Kimbal Musk seems like a nice guy.
Who wouldn’t fancy a TEDx Talk–ing entrepreneur from Colorado who smiles for the cameras in his crisp white cowboy hat while preaching the “real food” gospel? What’s not to love about a wealthy food futurist who plants teaching gardens in schools and transforms shipping containers into climate-controlled urban vegetable patches that can each produce the equivalent of a two-acre farm? And if he doesn’t flinch when an inventory of his achievements leads with the words “the brother of …,” does that not make him even more endearing?
This spring, the brother of Elon Musk—tech billionaire, Tesla Motors co-founder, and SpaceX rocket launcher—touched down in Indianapolis to debut Hedge Row American Bistro in a glassy corner build-out on Mass Ave, with a grand opening so breathlessly anticipated by Indy’s epicurean set that I expected spotlights to cross the night sky over The Marietta building. Kimbal Musk himself attended, popping the cork on a bottle of champagne with a saber and leading the staff in a spirited “Go Indy!” cheer, as if he was just as excited to break bread with us. That’s exactly the sentiment our collective ego needed at the moment: a celebrity endorsement of our cocktail-pairing, Yelp-reviewing, hydroponic wall–gazing dining zeitgeist.
There was Musk on his Instagram account, posing under the massive pink cardigan of downtown mural subject Mari Evans, the poet; smiling with the urban growers at South Circle Farm; and swinging his hips alongside Ann Dancing, unable to resist a good Boomerang photo op. He also shared an article from Tasting Table that proclaimed, “Indianapolis Is a Culinary Force to Be Reckoned With,” which is something we’ve been trying to tell the world for years, knowing that horn was not going to toot itself.
If the validation feels good, gloating over it in Hedge Row’s sexy dining room feels even better. A sloping ceiling made of thin wood slats gives the compact space a simple, open un-fanciness, with the front walls made entirely of windows and a roomy patio adding sidewalk appeal. Skewing somewhere between a darling Scandinavian-inspired Airbnb and a trendy downtown office co-op, the Indianapolis Hedge Row joins another in Denver and falls under the umbrella of The Kitchen Restaurant Group, which has locations throughout Colorado as well as Chicago and Memphis.
That’s not exactly music to the ears of Indy’s fraternity of local independent restaurants trying to keep the lights on without the critical mass or deep pockets of a successful parent company. But longtime Indianapolis chef Brad Gates was picked to oversee Hedge Row’s kitchen, and his ingredients pull from area producers like Rossville’s Silverthorn Farm, Morristown’s Viking Lamb, and Indy’s own Tinker Coffee, Amelia’s bakery, and Mad Farmers Collective. That means the local terroir might be represented in a plate of roasted Gunthorp Farms chicken, charred in spots but juicy to the bone and glistening with mustard-butter glaze, a bed of curried couscous and dribbles of sumac yogurt sauce adding some Middle Eastern warmth. Light, slightly sweet Viking Lamb meatballs are spicy little flavor bombs in Moroccan tomato sauce, and chunky brussels sprouts and turnips caramelize alongside hunks of Smoking Goose ham hock in Hedge Row’s blazing wood oven.
Seafood dishes are treated with equal respect. Crunch into the golden mantle of a Gulf shrimp–and-cornmeal hush puppy and enjoy that fragrant puff of corn-scented steam. Tempura-crisped hunks of rockfish are tucked into perfect leaves of butter lettuce and adorned with pickled red onions, slivers of watermelon radish, and smoked tartar sauce—warm, spicy, herbaceous, and heavenly. Yellowfin tuna ceviche is tossed with coconut-lime vinaigrette and chunks of sweet-tart Granny Smith apples, of all things.
It’s hard to forgive a center-cut pork chop for being cooked too long to benefit from the roasted Bosc pears arranged on top of it, or the grilled Piri Piri chicken sandwich, spiced with the small South American chili peppers, for getting lost under its tectonic slide of aioli and cucumber slices. But trust the server when she says the mole-braised Fischer Farms short rib is her favorite thing on the menu. It is officially my favorite, too. The meat peels off in succulent threads, its flavor heightened by the sauce’s dark chocolate smokiness. The contrast of roasted rutabaga and pickled tomatillos on that plate brilliantly plays a spectrum of flavors against each other. When that same servers suggests the butterscotch pot de crème for dessert, expect something just as heavenly: a dense pudding spiked with The Macallan Single Malt Scotch that’ll warm your nose.
It’s nice to see servers dressed in cornfed-cute black-and-white gingham shirts, sort of the wardrobe equivalent of what Hedge Row tries to do with its come-as-you-are menu. The cheery institutional casualness works effortlessly here, but feels slightly forced at Musk’s dressed-down sibling restaurant 5 miles away, Next Door American Eatery. Billed as the family- (and budget-) friendly companion to what is offered on Mass Ave, it opened a month after Hedge Row’s entry, transforming an old but architecturally striking Double 8 Foods into the cutest, funkiest fast-casual hotspot.
It does everything it can to feel like everyone’s favorite SoBro haunt, from the cornhole boards to the buddy-worthy servers typing your order of happy-hour kale chips and green cardamom falafel into their tablets. In the end, it’s a little too downmarket for people without kids and a little too upmarket for people with them—and that’s an honest mistake on Kimbal Musk’s part. How could he have known that Next Door’s target audience has moved on, hired a sitter, and would now like a patio table at Hedge Row, a restaurant that understands exactly what to give a city that is, as they say, a culinary force to be reckoned with?
Hedge Row American Bistro
350 Massachusetts Ave., 317-643-2750
Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–1 p.m.
Fri. 11 a.m.–11 p.m.
Sat. 10 a.m.–11 p.m.
Sun. 10 a.m.–9 p.m.
Snacks and veggies to share, with impressive wood-fired entrées that focus on Midwest ingredients.
Fish tacos tucked into butter lettuce leaves, charred Chinese broccoli, and wood-roasted chicken. Butter-scotch pot de crème garnished with a wisp of salted-cashew brittle for dessert.
Snacks, small plates, and sides $4–$14, large plates $17–$38, cocktails $9–$11