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From Indianapolis Monthly
From The Libertine to Recess and Oakleys to Bluebeard,Korean to Latin and sushi to steak, our critics chose the cream of Indy’s dining crop,. Who’s at the head of the table? Read on to find out.
—Edited by Julia Spalding, with Trisha Brand
We know we shouldn’t fall for such art-directed soul. We want to hate the oversized lighting and the washtub where they keep the water carafes and the mini jars of grated Parmesan delivered to reclaimed-wood tables. But we thoroughly adore the pizza salon’srustic-chic–meets–Type-A-perfection. Neapolitan pizzas come with no more than three artisanal ingredients—we favor the Elliot’s Pie, with pancetta, roasted new potatoes, and Gorgonzola, served “white” (Napolese parlance for replacing red sauce with olive oil and garlic). There’s much more to love beyond the main attraction, too. An appetizer trio of bison-and-sausage meatballs, veiled in provolone, surprises with its spicy bite. And you’ll want to save room for dessert, especially the seasonal cobbler. 114 E. 49th St., 317-925-0765; 30 S. Meridian St., 635-0765; napolesepizzeria.com.
St. Elmo Steak House
Bastion of Beef
In many ways, the downtown icon that has hosted generations of expense accounts and gentlemen’s nights out has not bothered to fix what isn’t broken. It’s the same glass of tomato juice/cup of navy bean soup, baked potato rolled in salt, and wet-aged hunks of meat that yield tenderly to the cut. And God forbid anybody mess with the sadistic degree of heat in the shrimp cocktail’s sauce. But the addition of 1933 Lounge—with its crackling fireplaces, deep leather chairs, and drink list that incorporates plenty of bourbon—has locked in a younger audience as well. 127 S. Illinois St.,317-635-0636, stelmos.com.
A delicious hybrid of Southern cooking, French technique, and pure stacked-and-molded ambition, this small-town surprise sits just off the square in Franklin. South Carolina transplant Joseph Hewett, an alum of Oakleys Bistro, runs this show featuring elaborate renditions of standards such as fried green tomatoes (with chili-pickled shrimp), fried chicken (upon caramelized cabbage), and Caesar salad (with fried Brussels-sprout leaves). The Sunday brunch raises the bar for bedheaded elegance. 39 E. Court St., Franklin, 317-560-5805, theindigoduck.com.
[Editor’s Note: Sadly, Joseph Hewett, owner of Indigo Duck and the chef who ushered many of the restaurant’s dishes out of the kitchen, passed away earlier this month.]
The elaborately deconstructed plating of nouvelle cuisine is alive and well at Steven Oakley’s safe house for diners who still prefer to sit back and admire their food before eating it. The menu descriptions are more like suggestions of what might end up on the table before you. Oakley’s interpretation of the French classic coq au vin, for example, involves not Julia Child’s hearty stew of poultry and red wine, but rather a pressed cylinder of white meat wrapped in its own skin and crisped, on a plate decorated with button-sized dollops of carrot puree and skeletal fans of dried onions. Oakleys translates meat-and-potatoes standards into dishes like fall-apart short ribs with bleu-cheese hushpuppies and potato puree piped into a tube made of fried potatoes. The showmanship here deserves a standing ovation.1464 W. 86th St., 317-824-1231, oakleysbistro.com.
A seasoned restaurateur at the age of 30, Cerulean chef-owner Caleb France had already found success with his flagship restaurant in Winona Lake when he brought the out-there conceptto downtown’s CityWay complex last winter. He fearlessly rolled out a gorgeous repertoire of plates, like a tiny roasted quail resting amid a Harlem Shake of adornments: frizzled kale; potato puree; dabs of cherry butter; and a jelly bubble that, when pierced, releases a warm stock cooked out of a blend of maple, walnut, and hickory woods. Servings are downsized, designed to be ordered in multiples and shared around the table, an idea in perfect step with France’s goal of running a restaurant that brings people together (perhaps while sheltered inside a private dining area called The Nest, an Airstream-sized structure made of interlocking strips of bent wood). Sound a bit overwhelming? Cerulean takes the concept down a notch at lunch, when the menu offerings are served in modern bento boxes, with one main and three sides. 339 S. Delaware St., 317-870-1320, ceruleanrestaurant.com.
Late Harvest Kitchen
Head chef Ryan Nelson reinvented his polished cuisine when he went solo with this ambitious venture on the outskirts of The Fashion Mall. Restaurant scenesters expecting an-other fish-centric spread were instead surprised with a rotating lineup of hearty yet refined beef-and-starch dishes with decadent sauces generously applied. But Nelson has not lost his surfside touch. On a recent visit, the delicate mahi mahi impressed on a bed of barley and feta. But most importantly, none of the food here feels forced. Only a true star can make it look this easy. 8605 River Crossing Blvd., 317-663-8063, lateharvestkitchen.com.
Don’t be put off by the idea of the “healthy” cooking happening at Tulip Noir; the lovingly researched, smartly executed brunch and lunch fare is never too contrived. Energetic owner Dina Romay-Sipe presides over this minimalistic scene. “I strongly feel restaurant owners have a responsibility to serve healthy meals,” she says. Since opening in 2008, Romay-Sipe has let her uber-fresh, gorgeously presented rotating dishes convert skeptics. “I now sell more vegetables and less meat,” she says. Pay special attention to Sam’s Eggs Benedict (constructed with a perfectly orange, perfectly runny egg topped with the most wonderful hollandaise brightened with extra lemon). Brunch agnostic? Get after the popular veggie quesadilla: The roasted seasonal vegetables, cocooned in a velvety layer of pepper-Jack cheese, rest within a crispy multigrain tortilla.1224 W. 86th St., 317-848-5252, tulipnoircafe.com. Read more Monday 140120
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