My first job was as a waitress in a tiny Italian restaurant in South Carolina. The owner, Robin, had just sunk her life savings into the off–Main Street storefront. Using recipes she learned from a couple of paesanos in New York, she bestowed our little hometown with an authentic red-sauce trattoria, proudly calling it “Robino’s.” I got paid $2 an hour (under the table) and all the eggplant parmigiana I could eat. Years later, sitting on a piazza in Rome, I remembered Robin’s mouth-watering marinara and thought, Yep—it was pretty spot on.
The natives, however, forgot to be grateful. This was a small city, after all, and the culinary offerings began with a string of fast food joints and ended at Bo’s Fish Camp. No one went to Bo’s for the fish, thank goodness, as the town was nowhere near water; instead, people clamored for its “calabash” chicken. Robin cursed it. “That orange chicken!” she’d spit. To top it off, her $8 entrees cost twice as much as a plate (with fries) at Bo’s, which meant poor Robin and her fresh pasta and quality ingredients were always regarded with a little suspicion.
By the time school started in August, I knew the restaurant was finito. A few loyal customers trickled in, but most nights I spent vacuuming up phantom crumbs from breadsticks never broken and humming along to “Party Lights” as it echoed through the empty dining room.
I thought a lot about that summer while reading assistant editor Trisha Lindsley’s “Made from Scratch,” a behind-the-scenes look at how a soon-to-launch Italian restaurant, Bluebeard, came to be. Robino’s may not have benefited from Bluebeard’s capital, or enjoyed its sophistication, but it did have its heart—and its own share of inaugural-year headaches.
Whether Bluebeard or any of our top ten new restaurants survives is up to us. As a newcomer, I’m trying to do my part, adding them all to my list of Hoosier “must dos.” Completed: My first sip of Sun King. An amble along the White River with my husband and dog at Holliday Park. Going the wrong way down a one-way street—twice.
Amanda Heckert is the editor of Indianapolis Monthly. See her bio here.
This column appeared in the May 2012 issue.