From a food service perspective, brunch is often an afterthoug
ht. Profit margins are razor-thin, servers and cooks are underslept, and food rarely strays from convention. So to get a great brunch, the best bet is often to go to a place that specializes in morning-friendly (or morning-after-friendly) fare exclusively. And while Indianapolis has plenty of all-star brunch spots, after visiting Milktooth, Fletcher Place’s latest eatery, I have a new top-of-list recommendation for brunch lovers.
Milktooth is one of the most highly-anticipated new restaurants, with first-time owners Jonathan and Ashley Brooks aiming for an April opening since early in the year. But, as most small business owners know, it’s unusual that everything follows even the best-laid plans. The fall crisp was the perfect atmosphere to welcome the airy feeling space appointed with a lot of dark, rough-finished wood. They’ve got an open kitchen with a counter, a few two- and four-top tables, and some communal tables up on the industrial lifts that used to jack up cars when the space was a service garage. Otherwise, the setup is clean and bright with a lot of white, wood, and steel.
The table settings are relaxed, with a coffee can of silverware in the middle of each table, yet it’s placed alongside neatly folded cloth napkins. It’s dressed up and refined enough for a place with a spectacular craft cocktails program (more on that in a second), but without being so stuffy that you’d feel out of place there in last night’s outfit and a righteous hangover. It’s hard not to draw the Locally Grown Gardens comparison, with the more or less untouched industrial exterior and simple signage giving it a wholly approachable feel from the street.
And good thing, because if the outside was as polished and sexy as the menu, you wouldn’t feel okay about strolling in there in dirty denim and a ball cap.
The food is exactly what you would expect from the former chef de cuisine at Recess, with items like a lamb patty melt and a sweet tea-fried chicken biscuit and gravy. Don’t overthink it folks: it’s what a place like Recess would serve if they served brunch.
Yeah, it’s really good. It’s so good, you should take your Mom on Mother’s Day. It’s good enough to lure the pious away from their places of worship on Sundays. If you want that one-night stand to call again, buy them breakfast at Milktooth.
It is not, however, for the person looking for a big, cheap, greasy plate of bacon and pancakes to cure what ails them. This is much more along the lines of a Taste/Patachou style of dining, but with a lot of great twists on conventional morning food. The things that fall into the traditional category of dishes are chopped ‘n’ screwed in the best ways. Cornmeal pancakes, for example come either sweet with creme fraiche and berries, or savory with ham, gruyere, pickled corn, watercress and peppers. The Belgian waffles are garnished with bacon, cocoa nibs, plums, creme fraiche and almonds. I was bowled over by how good the sweet tea fried chicken biscuit was: rich, sweet, savory, and served in a pool of sausage gravy. And even as heavy as a stack of wet-battered fried chicken on a gravy-coated biscuit is, it wasn’t a total gut-punch.
Still, if you desperately need some grease on a weekend morning like a sick man needs medicine, the chicken biscuit is probably going to be your best bet. And get a side of the sorghum-glazed “bacon,” which is really one giant, thick slab of belly with a sweet sorghum syrup, like that dream you had last week.
Are you an oyster fan? Do you crave the coastal goodness of that deep ocean flavor? No big deal, as they’ll serve you up some raw oysters on the half shell for three bucks each — one to go with every three-dollar Mad Dog margarita, which was almost as delicious as the oysters alone.
I tried the Mad Dog marg first because I read the cocktail menu, put together by the talented mixologist Jesse Lee, and realized that I needed to try the least-fancy item before moving up into the more sophisticated stuff. And at $3, that’s a wake up call you can’t be mad about. As far as the rest of the drinks, oof, where to begin? My other two cocktails (it was Friday, whatever) were wildly different, and delicious in their own right. One, the blood meridian, was a deep fruit cocktail with gin and a touch of vinegar and egg white, and the other combined espresso, creme de menthe and egg white. Both were velvety on the palate and not too boozy for a brunch beverage. They also make a killer Manhattan.
Let’s put it this way: if you swapped out the mimosa for a later-in-the-day cocktail, the bar menu would not be out of place at higher end craft cocktail bars around the city. Most drinks fall into the six-to-ten dollar range, depending on the length of the ingredient list.
It’s also not exactly cheap when compared to bustling greasy breakfast stalwarts like Biscuits Cafe or Maxine’s. But for a nice place, being able to get a small plate of toast, egg, ricotta, avocado and a cup of coffee for $10 isn’t bad, even if it isn’t as much fun as a $45 cocktail-heavy Sunday Funday kind of brunch.
Don’t worry if you don’t drink, either. Milktooth’s coffee game is on-fucking-point. Sourcing beans from Bee Coffee Roasters, they’ll serve your brew as a traditional espresso drink, from a Chemex or a V60 pour-over filter. If you’re a coffee lover, be forewarned: it’s really hard not to just keep on drinking cup after cup until you Hulk out on the bathroom door knob and realize that your blood is coursing with jet fuel.
Trust me, you should make an effort to pace yourself.
Milktooth is setting itself far apart from its brunch competition, with a carefully-appointed menu and bar program that rivals some of the nicer restaurants in town (many of which, naturally, were also created by Lee). They’re breaking into new territory with a mix of flavors that will refresh brunching regulars in search of a new take on morning favorites. In the high-flung ceilings of a former garage, Milktooth is hitting the right mix of refinement and approachability. Sure, you can get bacon and toast if you want it. But you can also get an ice-cold platter of damn good raw oysters, or a thick, juicy patty of lamb, or a bowl of miso soup, at 10 o’clock in the morning. You can eat light and read the paper with the sunlight splashing off the white and pale teal interior, get a little hair of the dog, or tear through that cocktail menu and start your morning like you ended your night. Whatever you choose, don’t fret about it too much. There wasn’t one thing placed on our table that I wouldn’t eat or drink, many times, again.