If you climb the well-worn metal stairs up to Plum’s Upper Room, occupying a former opera house in Zionsville, you may feel transported to the old country, perhaps to a loft overlooking the brick streets of Salzburg. Every time I dine at this cozy, second-story eatery with rustic beams and a bar framed in dark wood, I long for the buffet nights back in the mid-’90s when the place was called Gisela’s. At one of two seatings, you could feast on rouladen and sauerbraten while a man in lederhosen played folk songs on a squeezebox. “Restaurant” hardly captured the charm.
The space never lost its character, but the food was never quite as distinctive—until now. Recently, owner Jayne Nolting took steps to make Plum’s a player on the city’s food scene, nabbing fresh-faced chef Jeremiah Clark, formerly of Taste, Meridian, and Eggshell Bistro, just as his culinary star is rising. Smart move. Since taking over the kitchen last September, Clark has sourced ingredients from a host of local purveyors, adding one of the better cheese boards in the area to his menu and bringing a noticeable polish to nightly specials, including Chilean sea bass with Parmesan risotto and sorrel, and thoughtful vegetarian pastas with dandelion greens and pickled beet stems.
We had heard the crowds were back, that Wednesday jazz nights have featured Rob Dixon and the Zach Lapidus Trio, but we hardly expected the crush of young suburbanites we had to sneak around to get to our table. Once we finally settled in, our waitress, Plum’s pastry chef Erica Caputo, helped us navigate the scaled-down menu of lighter fare and “plats principaux” to construct our meal. Though the misnamed “tarte tatin” (usually an apple dessert) had more in common with the Alsatian tarte flambe, this crispy, French-inflected pizza gained sophistication from well-caramelized onions, restrained white-truffle oil, and a tangy Dijon–chardonnay sauce. Sea scallops wrapped in bacon fell oddly into onion-like rings but got a nice herbal lift from housemade pesto.
Entrees demonstrated Clark’s Chef’s Academy training best: deeply seared salmon atop al dente lentils with cubes of roasted root vegetables, a trio of meaty lamb chops with especially creamy mashed potatoes and sauteed Swiss chard. Even a straightforward vegetarian penne impressed in a hearty sauce augmented with pickled Brussels sprouts. The sticky toffee pudding having sold out for the night, we went for Caputo’s lemon-thyme cake, its bright woodsy flavor making up for its shaggy, slightly dry crumb. More refined was a homemade pistachio ice cream bearing big hunks of roasted nuts—a contemporary nod at a place with its heart in the past.
Plum’s Upper Room 112 S. Main St., Zionsville, 317-873-5577, plumsupperroom.com
Hours Tues.–Sat. 4–9 p.m.
Photos by Tony Valainis
This article appeared in the April 2013 issue.