Enter the era of artisan bread makers, and suddenly “bakery” seems pedestrian and insufficient for describing the feats of yeast and wheat that bread “technicians” or “engineers” perform in blazing-hot brick ovens. To area bread aficionados, the Scholars Inn Bakehouse in Bloomington has long been at the head of that crusty curve. For almost a decade, the Bakehouse has provided Wonder-weary Hoosiers with dense, chewy and flavorful breads not only in the original Bloomington bakery but at many local grocers. Now that Kerry and Lyle Feigenbaum have brought a Bakehouse outlet to the very portal of Broad Ripple, their breads, still baked in Bloomington and shipped every morning by 5 a.m., will undoubtedly become more of a household staple a little farther north.
As with their downtown Indy restaurant, décor is no afterthought. Aggressively rich colors and lampshades painted with flames walk a cool line between funky and gaudy. A sleek, flat-screen monitor emanates streaming headlines for info junkies and market watchers. But a cut-glass chandelier with electrified candles seems more appropriate for a funeral home than an upscale café. Low-slung couches with curvaceous end tables are stylish but make for awkward eating around lunchtime when buzzing crowds turn conventional tables into prime real estate. But there’s a charm to the noonday frenzy here; in just a few weeks, this place has gone beyond merely a bakery to achieve status as a “destination.”
With so much good bread around, it’s no wonder sandwiches dominate the menu. For the most part, the ingredients pair quite well with the different styles of bread. The barbecued chicken ($3.75-$5.75), for instance, puts a nice pile of chicken, along with onions, green peppers and a melting slab of cheddar cheese, onto grilled sesame-semolina bread. The nutty flavors of the bread help to round out the slight edge of a spicy chipotle sauce. In a few cases, innovation gets the best of the sandwich. The “Crazy” Chicken ($5.50-$7.50) turns a length of baguette on its side and stuffs it with chicken, melted Brie and spinach. So far so good. But a row of sliced tomatoes across the top of the crust, along with a preponderance of a sinus-clearing, ultra-hot mustard makes this chewy sandwich almost impossible to eat. No sandwich should require so many napkins. Right, Earl?
For those dietary extremists currently eschewing bread, the Bakehouse offers a surprising selection of creative salads. The “Rocket” ($7) pairs arugula (what the British call “rocket”) with wedges of Brie, paired classically with apple wedges as well as plump dried cherries, crunchy bits of candied pecans and a mustard-Champagne vinaigrette that cuts the sweetness of the other garnishes well. Side dishes seem either to hit or miss here. The Caesar potato salad ($2.50-$4.75) promises bold flavor but seems all too tame with undercooked potatoes and a dearth of dressing. But a cup of French onion soup bears a nice amount of dark caramelized onions in a slightly thin but tasty broth. And though breaking into the thick melted cheese requires more than a little spillage, it’s definitely worth risking your table manners.
Desserts range from small, pre-portioned items available at the counter to elaborate affairs prepared backstage, such as the mega-rich bread pudding ($5) or the almost-over-the-top chocolate pâté. Tiramisu ($2.75) is more cake than usual but with a good coffee flavor, and panna cotta ($2.75) forgoes the typical gelatinized texture for a rich white chocolate cream with raspberry puree and pistachios. A harvest berry cobbler is a dense homey concoction of fruits that would be even better if it weren’t as cold as the pastry case. And the “Coco Loco” is one of the more clever desserts: a chewy coconut dome with a chocolate truffle hidden mysteriously inside. The exterior gets a crème brûlée treatment that, unfortunately, borders ever so slightly on burnt.
More than anything, the Bakehouse has brought a much-needed source of quality bread to Indy’s Northside that offers everything from breakfast starting at 6:30 and discounts on day-old bread to specialty bagels and outsize cookies. Whether this will spark a new trend backwards toward the locally owned corner bakeries of yore is yet to be seen. The Bakehouse, at least, is off to a good start.