Chef. Restaurateur. Dig-IN co-founder. James Beard Award semifinalist.
Local chef Neal Brown, of Pizzology and The Libertine Liquor Bar, finds himself in the news for those accomplishments on a fairly regular basis. But now Brown is the one with the byline. As culinary director for Ex. Ex. Midwest, Brown is helping launch a literary food magazine, one that aims to tell the rest of the country what is happening here on the ground in, as he said, “the fly-over states.” In the first issue, which published in August, Brown sampled gas station fried chicken, an assignment that was definitely in his wheelhouse, the chef said.
“The Chicken Odyssey,” said Brown. “That screams me. Driving around from gas station to gas station all over the city eating fried chicken.”
Ex. Ex. editor Ryan Brock and his editorial staff at Metonymy Media handled much of the writing in the first issue — local restaurateur Ed Rudisell also contributed an article – but subsequent issues will tap a wider pool of writers, Brock said.
Nevertheless, you can expect to see more from Brown. In the second issue, he interviews Cleveland chef (and Beard award winner) Jonathan Sawyer.
I caught up with Brown at the Ex. Ex. Midwest launch party last month.
JK:So you have a magazine. Are you happy with it?
I’m totally in love with it. I’m so proud of it. I had no idea it was going to be that cool. I just love the content. When you sit down and you read it, you’re like, these are amazing, cool stories. It’s not just a fluffy magazine – the words are good.
Why start a magazine?
I wanted to do this for about three or four years. It allows me a creative outlet that I’ve never had. It’s been so much fun. It’s a cultural project. It’s something we all wanted to do. And there’s stories that we want to tell.
You’re working with Metonymy Media on this?
Literally, they do almost all the writing. Now that won’t always be the case. As we expand outside of Indianapolis, it’ll change. The dynamic of the magazine will change. We’ll start reaching out and expanding our network of writers throughout the Midwest. We want this to be the voice of these different communities, telling these stories. We’re already sort of establishing that.
What’s the structure of the magazine? Is it a money-making thing? A not-for-profit?
We are an LLC. But literally the very first conversation we had about this magazine when we sat down to do it, was: Would we all be willing to do this if we didn’t make a dime on it? We all said, Absolutely.
So it’s okay if it isn't profitable?
Make no mistake: it has to fund itself. The first issue, we broke even. We’re hiring an intern, so we’re going to have to pay that intern. I’m not getting paid. None of us is taking a paycheck from this. We raised zero money for this. Advertising sales paid for printing, and online subscriptions paid for printing. To me, it’s what the new model is. Find the people you want to work with on something. Assemble that team and say we’re willing to do this for free if it’s great. And, by the way, it’s up to you if it’s great.
And what about The Libertine Liquor Bar? Brown has, again, been in the news lately concerning his plans to move the popular cocktail bar, deemed one of the best bars in America last year by Esquire magazine, to the basement of the building that now houses the Mass Ave. Pizzology.
"We're going to rethink Libertine," Brown said earlier this summer. "We're basically going to move it, but it's going to be completely different and new."
Why the move?
When we took the space where Pizzology is, we leased the entire basement space. We didn’t know what to do with it. Then our lease [on the Washington Street location] was up in July, and the building, it’s just not in great shape.
Will it still be The Libertine? Or will it be Pizzology’s bar?
It’ll be The Libertine. There’ll be a Libertine sign on one side and a Pizzology sign on the other. You’ll just walk down the stairs to go to Libertine.
Will you still serve food?
We’re going to build a kitchen down there, and we’re putting in a pretty modern kitchen.
What will the place be like?
Libertine when it moves is going to be much more like a bar. We're going to loosen our suspenders a bit and be a bar. It's no longer a Kentucky-meets-Great-Gatsby sort of thing."
Why the change?
I think we've just evolved. I'm just not very interested in exclusivity anymore. I'm so tired of eating in places that are shrines to the food and shrines to the craft. I want the focus to be on the guest. I'm tired of it being the chef show and the bartender show. We have an opportunity to reinvent ourselves.
And what about the new Pizzology in Hamilton Town Center?
That’s going to be a pretty quick turn-around. We’ve got a great pipeline of chefs.
And then what?
The next thing we do will likely not be Pizzology. I’m not sure what it is or where.
Jolene Ketzenberger covers local food at EatDrinkIndy.com. Follow her on Twitter @JKetzenberger.