Where the brunch crowd gets its fix 

Patachou on the Park expands funky local institution

What is the enduring allure of Patachou? When I moved to Indy 11 years ago, Café Patachou, in its homey North Pennsylvania location, was perhaps the first “interesting” restaurant a friend took me to, extolling the virtues of its breakfast standards, its no-nonsense staff and its “scene.” Mind you, this was before I had any real sense of the Indy dining community as a whole, and I was a budding gourmand more impressed with the exotic than the pure and fresh. We waited at least 45 minutes for a seat in the packed neighborhood eatery, giving us plenty of time to read the “rules” posted on the door, which pretty much implied, in a tongue-in-cheek manner, that we were at the brunch place in town, so they’d get to us when they felt like it.

What did I order back then? Surely an omelet with bacon and horseradish, an earlier version of what’s now called “the Overachiever.” If you haven’t brunched on a Patachou omelet, it’s quite tall and fluffy, emphasizing eggs over the well-chosen fillings, though, thankfully, it’s as sunny as a French classic, not browned like so many diner disasters. Served with thick-cut toast and a cup of fresh fruit (no home fries here, please!), it’s definitely a breakfast to be reckoned with. Somehow, in my desire for speedier service and more avant-garde eats, I didn’t become a Patachou regular. Caught somewhere between hippie food and haute cuisine, Patachou was that anomaly I was glad to show out-of-towners, but I never made it part of my Sunday routine.

How things change in a decade. Now that fresh local produce and preservative-free ingredients have come out of the co-op and into the larders of upscale bistros, Patachou is looking a lot more haute than hippie. Nowhere is this more evident than at the sleek new Patachou incarnation in the Simon Property Group headquarters downtown. While it’s still an Indianapolis original, Patachou has expanded into a local brunch dynasty with four locations and a fifth one, a food-friendly coffee counter in Broad Ripple, on the way. It’s a testament to Patachou’s preeminence with Indy diners that the Simons invited them into their headquarters. But it’s no surprise.

As downtown lunch destinations go, this latest Patachou took little time in becoming one of the most popular, with lunch crowds filling just about every seat and the air with their spirited conversations. Patachou diners are no subdued group. Given its new location, however, and its new chic digs, the old aloof attitude of the staff just won’t do. In fact, so many different smiling faces welcomed us and our waitress (on a first visit) issued so many apologies — for the sloth of the kitchen, for whisking a plate away too soon — that this most spacious Patachou seemed to be missing that requisite harried feel of an “exclusive” eatery.

The décor, however, is unmistakably sophisticated. Bathed in reds and blacks, with a massive floral mural to the rear, and plenty of glass for viewing downtown streetscapes, this may be the spiffiest dining space in town for a restaurant not serving dinner. Orchids decorate the tables and tall glass cylinders filled with floating blossoms add organic appeal, perhaps to assuage the fact that the Simon Properties Group requisitioned a large quadrant of one of downtown’s last remaining green spaces to build their funky skyscraper. That this Patachou is subtitled “on the Park” seems almost too pointed a retort to the building’s critics, but the new café does what it can to restore nature’s beauty to its urban surroundings.

While the menu is larger than ever, it remains true to Martha Hoover’s core tenet of offering healthy food with a flair. A list of “Simon Specialties” varies from other locations, but it wouldn’t be Patachou without salads, soups, omelets and granola. Among those special Simon dishes, a steak sandwich ($12.95) on a deliciously tender baguette roll is an elegant, rich lunch with plenty of rare, warm steak, a horseradish mayo that doesn’t pack too much sting, melted shavings of parmesan and field greens. Here, a fruit cup seems a somewhat prissy, if healthy, side to such a macho sandwich.

Few other sandwich choices will surprise, but all are prepared with the best ingredients. Most innovative is lentil pâté ($8) on more thick-cut bread. Slightly sweet and spiced with curry, this funky luncheon loaf has a meaty quality without pretending to be meat. Crunchy cucumbers and a well-balanced blue-cheese mayo make this a vegetarian’s dream. Rather nondescript chips come with most sandwiches, though our waitress gladly substituted tossed greens. Still, we had hoped for more options. Fortunately, several combos allow creative mixing. A Cobb salad and soup combo will bring you a quite filling smaller version of a classic deli salad with big, crunchy hunks of bacon and a clearly house-poached chicken breast alongside either the day’s soup or a creamy tomato soup with oversized croutons. While the soup could pack a bit more punch, it’s a bowl full of health with the simple elegance that has long been Patachou’s appeal.

Patachou on the Park
225 W. Washington St.

Hours: Monday-Friday: 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Food: Four stars
Atmosphere: Four stars
Service: Three and a half stars

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