How Tavern on South (423 W. South St., 602-3115)—the new eatery in the shadow of Lucas Oil Stadium—deals with the pre- and post-game masses remains to be seen since it opened at the end of the Indianapolis Colts’ season. But it passed a recent weekday lunch test with good grades and just a couple of opportunities to improve.
Despite its obvious appeal to fans of the three pro teams that suit up within spittin’ distance, the eatery avoids the raucous sports-bar atmosphere. The renovated 1910 two-story building is decked out with warm browns and oranges instead of the more-obvious Colts blue and Pacers gold.
The upstairs balcony overlooking downtown is sure to appeal when the weather breaks, and the main-floor dining room is gloriously smoke-free—as fitting for a working lunch as an after-hours cocktail. The flat-screen TVs are in evidence, but not in your face. The service is solicitous, the menu ambitious without being obnoxious.
We started with Deconstructed Filet Sliders ($11), which we knew from “Top Chef” meant some assembly would be required. Indeed, the appetizer featured tender, tasty slices of beef on grilled Ciabatta bread, with horseradish mousse and a tomato-mushroom ragout sauce on the side. The first bite was disappointing—the dense bread overwhelmed rather than enhanced. But when we experimented with more deconstruction, eating the sliders open-faced and topping the leftover piece of bread with the thick ragout, our meal was back on track.
My companion had the same issues with his Open-Faced Sea Bass sandwich ($10), one of the dishes our server recommended. Even the single piece of Ciabatta was too much, so he took his fork to the broiled fish
and accompanying sweet corn remoulade. The side of perfectly cooked, thick-sliced French fries was a plus, however, as was the small Tavern Salad ($6), which featured candied asparagus, sweet and spicy walnuts, dried cherries, Indiana goat cheese and other ingredients you are unlikely to find within stadium walls. Combined, with the Granny Smith apple vinaigrette, it would easily work as a satisfying entree.
I was thankful my Guiltless Chicken Wrap ($8.50) was bread-free. Instead of the standard tortilla, the chunks of grilled chicken and sun-dried tomatoes are wrapped in a Napa cabbage leaf, giving it some crunch along with something to hold onto. I’m not sure how guilt-free the herb aioli drizzled in and over the dish was—think fancy, housemade mayonnaise—but it sure was delicious. And I mentioned the cabbage, right?
Lest our meal be too healthful, we ordered dessert: a cake-and-ice-cream concoction called Black & Tan. And, no, it didn’t involve Guinness or Bass beer. The black was a reference to the miniature chocolate cake (although it actually was a much lighter color), the tan a nod to its peanut butter filling—and possibly the cinnamon ice cream that came on top. The cake was moist, the peanut butter creamy, the ice cream tasty. But only when we got all three in a single bite did it wow our taste buds the way a good dessert should.
The next time we find ourselves with Colts tickets, we’ll cut back on the dogs and beer to save room for post-game dining.•
First in our month-long series of reviews of new restaurants downtown.