Mix-Up at Indy's Beer, Wine, and Spirits Trade Show
Some of the top bartenders in Indianapolis reached for their shakers to duel in a mixology competition on the final night of the 2014 Beer, Wine, and Spirits Trade Show.
Seven of Indiana’s top culinary dogs are strutting their stuff as 2013 James Beard Foundation nominees, selected from more than 44,000 online entries in 20 categories. Last week, the foundation unveiled its “long list” (421) of the year’s semifinalists—which will be cut down to the final list of nominees on March 18 during a press brunch in Charleston, SC. (NOTE: nominations will also be announced live via the Foundation’s Twitter feed.)
Count us among the downtown office workers who have latched on to Neal Brown’s lunch delivery system, The Brown Bag. The team behind Libertine Liquor Bar and Pizzology created the concept, inspired by the bustling dabbawallas of Mumbai. Former Libertine chef de cuisine Erin Till prepares the Tuesday-Friday midday meals in the Libertine kitchen, sending out a daily rotating menu of portable lunches. The meals arrive with several surprise courses tucked into the sectioned tin pails, each day’s options including something for omnivores and vegetarians. Wednesday’s heady Thai Red Curry can be made with chicken or tofu, for example, and Friday’s popular pork carnitas tacos can be switched out for roasted sweet potato tacos with cabbage pickle. “You get the same caliber of ingredients as at the Libertine,” says Till. “You are getting all local meats and veggies—high-end stuff. And we try to pack them as full as possible.” Two bicycle couriers deftly cover the delivery area, which spans from White River Parkway to the west, College Avenue to the east, 11th Street to the north, and Prospect Street to the south. They even return after lunch to retrieve the pails.
Last Thursday, the idyllic Joseph Decuis Farm in Roanoke played host to a Celebrity Chef Tour benefiting the James Beard Foundation. The tour travels the United States, replicating the once-in-a-lifetime dining experience at the historic James Beard House in Manhattan. The farm’s gorgeous spread, located six miles from the restaurant, offered the kind of perfect backdrop that made you wonder when the Saveur photo shoot would begin. In fact, before guests were seated at a sprawling white-clothed barn table decked out in vases of fresh flowers, visiting James Beard rep Jeff Black, owner of the series, hailed the Indiana venue as the third most beautiful site the series had ever visited, Number One and Number Two being Hawaii and Napa Valley. According to Pete and Alice Eshelman, the owners of Joseph Decuis (that’s pronounced day-QUEEZ, by the way) and gracious hosts for the evening, the 130 guests came from as far as Texas, Boston, and North Carolina to partake in the festivities.
Of all the experiments chef Neal Brown has conducted, whether in his kitchen laboratoire or the culinary free market, none has come as close to successful alchemy as The Libertine Liquor Bar, his shrine to the cocktail in a Washington Street storefront downtown. A shot of Scandinavian austerity, a jigger of pre-Prohibition American frontier swagger, and a dash of orange bitters dosed from eyedroppers by Brown’s exacting barkeeps, The Libertine is a study in contrasts—some logical, some forced—that all mingle, dazzlingly. Take “The Last Word,” one of several clever coinages on Brown’s drink menu. It mixes Bluecoat gin, lending its distinctly piney profile, with Luxardo maraschino and green chartreuse, haute liqueurs as opposite as stop and go. A bracing hit of lime merges these improbable comrades into a restrained elixir that cleanses the palate at the same time it sweetens it, a beguiling medicine you’re all too glad to take.
“I don’t like the word mixology, really,” said Neal Brown, glancing down the long bar toward his busy staff at The Libertine Liquor Bar (38 E. Washington St., 317-631-3333), which opened last week. “These guys are barkeeps. But if the word means making drinks like a chef makes food, then it does apply.” Call them what you like: they’re mixing the most innovative and delicious cocktails—not to mention serving up some of the tastiest grub (“bar food,” in the menu’s designation)—in the city.