IF YOU BELONG to a certain generation of good-time Charlies in Indianapolis, the big brick corner-piece building just off Fountain Square’s main intersection might bring back wine-soaked memories from its past life as the cavernous, unfancy Deano’s Vino. Owner Dean Wilson’s $5 Wednesday-night wine tastings alone achieved legendary status in the aughts. But if you came of drinking age in a different decade, the same address might take you back to techno dance nights with featured DJs and live entertainment—the main draws of 1110 Shelby St.’s most recent occupant, Pioneer. A gourmet restaurant by day and music venue by night, it featured a stage as well as tables that scooted aside after dinner to make way for standing-room-only events.
Last October, a new venture, Wine Market & Table, moved into the spot that had sat unused for a year and a half. The concept, a quiet restaurant with a chef, a deep wine list, and a great location, comes off as a low-key mashup of its two predecessors, whether it means to or not. This spiffy reboot of the original Wine Market business model, which began a block north of here in 2017, makes great use of Pioneer’s extensive restoration. The grouty exposed brick provides the required neo-Brooklyn backdrop for chardonnay pouring and charcuterie nibbling, and large picture windows spanning the front of the building make for good people-watching. After dark, the glass streaks with the headlights and tail lights of retreating downtown traffic, a reminder that this handsome two-story structure (built in the early 1900s as a grocery store) sits at one of Indy’s liveliest crossroads.
When they relocated, Wine Market owners Kris Bowers and Zachary Davis needed only apply their oenophile branding to the side-by-side dining room and bar. “We took out the industrial vibe that Pioneer had and warmed it up a bit,” Bowers says. “We brought in new furniture to give it more of a comfortable, clubby feel.” They left Pioneer’s stage intact but added softer artwork and built a glassed-in wine cellar just inside the front door, a pretty annex where they can store their inventory and where customers can shop among the bottles.
In the bar area, the massive antique mirror still looms over the tables, another Pioneer relic that adds some gravitas to those skillfully assembled New York sours and rosemary gin fizzes. Only now, a scripty sign on the back wall asserts “but first mimosas,” a reference to Wine Market’s boozy brunch menu, offered each day that the restaurant is open—which is every day but Monday. “You don’t have to wait until the weekend to get your biscuits and gravy fix,” Bowers says. The same goes for the nduja-spiked egg skillet that comes with potatoes and tortillas, or the breakfast hash, or Wine Market’s series of brunch-staple ampersands: steak & eggs, shrimp & grits, and a chicken & waffle that gets extra points for using grassy-sweet pandan in the batter.
Maybe this new iteration—with its three flavors of canned Mom Water vodka cocktails (Karen, Linda, and Julie), and occasional Wine Bingo parties—isn’t as edgy as Deano’s blue-collar wine tastings or Pioneer’s dark-wave goth nights of yore. But Wine Market head chef Dan Nichols adds a few flashes of excitement to his quick but complex menu. His chicken tandoori, served smoky and on-the-bone with a nicely charred skin, sits atop red lentils and creamy, tangy labneh. The beef tenderloin is a supple hunk of red meat plated with fingerling potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Pork belly is sliced into planks and sizzled crisp on the outside to seal in the meat’s fatty, tender decadence. Though the dish gets a smear of cannellini bean puree and a sweet drizzle of cherry-apple barbecue sauce, the most important accompaniment is a fermented slaw of fennel, apple, and radish that adds an essential sour kick to all of those delicious heavy flavors. My server warned me that my kabocha squash gnocchi would pack a spicy punch, and boy did it. Those light and chewy nubbins of potato pasta swam in a rich brown butter sauce lit up with chipotle and then tamped down with maple. Little marbles of fresh mozzarella softened the intensity of a heat that was oddly sweet, creamy, and complex.
The beef tataki small plate is actually a small Bowl of shiny black river rocks brought out hot enough to sizzle bite-sized cuts of tenderloin dabbed with chimichurri-style steak sauce. Using the supplied chopsticks, you can flip and worry your steak bits until they reach your desired level of doneness before popping them right in your mouth. It’s a silly novelty, but a tasty one that would be a shame to skip. You can, however, forgo the too-tough pretzel focaccia appetizer paired with salty, melted pimento cheese, a one-two punch of disappointment for fans of both good focaccia and Carolina caviar.
Build-a-board charcuterie does not mess around with Pinteresting presentation or fancy garnishes. For $17, you can pick three meats or cheeses, with options ranging from duck prosciutto to Midnight Moon aged goat cheese, and then add on some honeycomb, mixed olives, or spiced nuts for an additional $3. “Our charcuterie game has always been strong,” Bowers says. It’s not the only game this Fountain Square veteran has mastered, though. As it settles into a bigger arena with an expanded menu and plenty of ambition, Wine Market & Table proves that it’s playing to win.