It feels slightly disorienting
, pulling into downtown Greencastle on a Thursday night, when the sidewalks of the courthouse square are as lit-up and buzzy as any trendy swath of Indianapolis. So pardon me if what I am about to say sounds like it’s coming from a brochure for the Putnam County visitors bureau—but this little college town in the middle of nowhere does a good job of tempering its bucolic charm with a cultured nightlife and some pretty spiffy-looking people milling about.
Philanthropists Judson and Joyce Green (both graduates of Greencastle’s DePauw University) might have used a similar spiel during their national search for a visionary chef to helm their restaurant project in the center of town—and apparently it worked. When Bridges Craft Pizza & Wine Bar opened last August, an exposed-brick stunner with that softly stark West Coast wine-country aesthetic of white walls, natural wood, and dangling-bulb lighting, it boasted Culinary Institute of America–trained Sal Fernandez in the executive chef position. Fernandez grew up in Napa Valley at a time when The French Laundry, Thomas Keller’s celebrated temple of contemporary fine dining, was taking off in the sleepy inland town of Yountville, California. The general consensus is that The French Laundry (once hailed by Anthony Bourdain himself as “the best restaurant in the world, period”) changed the culinary landscape when it opened in the ’90s. On a more personal level, Fernandez saw how it also changed Yountville from a “farmer town” to a gourmet destination. The chef, who trained under Keller alums Rogelio Garcia and Brandon McGlamery, has a similar transformative vision for Greencastle and Bridges, which was merely a shell of a historic downtown building with no floor, roof, or back wall when he first laid eyes on it. Now, judging by the dining room packed with Pinot-sipping university types, it’s the place to be on a Thursday night in Greencastle if you like shaved brussels sprouts salads and cocktails with bespoke ice cubes. He’s off to a good start.
Judging by the
dining room packed with Pinot-sipping university types, it’s the place to be on
a Thursday night
A wood-fired pizza oven made in Naples, Italy, looms at the back of the open kitchen, a copper-tiled space ship against gleaming white subway tiles. Six pizzas can easily fit inside, which covers Bridges’s entire repertoire of thin-crusted, bulbous-edged pies. Impeccably chewy and charred, they include standards like a well-balanced Margherita, and a Funghi with mushroom duxelles baked into the mozzarella, then topped with balsamic glaze and a lightly dressed arugula salad. On the gussied-up side, consider The Daisy, a duck-prosciutto pizza with fig jam dotting its four-cheese surface and a soft-yolked farm egg baked into the center to serve as a bull’s-eye of dipping sauce.
But even the novelty pizzas are refined and proper here, as if this restaurant doesn’t want to insult anyone’s palate with a gimmick. House-made pastas play it deliciously straight as well, the rigatoni Bolognese a heaving plate of six-meat ragu (including housemade salumi, pork, beef, and veal) braised for eight hours with red wine and clumped with soft burrata, the linguini a nest of fat noodles topped with slices of chicken Marsala so rosy and tender you want to eat them on their own.
Among the smaller plates, fried ravioli is stuffed with beef tongue that Fernandez braises for three hours in a spicy sugo of tomatoes and peppers puréed with beef stock. He uses corn flour to make masa-like ravioli skins, stuffs them with the tender offal and some queso fresco mozzarella, and then cooks the little morsels until crunchy. Served with tomato relish and lemon crema, the deceptively simple starter offers a little mix of Italian and Latin American flavors. (Come dessert, a similar international mash-up combines vanilla sponge cake, Italian milk custard, and dulce de leche in Bridges’s version of tres leches cake.)
Everyone at my polished-wood table was equally smitten by three dense and saucy meatballs sitting on a bed of polenta, as well as a neatly organized meat-and-cheese board that lined up three creamy, tart cheeses, three meats (one of them a scoop of spicy ’nduja), and two house jams. And even though a side of pommes frites with raclette arrived in an unexpected form—a heap of crisp slivered matchstick fries with a good starchy chew under just a congealed scrim of the melted and scraped French cheese—we couldn’t stop snacking on the seemingly bottomless supply of delicate spud laces, even after our glasses of South African Chardonnay and Spanish Garnacha were drained, and our White Spring Sangrias sweetened with apricot liqueur and huckleberries had been tossed back.
It was a long drive from Indianapolis, through the rolling topography of small-town Indiana and across a stretch of highway long enough to include an actual rest stop—but we didn’t really want to leave once we saw how cool Greencastle is these days. Maybe we’re already planning to come back on one of the First Friday free music events on the Square, when the large doors set into the side of Bridges open up to connect the dining room with the adjoining Music Squared performance venue (another project from the Greens), or, when the weather permits, dining on lobster rolls and house burgers on Bridges’s rooftop patio.
On June 21, Fernandez presents a $125 James Beard Dinner, a collaboration with former Recess mastermind Greg Hardesty, highlighting the restaurant’s farm-to-table values and its relationship with local farmers. That plays right into the chef’s out-of-the-chute pronouncement that he’s gunning for a James Beard Award—a strategy that doesn’t seem to work very well, by the way. However, it did help him fill out the staff with a mix of equally ambitious local employees as well as some nationally recruited talent, including general manager Damion Wallace, who has worked in San Francisco, Malibu, New York, and the Cayman Islands and came to Bridges to run the front of the house. “I’ll admit, though, I probably called 25 chefs and got two answers,” Fernandez says. “You have to have some vision in order to make a move like this.”
BRIDGES CRAFT PIZZA & WINE BAR
19 N. Indiana St., Greencastle, 765-653-0021
Tues.–Thurs. 3–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 3 p.m.–midnight, Sun. 5–9 p.m.
Pizza hearth and home
Straightforward wood-fired pizzas and housemade pastas paired with cocktails and a smart wine list.
A charcuterie board, shaved brussels sprouts salad, and one of the wood-fired pizzas.
Small plates and starters $4–$14, pizzas $14–$17, pastas and mains $15–$25, cocktails $10, wines by the glass $6–$12