Help from Hollywood: 'ER' actor helping Broad Ripple buddies launch gastropub

March 21, 2005

Brugge Brasserie has the stuff glossy tabloid photos are made of-a hot new restaurant concept, a Hollywood actor-cum-restaurateur and a trendy locale.

Brugge isn't in Los Angeles, New York or London, however. It's in Broad Ripple. The celebrity owner is Indianapolis' own Abraham Benrubi, one of a group of childhood friends who are bringing what is possibly the Midwest's first gastropub to the junction of Westfield Boulevard and the Monon Trail.

Benrubi and Broad Ripple High School classmates Ted and Shannon Miller, Charlie Midgley, Eli Schloss and Rene Stoltz plan to open Brugge at the end of April in a 2,700-square-foot space on the first floor of a building also occupied by Net Heads Internet Café.

The 54-seat restaurant will be a Belgianthemed eatery, with Ted Miller brewing up Belgian beers on-site and chef Neil Brown offering a menu with savory crepes, pommes frites (the Frenchman's French fries) and daily specials.

Brown's presence is what elevates Brugge from a neighborhood pub to a gastropub, Miller contends. The handcrafted Belgian beers are "just frills," he said. The main attraction will be Brugge's food, featuring homemade stocks and sauces and creative specials.

The classically trained chef formerly worked at H2O Sushi in Broad Ripple and brings more to the table than chefs at the typical neighborhood pub, Miller said. Most menu items will sell for $9 to $20, but Brown's specials, which might include something like rabbit with a beer-based glaze, will reach $25.

"There's good pub food, and there's haute cuisine," Miller said. "A gastropub falls right in the middle."

Brugge (pronounced like "rouge") is a city in northwestern Belgium and is known in English as Bruges. Brasserie is a French word that literally means "brewery," but it's more often used to describe a casual French restaurant serving simple, but hearty, food-the French version of a pub.

The gastropub concept was born in Great Britain more than a decade ago and has taken off in that country, with restaurant chains buying up some of the originals and opening new outlets. Traditionally, food has been an afterthought at British pubs, but in the early 1990s wellknown chefs began converting drinking pubs in cities and towns to drinking-anddining establishments that offered highquality, but still inexpensive, lunch and dinner options.

In Great Britain, eating out has become more common as more moderately priced restaurants have opened in the last decade or so, said Stuart Robertson, co-owner of downtown's MacNiven's pub. Robertson, who moved to the United States from Scotland more than 20 years ago, said he's not familiar with the gastropub concept, but predicted the concept of quality food in a pub atmosphere would go over well.

The gastropub concept only recently crossed the Atlantic. The country's bestknown gastropub, the Spotted Pig, opened in New York's Greenwich Village in early 2004. Miller said he expects the gastropub's hallmarks of a casual atmosphere and inventive food at reasonable prices will spread nationwide.

"I think-I hope-our timing is right," Miller said. Eventually, Miller and his partners have dreams of building a Brugge Brasserie empire, with sauces on grocery shelves, beer on liquor shelves, and Petites Frites-smaller versions of the original restaurants-as satellite locations.

Before that can happen, Miller and his partners are concentrating on opening the Broad Ripple restaurant, which has become a sort of gathering place for a crew of friends that have remained close since their high-school days at Broad Ripple. They've talked for more than a decade about opening their own eatery ("The first idea was a crab shack in St. Martin," Miller said), but when Miller and his wife decided to move back to Indianapolis to raise their three children, plans began to gel.

They looked at various spots around the city, including downtown and the north side, but Miller's heart eventually led him back to Broad Ripple.

There they found space on the first floor of a building owned by Net Heads owner Bill Noel, who consolidated the internet café's operations to the second floor.

Since fall, Miller and friends have been working on the restaurant, doing much of the construction work themselves. Now just weeks away from opening, the restaurant is crowded with brewing tanks, kitchen equipment, china bearing the Brugge logo, bar chairs and a mammoth round copper-topped table.

Old friend Benrubi, who lives in Los Angeles, has escaped helping with the construction work, but said he will likely be found "sitting at the bar" opening week. The character actor is perhaps best known for steady TV roles as Jerry the clerk on "ER" and as Kubiak on "Parker Lewis Can't Lose." His latest film, "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous," will open March 24.

To date, Benrubi's role at the restaurant has mostly been investor and sounding board for Miller's ideas about what to serve, he said.

"It's really Ted and Shannon's restaurant," Benrubi said. "I'm just happy to have my finger in a little piece of the pie."

For Ted Miller, Brugge is the latest step in a career that started at Broad Ripple Brew Pub in the early 1990s. Miller was the head brewer there before embarking on a career that took him around the world, opening microbreweries and training staff for an equipment manufacturer. He and his wife, whom he's known since seventh grade, lived several years in Asia before deciding to move back to Indiana when their eldest child reached school age.

Opening a restaurant mere blocks from Broad Ripple Brew Pub caused some angst for Miller, who remains friends with Brew Pub owners John and Nancy Hill. Although Brugge will brew its own beer and will price it similarly to the Brew Pub's, Miller said he doesn't expect his restaurant will draw many customers from his old workplace.

Kurt Danenman, the Brew Pub's kitchen manager, agreed. His restaurant is an English-style pub, with mostly British standard pub fare on the menu and English-style beers on tap.

"I'd rather see Ted move in here than one of the chain guys," he said.
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