Zionsville’s Brix stays close to home for bistro inspiration
If we had been anywhere else, the quirks might not have been as charming. Opening either of the two entrances, one in the dining room and one in the bar, we couldn’t immediately discern a host stand to request a table. We felt a bit like we’d walked into a party we weren’t invited to. Later, we found ourselves helping the hostess abate the wobble on our table, which had previously been jammed up against a spiral staircase for ballast. Would four or five folds of the cardboard sleeve to a takeout coffee cup be enough to keep it level?
The pan-seared yellowfin tuna ($23). Two juicy filets came stacked atop a creamy potato purée.
But in the heart of Zionsville, in an ice cream shop turned upscale bistro by two native sisters, Jeni and Shari Jenkins, you couldn’t let such details bother you. Later, the fresh-faced chef, Warren Weiss, who will be leaving for Oakley’s Bistro soon, would come by himself to disclose some of the “wicked” ingredients in his remoulade sauce. A server at someone else’s table would lean over ours to compliment our wine choice. Our own affable waiter would offer honest, helpful suggestions. Somehow, what could have been a frenetic weeknight dinner at a surprisingly packed Brix bistro became a leisurely meal among new friends. Like a handful of independent Indianapolis restaurateurs, the Jenkins sisters are persnickety about their pantry items. They get as much as they can from local purveyors, including organic eggs and grass-fed pork. Don’t look for the BLT on the winter menu; December tomatoes just aren’t up to snuff. Do expect some improvisations on their seasonal menus with the riches of nearby gardens. Luckily, we’d dropped in on a Tuesday, which is half-price wine night. That allowed us to score an earthy, full-bodied 2002 Argyle reserve pinot noir from Willamette Valley for a mere $26.50. Dedicated to wine culture, the Jenkins sisters even named their restaurant after a wine term indicating the sugar content in grapes, and their short but thoughtful list had some good bargains, even at full price. The new spring menu had some pretty stellar sounding items. But appetizers were almost better on the page. Sea scallops ($10) were well-seared but cut lengthwise, stealing some of the caramelized crust from each bite. Accompanying sweet potato purée was too pasty, mushrooms a little wan and promised beets, pickled locally, so scarce as to impart scant flavor. Crawfish cakes fared better ($9), though the crawfish meat seemed almost separate from the binder ingredients, making for an odd texture. But the “wicked” remoulade with plenty of coarse-grained mustard and a hit of Zatarain’s crab boil seasoning upped the flavor quotient substantially. Most anticipated of the starters was a mixed green salad ($7) with pancetta lardons, potatoes and a poached egg. Reminiscent of the frisée salads popular in Parisian bistros, this came elegantly presented, corralled by long laces of cucumber. The greens were fresh, and the lardons generous, almost too meaty. Sadly, however, the egg was cooked through with no gooey yolk to ooze down over the greens. Perhaps a concession to diner’s tastes or health department warnings, it made us wish we’d tried a different salad. With entrées, thankfully, the kitchen hit its stride. The highlight was a juicy, meaty sirloin pork chop ($20), which had traveled only from Lebanon to the plate. Wilted broccoli rabe provided a slightly bitter bite, perfect with a Creole mustard cream sauce. Delicate fingerling potatoes were nicely browned and deliciously crisp. These were Hoosier ingredients put to great use. Equally expert, if less local, was the pan-seared yellowfin tuna ($23). Two juicy filets came stacked atop a creamy potato purée spiked with wasabi. Soy-glazed shitaake mushrooms and a well-charred spring onion were welcome textural contrasts. A sweet red chili sauce helped kick up the flavors on the plate even more. One can’t blame a small-scale eatery for buying its desserts. But the old ice cream chiller, now used for desserts, was nearly depleted. A lemon chiffon cake was on par with the one at your cousin’s wedding, though the icing had a nice smack of lemon flavor. A French press of coffee, however, made lingering quite pleasant. Since our visit, apparently, some creative kitchen staffers, namely Kelly Knafel and new sous chef Colin Kirby, have collaborated on some original finales at Brix, inspired by the ice cream and yogurt from nearby Trader’s Point Creamery. They piloted a couple of their creations just last week. Like our table, our meal had teetered between competent and sublime. But the charm of the place, the fresh ingredients and the reasonably priced wine made this a neighborhood eatery we’d definitely revisit. The promise of a new chef, Paul Dibner, recently of Savoy, as well as a new summer menu, would certainly draw us back. With plenty of warm weather seating out front and in the adjacent alleyway, Brix would accommodate even more of our friends for its refreshing take on local cuisine. Brix 65 S. First St., Zionsville 732-2233 Dinner Tuesday-Thursday: 5-9 p.m. Friday: 5-10 p.m. Saturday: 5-10 p.m. Lunch Tuesday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Food : 3.5 Atmosphere : 3.5 Service : 4