Hip comforts: Tavern On South

 

The

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.

A welcome

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.

South Street,

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.

Even though

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

comfort food.

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.

TOS's lunch

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

12-inch pizzas.

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

memorable.

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.

My companion

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.

Sandwiches at

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.

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