Two years after opening its doors in the location of the late and much lamented Panache, The Pidge continues to march boldly forward under the seasoned and expert guidance of chef/owner Casey Uglow. It’s hardly a secret in the restaurant business that Zionsville is a tough and demanding market. If the recent lunch and dinner crowds at The Pidge are anything to judge by, however, then it’s clear that Chef Casey has, for the time being at least, made her mark on the hearts and tummies of this hard-to-impress clientele. In the process she has created something of a destination establishment for out-of-towners. For diners looking to get away from it all for a leisurely lunch or a discreet dinner, I can think of few better places in town. Tucked away on a side street, well away from the only slightly bustling town center, the restaurant can be hard to find at first for those not familiar with its location. Once inside the small and tidy cottage, you’re transported to another place for a few hours, as you leave your daily travails at the door and enter what Chef Casey defines as: 1. a small place in one’s heart; 2. a place of solitude, reflection and joy; 3. where food is fresh, wine is plenty and time stands still; 4. where life is slow, comfortable and enjoyable; 5. a small home away from home. I heartily concur with the latter definition, although I have to admit that, on my first visit to this charming establishment, I found myself a trifle overwhelmed by the whole country cottage design. It was as if the crew of Trading Spaces, returning from a frothy week in Provence, had descended upon Zionsville, sponges and rollers at the ready, and redecorated The Pidge’s interior to resemble Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers,” seen, as it were, from the inside looking out. After the initial surprise of the vibrant buttercup yellow blinds and cirrus clouds on sky-blue walls, however, and the first glass of wine has had a chance to numb the eyeballs a bit, the whole place takes on a pleasingly bucolic glow, and the day suddenly starts to look a whole lot better. Should you choose to visit The Pidge at lunchtime, then you will certainly find yourself in the company of Ladies Who Lunch. Do not be deterred: The restaurant is conveniently divided into three rooms, and there’s outdoor dining as well, so, should peace and quiet be high on your agenda, you will probably be able to find both. As you wait for an excellent bowl or cup of homemade soup ($4.50/$3.50), the server will bring freshly-made rolls wrapped in a crisp white napkin, presented in a mini ice bucket. It’s a nice touch and one that, like the table’s only adornment, a simple arrangement of fresh daisies in an espresso cup, gives a reassuring impression of spontaneity and freshness. The soup, on the occasion of a recent visit, was produced from startlingly fresh shitakes, possessing a richness and depth of flavor that derives only from the finest available ingredients. At lunchtime there’s always a selection of a dozen or so first-rate sandwiches (the Cuban at $6.50 is quite excellent, and more than a meal in itself) as well as a handful of salads and pasta dishes. Make sure you save room for any one of the house-made desserts, including the decadent and irresistible pot au crème, a chocolate-lover’s fantasy. At dinner, the menu offers a startling range of flavors, textures and contrasts. When the restaurant opened, many of the dishes had a strong Southern influence. Although this still lingers to an extent in the pecan-crusted tilapia, the cornmeal crèpes and the smoked oysters with veal, the menu has now taken a strong and idiosyncratic direction of its own, relying strongly on fresh ingredients and Chef Casey’s intuitive cooking. In spite of the obvious quality of the cooking here, entrees are still for the most part under $20, the exceptions being the steak and veal dishes. In case you didn’t catch NUVO’s Dining Guide earlier this year, Chef Casey was voted one of the city’s top 10 chefs. Visit soon and often, and you’ll find out why. Hear Neil Charles each Friday morning at 9 on WXNT-AM, 1430.
60 S. Elm St., Zionsville 733-1425 www.thepidge.com Lunch Tuesday-Saturday 11-2 Dinner Tuesday-Saturday 5-9 Food : 4 stars Atmosphere : 4 stars Service : 4 stars