So the Libertine calls itself a “Liquor Bar.” And they have a lovely large bar all along one wall and specialize in the whole trendy old fashioned/classic cocktails from days gone by. Ok, so don’t be mad, but screw the cocktails. The food at this place is the reason for going. Everything I have been reading about this place is about how great the cocktails are or how cute the bartenders are (seriously? That’s what we’re talking about?) but I am here to tell you, the food is where it’s at (not to say either of the other statements are not true). I don’t know, maybe everyone gets too drunk to remember the food or something, but if that’s the case, you need to lay off the booze and focus people.
The interior is beautiful—modern and calm. While it is a bar, there is a certain grown up sensibility—not your typical loud raucous bar scene. Of course, it wasn’t full when we stopped in midweek, so I am sure it is noisier when you go on a Friday night. Ok, so I did have a cocktail (the screw & bolt, $11). I felt like it was sort of an obligation. It was fine—gin, grapefruit, violet, bitter orange and tonka bean (apparently a bean that is soaked in alcohol and used as an aroma enhancer). It was pretty, and very aromatic, but I was more than happy to move on to wine—and they have a great wine list (thanks to Lindy Brown).
Ok, enough about that, let’s talk about the food. This was one of the best meals I have had in Indy in awhile. We had a lot of different items and I am just going to talk about them in the order we ate them. The first thing we had was the roasted mushroom salad ($8). Hubby went nuts when he tasted this. THIS is what a roasted mushroom should taste like. They had a deep mushroom flavor, but the outsides of the mushrooms were slightly crisp from the heat and they were served with crispy little fried chickpeas which gave a true crunch to mix with the earthy, dark mushrooms. It was served over a brown butter cauliflower puree that was rich and buttery. What a great combination. There is no way we could not order this again.
The next two dishes we had came at the same time—the chicken liver pâté ($9) and the duck meatballs ($12). I love the play on chicken and waffles with the chicken liver pâté. There were two waffles topped with very generous slices of the pâté, and they sat on top of a hot pepper sauce. Bourbon maple syrup was brought out alongside. Our server poured some on top and left the bottle in case we wanted to add more (which I will have to say, we did—it was really delicious). I liked the blend of flavors between the hot pepper sauce underneath, the sweetness of the syrup (and slight sweetness of the waffles) and then the pure, smooth intense liver flavor. Really nice. As for the meatballs, well, as I told someone recently, I have never met a meatball that really stole my heart-- and these weren’t really an exception to the rule. I ordered them because I was intrigued by the crispy gnocchi underneath them and the egg yolk on top, but all in all, this was probably my least favorite thing I had all evening. But it wasn’t bad at all; it just didn’t blow me away like some of the other things.
At this point, we were torn about ordering more, but when I asked about the one-eyed jack ($8), I was sold. Wow. Wow. Wow. I loved this thing. It was basically a fancy egg in the hole, but it was so good. It was buttery garlicky airy bread that was cooked in fat (hmm, was it duck and pork fat? I can’t remember). Think of like the most amazing garlic bread you could ever have. And then cut a little hole in it and put an egg in there and cook it, but just enough that the yolk explodes when you cut into it. It was served with some soft roasted garlic alongside and a small dish of fig butter. The fig butter was good, but honestly, I didn’t even need to add it to make this dish spectacular.
Ok, now we were sort of on a food high and were really excited so we figured, let’s get one more thing. A dessert of sorts. I don’t think they have any actual dessert items (at least I didn’t hear of any) and since we often like cheese for dessert, we went with the Stilton cheesecake to finish ($9). Wow. Again. This was really unlike anything either of us had ever had. It was almost more the consistency of an exceptionally light quiche and then deeply flavored with the blue cheese. And alongside was the perfect accompaniment—and apple-thyme chutney with some crunchy pecan bits on top. There was also a fresh apple salad on top giving it just a bit of tartness. I love fruit and nuts with my blue cheese. And I loved that they got all the flavor profiles into this one dish. Again, not sure hubby would let me pass on this one if it is still on the menu when we go back. And not sure I’d want to.
Our service was exceptional, which is another thing I have heard mixed comments about from friends and readers. Not sure if it was just because they weren’t that busy or if maybe the other people I talked to went when it was more newly opened, or maybe we just got lucky, but we didn’t have any complaints along these lines. Our server was also exceptionally friendly and took the time to chat with us about the food and the business. He was down to earth and knowledgeable about the menu.
Here’s the thing. They are getting ready to change the format of the menu to more of a traditional dinner menu with salads, apps and entrées which I am sure will be just as good food-wise, but I have to admit, I was a little sad to hear it. I love eating in a small plates way, sharing lots of things. If you do too, I would get over there in the next two weeks. Although, from the way it was described, I think you will still be able to make a small plates dinner on the new menu if you are so inclined. All I know is next time, I want to take other people with us so we can try even more things. I really feel the need to try everything.
So, go, have a fancy cocktail and then start hitting the food. You won’t be disappointed. If you have been avoiding it because you think it’s “just a bar,” don’t (that’s what hubby’s problem was and now he has informed me I can get him back there anytime I want). And I am so excited to have another great (there ARE a few) restaurant (I am calling it that even if they don’t) in downtown Indy. Things are looking up.
38 East Washington Street
www.libertineindy.com (although nothing really on the website last time I looked)