Valerie Vanderpool, chef and cofounder of Zest! Exciting Food Creations, has added a new establishment to her stable: Twist Lounge, a Parisian-themed cocktail parlor poised to capitalize on Indy's newfound desire for chic cocktails and original tastes. Blessed with the experienced kitchen of Zest!, which already had a strong libations menu, Twist is already a positive addition to SoBro's nightlife. But there were some missteps on a recent visit.
It's certainly a visually stimulating space. Pupils dilate as hands separate the chain mail hanging from Twist's doorway. In the open layout, focus darts from the stainless steel bar top and antique door extension to the faux couch swings that are wisely bolted to the floor. A metallic colored divan runs the length of a wall with clear plastic modernist chairs in opposition. Wooden crates serve as tables while stacked mirrors and mix-and-match light fixtures line the wall. There's a semi-private room in the front, an out of place disco ball and "Twisted Mary," a mustachioed mural of a none-too-pleased maiden. The feel is a mash of Francophile and industrial. It's fun and relaxed even though it tries a little too hard.
The menu offered both haves and have-nots. The cheese board ($16) was a sprawling collection of yesses. Edamame hummus and crudités, both light and welcomed, served as a brief respite from the bountiful supply of cheeses - including herbed Gouda, smoked Gouda and Asiago cheese on one visit. Flatbreads and homemade pretzel rolls were top facilitators to the crowning piece of the plate: the house boursin. Each creamy slather offered punches of oregano, basil and dill. The amount was ample; we were left wanting to lick the jar. Even the citrus-marinated olives were balanced enough for those who normally find olives too briny.
Another find on Twist's menu was an original spin on the Tex-Mex staple Queso Fundido ($12). The queso's salsa roja added enough heat to establish its presence without limiting itself to only the daring. House-made chorizo, sourcing meats from local favorite Smoking Goose, imparted texture and flavor. The chili-spiced tortilla chips were tempting on their own.
But then there were the misses. The popcorn shrimp cocktail ($13), for instance, comprised of spicy citrus-grilled shrimp atop Twisted Sistaz popcorn (made exclusively for Zest!/Twist by Just Pop in! Popcorn) and a lime-coconut-avocado salad. While it piqued the collective interest at the table, it fell well short of expectations. The shrimp, four per order, were grilled well, but lacked any note of the spicy citrus taste advertised. The salad, when discovered underneath stale popcorn, was indistinguishable from a store-bought guacamole.
Another discrepancy on the menu was the Big Girl Pigs-in-Blanket. While they were every bit as tasty as the description reads (smoked kielbasa, smoking goose sausage, Parmesan, white cheddar, Gouda and house mustards) the miniscule proportion doesn't match the steep $16 price tag.
While the food vacillated between sublime and mundane, Twist's cocktails were delicious. They handled the classics well - of course, with an added twist - like their Margarita ($9) and Collins ($8). But the true stars were their originals: the strong and fruity gin-based Corpse Reviver #2 ($13); the smoky, stingy Garter Belt's ($13) bourbon and absinthe verte; and the Blood & Sand ($12), with its surprisingly light scotch and brandy mix. All were well received. All were tapped for seconds.
It was an enjoyable evening made better by sharing with a group of friends - the design of both the lounge and its small plates menu trend toward sharing. But Twist has work to do if it'd like to be on level with the likes of The Libertine, Ball & Biscuit and Bluebeard. The wait staff, both behind the bar and throughout the lounge, was slow and uninspired. The food menu is still evolving to find solid combinations. But the cocktails are excellent. Billed as the "sexy sister" to Zest!, Twist Lounge looks good, but still has a little lipstick on her teeth.