Elevating Palates in Indianapolis

Article excerpt

WHEN Peter George decided to open an upscale restaurant in Indianapolis, people said he wouldn't last 90 days.

Upscale restaurant here? In Fountain Square? Across from the White Castle regional headquarters?

Six years later, Mr. George is smiling. "I always love a challenge," he said during an interview at his restaurant, called Peter's.

"This used to be Flo's Cardinal Tavern - it was one of the worst honky-tonk bars in the whole city and had been here for about 50 years," George explains. "I had people from the winos that used to come in here to carpenters to other restaurateurs who said I wouldn't last 90 days."

"But we're here to stay," says George, a snazzy dresser and jazzy talker who is out to "elevate the palates of Indianapolis."

Until recently, Peter's took a narrow approach in defining Midwest cuisine. That meant offering only Midwestern products such as fresh-water fish and locally grown produce. But George and his chefs found that purist attitude a bit too limiting.

Now, although still considered a pioneer of Midwest cuisine, Peter's offers a variety of what George calls American-Midwestern cuisine on the monthly menu. The head chef, David Foegley, "totally understands what my goals are with respect to food," says George.

A sampling of appetizers includes: Alaskan Salmon marinated and cured in Indiana maple syrup with house-made crackers, and Midwestern Caesar salad with romaine lettuce, Wisconsin Parmesan cheese, essence of Great Lakes herring, and a smoked garlic dressing.

For entrees: Duckling strudel with peaches, ancho chilies, julienne of vegetables, and a Damson plum sauce; stuffed and roasted farm-raised Brook Trout with pancetta, shallots, grain, fried potatoes, and a sage-chive butter sauce. Desserts: Chocolate Raspberry Fudge Cake, Ginger and Honey dew Sorbet.

The menu is designed as three courses. "We don't want people to be overwhelmed with our food," says George. Peter's is open Mondays through Saturdays for dinner only. Main entrees run about $18.

But as George knows well, the survival - and success - of a restaurant isn't in satiation, but in service. "Personal treatment is what more and more people are looking for. Sometimes service is more important than food. It grows more and more {day} by day."

As a restaurant owner, "you are truly worried about those things that separate you from other restaurants," says George, who says Peter's has triumphed in the midst of a mass exodus of restaurants in Indianapolis. "We've had the best year we've ever had," says George. "What we've done is really attached ourselves to our local solid customers." He has initiated such things as a dining club, offering house charge privileges, and has targeted customers through advertising. …