infelicitously named Lucas Oil Stadium (aka The House That Manning Built) is
many things to many people. But whether you regard it as a Romanesque symbol of
misplaced civic priorities or flagship for our major league aspirations, there
is no denying the Luc's potential as a draw for development in a part of
downtown that sorely needs it.
case-in-point is Tavern On South, a new eatery that adroitly blends a feel for
its neighborhood's working-class roots with an upscale whiff of spiff.
as it happens, runs east and west along downtown's southern rim. Tavern On
South is located in a vintage brick building to the west of the stadium, in the
immediate shadow of our local version of a dark satanic mill — IPL's
enormous art deco power plant.
it's only been open a couple of months, lunch time on a recent Wednesday found
TOS's elegantly casual interior crowded with folks conveying the impression
they'd flown their professional coops in favor of this restaurant's hip take on
We started by
ordering a Tuscan Salad adorned with three beef tenderloin medallions ($12).
The salad itself was a sparking pile of lettuces mixed with chopped Greek
olives, pepperoncini, red onions, cucumbers and crumbled feta cheese,
judiciously drizzled with a red wine vinaigrette. This would have been fine by
itself, but the addition of the three meltingly succulent cuts of beef cooked
medium rare, constituted a meal in itself.
menu includes some intriguing starters, like Crab Ravioli ($9) and Indiana
Shagbark Ahi, a seared pepper-crusted Tuna served with Indiana shagbark
hickory-soy syrup ($10), not to mention the now ever-present selection of
But we were
drawn to their sandwiches, a genre, it turned out, where TOS really has something
to say. I ordered the "Tavern Smoked" Bison Burger ($13), a patty the size of
an old-time baseball mitt, topped with charred tomato barbeque glaze, Mariah's
Indiana peppered bacon and a sprinkle of blue cheese on a fresh brioche bun.
Our server told me the flavor mix involving the sauce, bacon and cheese was
amazing, and he was not mistaken. The bacon, in particular, invested each bite
with not just the taste, but a grilled aroma that made this burger truly
I was also
curious to see how the kitchen would handle bison, as I've generally found
local variants of this meat lacking the juiciness of its beefy cousin. Not this
time. The bison burger holds its own with the best beef burgers in town.
put TOS's sandwich chef to a similar test by ordering their version of another
local favorite, Tavern Tenderloin Sliders ($9.50). The pork tenderloin is
probably Indy's most iconic dish. But it's usually a double handful, an
oversized slab of fried meat on a ridiculously underdeveloped bun. TOS offers a
civilized alternative by hand-cutting the tenderloin into what they call
"minis" and serving them with shredded lettuce and a mustard aioli sauce on
fresh, dark brown pretzel buns. The tender meat comes encased in a crispy,
almost Oriental-style carapace featuring glints of sea salt and herbs. It's a
pleasure sans guilt.
TOS come with a variety of sides. We ordered French fries that were nicely
seasoned, free of grease and fresh at the center and, a real find, a cold
curry-inflected salad made with Hurst's lentils with finely chopped carrots,
celery and red onion.
As with so many
of the dishes here (not to mention an extensive and thoughtfully chosen
selection of regional craft beers), the nod toward Hurst's homegrown brand
evinced a genuine sense of place. Tavern On South may be a downtown newcomer,
but it feels like its been here for generations.