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DINING: Libertine liberates diners from bar food norms

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Dining - A&E

It’s fitting that the last stop on our culinary tour of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail would be The Libertine, which offers an artistic array of upscale bar food to accompany its inventive cocktails.

(Neither “bar food” nor “cocktails” really does the self-styled liquor bar’s menu justice, but that’s the best I can come up with.)

ae-libertine05-15col.jpg Zucchini and Butternut Squash “Pasta” proves a Libertine menu highlight. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

The Libertine (38 E. Washington St., 631-3333) is Chef Neal Brown’s canvas, and every dish we tried on two separate visits was a masterpiece.

After a quick primer from our server-turned-docent, we started with the Trotter Cakes ($13), small patties of sorts that get their name—and flavor—from the main ingredient: braised pig feet, or trotters. Think crabcakes made with pork.

Those practically ran off our plate, so my friend and I also shared the Fried Mortadella sandwich ($11), essentially a high-cuisine version of fried bologna. We each took a slice of toasted brioche, split the generous pile of sliced sausage, and did our best to divide the fried egg and assorted garnishes, eating our half open-faced. It was worth the effort—and the mess.

We sat at the bar, giving in to the temptation of a locally brewed Pogue’s Run Porter ($6) and a bourbon-based concoction dubbed Odd Deuteronomy ($11), but stopped there so my friend could hop back on the trail for his bike ride home.

On my next visit with a different friend, we skipped the booze to save room for dessert. But not before we tried the Pork Belly Tacos ($10) and Zucchini and Butternut Squash “Pasta” ($13).

Topped with pickled sweet potato, salsa and a creamy cilantro sauce, the thick-cut, perfectly prepared pork came wrapped in small corn tortillas that had us both groaning with pleasure.

The colorful “pasta” (zucchini and squash cut long and thin to resemble spaghetti noodles) was even more successful—and visually stunning. Olive oil, parsley, garlic and pecorino cheese conspired to transform bland veggies into a taste sensation. We were too polite to fight over the last bite, but it was close.

Dessert was a seasonal special: Strawberry-Rhubarb Shortcake ($5), adorned with a delightfully minty whipped cream.

Our clean plates were a testament to The Libertine’s artistry. And thanks to its location, we could walk (or ride) off our indulgences.•

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