Dave Burcham had a great idea: Bring in unadulterated olive oil from all over the world, and then let people taste it so they're compelled to actually buy.
Then he hid it away behind Nora Apothecary. Not as good an idea. But he doesn't mind the location, because he relies on word of mouth, regulars and farmers markets to keep people coming back to that tiny green house.
Myself, I drove back and forth frustratedly along 86th street past the Steak 'N' Shake until I happened to see a small chalkboard marquee facing the road, helping to direct pilgrimages.
I've since visited Artisano's a couple times to sample the oils from Australia, Chile, Spain, California, Tunisia and beyond. Some are simply extra virgin; some are infused with blood orange, Meyer lemon, garlic and more. Burcham says he doesn't let anyone buy an oil without tasting it. And yes, Burcham and co. will be your pilots for tasting; you wouldn't want some kids pressing on the jar spigots like they were frozen yogurt taps at a buffet.
Burcham is a talkative fellow. He told me a story about how a fateful airplane ride gave him the direction and some contacts that would ultimately help open his store as it is now. His happenstance seatmate happened to know some people in the specialty oil business, and the rest, to be cliche, is history.
I tasted the blood orange oil. It was like light herbal unction chased by bitter orange rind, with a lasting crescendo of pepper. Then Burcham dropped some mandarin balsamic in my mini plastic ramekin. That was good, too. I wasn't unhappy to burp orange for hours.
Those balsamics might overshadow everything else. The flavored ones are either infused in-house, or imported from a friendly operation in California. I tried the strawberry balsamic, mixed with strawberry juice – too sweet for me, but perhaps good as a dessert drizzle. It seems the honey ginger balsamic is reaching cult status. Someone suggested Burcham try a teaspoon with some Prosecco, and he's passed the suggestion along to others, including myself.
That gave me the idea to snatch up the dark chocolate balsamic ($10 for 200 ml), whose sweet-sour bite I thought might go quite well with a stout or Flanders brown style ale. But the culinary applications could be endless: savory or sweet reductions, a fruit or cheese garnish, etc.
Oh, yes: The place is also encased by a wall of spices, which included the smoked paprika I've been looking for. On the other side, there are more salts than I've ever seen at an Indianapolis retail store.
But to me, that's the least sexy part.
Artisano's Oils & Spices
1101-B E. 86th St.
Tues – Fri, 10:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Sat: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Sun: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.