Top Five: Indy's Romantic Tables
At one end of Cerulean, an enclosed birchwood hut called “The Nest” makes for a cozy hideaway.
On a balmy friday night, as the sun sets over the Fashion Mall, a crush of well-heeled 40-somethings crowds the patio of Brewstone Beer Company. Bartenders shake up sticky concoctions with names like Mango Tango and a grove of fruit-flavored mojitos while a guy with a guitar and a fedora provides the poppy Dave Matthews–esque entertainment. This handsome spread looks like what you would get if Tommy Bahama threw a party for Crate & Barrel. “Don’t you love this place?” the singer says into the mic. “This is my favorite new spot.” People raise their cocktail glasses and cheer in a scene that gives true meaning to the term TGIF.
If you have spent any time at all with an East Coast expat, you’ve probably been apprised of the embarrassing state of pizza in Indianapolis—our dearth of pizzaioli dusted in doppio zero flour, dough spiked with mineral-rich water, and slices that fold neatly down the middle. But when a place like downtown’s Coal Pizza Company comes along, cooking its pies in a 900-degree oven in the big-shouldered tradition of America’s first pizzerias, redemption is served by the slice.
The first thing you notice at Divvy, after you have strolled by packed communal tables in the bar and passed under raw-wood lampshades curved like Mobius strips, are the menus. Long, horizontal, and leather-bound like an old-timey razor strop, they contain sections upon subsections with suggestive monikers such as “Motion in the Ocean” and “Grazers Galore,” spanning more than 20 pages. You could dine here five nights a week, as some have, and never conquer the dozens of “Tidbits,” “Liquid Goods,” and “Mini Morsels” offered by this new foodie oasis in the shadow of Carmel’s Palladium. “The fun part was coming up with the names of the dishes,” says owner Kevin “Woody” Rider, the restaurateur who also brought Woody’s Library Restaurant to northside diners and helped open Bonge’s Tavern in Perkinsville.
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.
The homemade pickles on the plate in front of us weren’t exactly the ones our grandmothers made us as kids. There were cucumbers, yes, though mostly to support the lightly brined stars: hunks of crunchy daikon radish with a subtle bite of kimchi; a beet-pickled egg blushing pink. A single slender ramp—a wild leek foraged in spring—snaked around to a glistening dollop of peanut spread. Was this the new wave of pub grub, or just some quirky concoction dreamed up by a pregnant chef? And just how did the folks at Black Market, the much–buzzed-about, long-awaited nouvelle comfort-food spot tucked at the end of the Mass Ave restaurant district, expect us to approach it? “People eat it all kinds of ways,” said co-owner Ed Rudisell, smiling from behind the bar where we sat sipping glasses of wine. “We don’t tell customers how to do it.”
Rare is the restaurant under 500 square feet that garners much media buzz. An eatery that petite featuring burgers and tacos would strain to hit the gourmet radar. But when you are a chef who has racked up enough four-star reviews that you already have your own cutting-edge, postmodern “playground” where your culinary vision answers to no one, then just about any food you offer up, in any space, would draw a crowd.
By most measures, it was a typical spring Wednesday, cool with drizzle. But in the parking lot of Seasons 52, the latest high-profile franchise to populate the Fashion Mall, the buzz resembled a VIP gala. Orange pylons blocked the better portion of the parking spaces, and valets sprinted to fetch keys. Inside, nearly every seat in the place was taken. Clearly something special, some of-the-moment trend, had drawn out this many diners on such a dreary day.
Editor’s Note, June 22, 2012: Sensu announced early this month that it will no longer serve dinner. It will, however, remain an upscale nightclub and special-event venue, with Asian-inspired catering services available. You get the sense, stepping off Meridian Street into the vaulted pleasure palace of Sensu, another in Jeremiah Hamman’s growing portfolio of luxe […]
Given the stranglehold sports fans have on this town, as well as a certain big game Indy expects to host next winter, it’s surprising that the two-story brick storefront near the industrial corner of South and Minnesota streets remained untapped as long as it did. Little more than 100 feet from Lucas Oil Stadium, Tavern on South is a spiffy surprise—a sportingly handsome spot where your game-day eats might be drizzled with a shagbark hickory–soy syrup or arrive with a side of pistachio couscous.
As a rule, suburban strip-mall eateries aren’t known for being innovators in fashion-forward decor or cutting-edge cuisine. Too often, they’re stop-off points to grab a pint or some stick-to-your-ribs grub when you don’t want to drive into the city. Something about the spacious storefront at 11705 Fox Road, nestled as it is among the tree-lined curves of Geist Reservoir and sporting sky-high ceilings and a rustic stone fireplace in the bar, always seemed to require a more substantial establishment, and while a string of eateries have tried to capitalize on the space’s charm, it wasn’t until I entered Michael’s Southshore, the latest tenant, that I felt a destination restaurant had arrived.