If you've lived in and eaten out in Indianapolis for more
than a few years, you maybe remember a time when we were actually glad when a
new franchise restaurant would decide to open here.
Indeed, you could make a case for thinking that our
recent renaissance in locally owned eating establishments was, in a way,
predicated by the arrival of such upscale chains as Palomino, P.F. Chang's and
Oceanaire. The success of these places prepared the market for a new breed of
I think there's some truth in this. But what this
version of history is liable to overlook are the hearty and enterprising souls
who helped define the local scene before local was cool. For staying power,
consistency and the overall pleasure of his company, I'd put Rick Rising-Moore
at the top of this veteran class.
Rising-Moore's McDuff Management group has been behind
a number of successful pub-style restaurants in Indy over the years –
Union Jack, Henry Grattan and the Elbow Room come to mind – but, for me,
one, in particular, really stands out: The Aristocrat (5212 N. College Ave.).
The Aristocrat calls itself a neighborhood pub, but
that neighborhood seems to encompass almost all of the city's north side. If
you hail from that part of town and walk in for lunch, dinner or a Sunday
brunch, there's a good chance you'll either see a familiar face or run into old
friends. On a recent Saturday night, that's what happened to us; no sooner had
we arrived than we found ourselves happily sharing a table with Marian
University English prof Diane Prenatt and poet Fran Quinn.
Since it was a lovely evening, we were situated at one
of the pub's outdoor tables, where the aroma of fresh basil was an added bonus.
Thanks to the efforts of longtime host and master gardener Dave Hagar, The
Aristocrat features a lush, streetside micro landscape with all manner of
flowering plants and herbs. On this particular night, Monarch butterflies were
in abundance. The Aristo's polished Anglophile interior is inviting year-round,
but Hagar's contribution makes it a truly memorable destination for al fresco
As for the food, The Aristocrat's menu has manifested
different degrees of ambition over the years, with varying degrees of success.
At the moment, the offerings show a sensible restraint, which plays to the
kitchen's traditional strengths. There are Brit staples like Bangers and Mash
($12.99) and Shepherd's Pie ($11.99), as well as a range of meal-sized salads.
Pasta dishes are also a house specialty, as are the steaks.
But, for us, the Aristocrat is a sandwich place. Diane
and Fran had already ordered Aristocrat Burgers ($7.99) when we arrived –
hand-patted half-pound burgers made from Angus beef and served on honey butter
rolls. These burgers, as always, were grilled to order, juicy and tender.
We split a Garden Salad ($3.99) with a nicely balanced
Parmesan peppercorn dressing and then tucked in to a Garden Burger ($7.99), a
vegetarian option made from brown rice, onion, mushrooms, oats and blended
cheeses. This burger variant wasn't dried out, as is often the case, and came
with a side of chipotle mayo, a spicy condiment that makes this a particularly
I ordered a Turkey Reuben ($8.49). Once called "the
Smokey Reubenson," this sandwich is served on toasted marble rye with Swiss
cheese and, instead of traditional sauerkraut, a tart, sweet slaw that plays
well with Dijon mustard. The turkey is smoked and thinly sliced. Add a bite of
kosher dill and you've got a hit that would make its one-time namesake coo.
As usual, the place was packed with couples, families,
friends and folks of all ages, enjoying the evening, the food and each other.
It was the city's north side on a Saturday night; and it was The Aristocrat,
doing what it's always done best.