That is not, however, what the owners had in mind when they struck a deal with the landlord (local antiques dealer Robert Beauchamp) for “this dirty, disgusting barn” on property backing up to Grassy Branch creek and the old Midland Rail tracks. “It didn’t have plumbing. It didn’t have gas. It was falling down,” says Toby. “We approached the owner, and he was like, ‘No way are we going to put a kitchen inside this place.’” A couple of cocktails later, they had a deal.

But this transformation goes beyond the fabulously rutted wood beams, vintage barn-pulley signage, and neo-agrarian pendant lights hovering over a counter fronted in corrugated metal. The husband-and-wife chefs, who met while working at the northern suburb’s longtime doyenne of white-tablecloth cuisine (the now-closed Kelties Restaurant—Toby as sous chef and Melanie as line cook and assistant manager), are putting their own spin on elegant dining in Hamilton County. Over the spring, Rail’s diners went crazy for voluptuous slabs of seared salmon plated in a variety of ways—one night with roasted squash, shaved Brussels sprouts, and a duck-egg Hollandaise; another evening topped with ramp butter and laid over a bed of panzanella salad with rough-cut croutons sponging up the vinaigrette.

Flat-iron steak from Joe’s Butcher Shop in Carmel was sliced into tender strips and layered with veggie hash and a fried egg. An equally stunning cold-smoked pork chop—bone-in meat with the essence of bacon—shared the plate with pancaked gnocchi and a shaggy wild-mushroom cream sauce pulling all of those rich and salty flavors together.

The lowly cottage pie, just ground sirloin and root veggies baked in a light gravy under buttermilk mashed potatoes, comes off as an underachiever by comparison. Still, it’s one of the house favorites. And though the menus read like a roll call of artisanal darlings (grilled ramps, fresh trout, tomato gastrique, and poutine, reporting for duty), the Mileses don’t aspire to turn every dish into a showpiece. Their pared-down lunch menu rarely lists anything more complex than a lobster roll or the wildly popular ham-and-Brie sandwich that requires just three things: Smoking Goose City Ham, cheese from Tulip Tree Creamery, and a baguette. “We try to keep our dishes at three or four ingredients and let them speak for themselves,” says Toby.

His choice of location on the Westfield grid was probably far more calculated. The massive and much-anticipated recreational-sports village Grand Park looms barely three miles away, its acres of irrigated Kentucky Blue Grass soccer fields and turf diamonds beckoning to minivan-owners far and wide. An empty lot just down the street from Rail has been set aside as part of yet another development project, Grand Junction, a futuristic Eden that will include public trails, vendors, and a hulking glass performance venue. “And this,” Toby says of his little spot off the beaten path, “is going to be beachfront property.”

You understand exactly what he means as you walk by the construction site, past a small billboard on the edge of the plot that shows a smiling family picnicking on the park’s proposed grassy lawn, like a modern-day Sunday in the Park with George. All that’s missing from the scene is that ham-and-Brie sandwich from Rail.