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INDIANAPOLIS, In. – It is fun to try new bars, restaurants, and Indy’s entertainment options. My usual dining companion and I keep a written list of places we’d like to visit. I visited Dec. 30 Louie’s Wine Dive on Mass Ave. and then joined my friend for dinner at Pioneer in Fountain Square. I’m happy to report both scored big!

LouiesPour

Louie’s Wine Dive, 345 Mass Ave.

This contemporary wine/dining spot is on the south end of Mass Ave and has only been open a few months. It certainly offers some of the best wine by the glass choices in Indy and what looked like promising food options.

By my count, the wine list had 40 wines by the glass and even more labels available by the bottle. The prices were pretty reasonable at $7-$17 a glass. The pour was generous at six ounces! Service was impressive when informed the one Pinot Noir I wanted was out of stock. It turns out the bar is about to make some changes in the by-the-glass lineup so the wonderful bartender offered up 4-5 new bottles. One of those was a Santa Barbara Byron Pinot – a great wine. I asked if there was any way to buy it by the glass and not the $59 bottle, and she said ‘sure, that’s our policy.”

The delightful young lady explained that a guarantee of buying two glasses at ¼ the full price and they’ll open anything on the wine list. And isn’t that the policy any wine bar should offer customers?

LouieCharcut

Great bread, cheese, sausage.

We shared a wonderful charcuterie plate and scanned the menu which had a limited but nice variety of options.

For anyone who enjoys wine, I can’t recommend this place enough. The wines run the range of varietals, style, countries, and price points. The most expensive bottle on the list is Joseph Phelps’ wonderful Insignia blend. The current 2012 release has an SRP of $240 so imagine my surprise Louie’s had it on their wine list for $275! That’s a lot of money for a bottle of wine for most people. But with Louie’s by-the-glass policy you could have a glass of great, great wine for $68.75.

Now while the Phelps’ example is a bit of an extreme, the chance to drink anything on the menu makes this a must-visit stop for wine lovers.

Pioneertartar

Pioneer’s ribeye tartar was beautifully seasoned and presented.

Pioneer, 1110 Shelby St.

If Louie’s was great, Pioneer was a few adjectives better than that.

Pioneer is, perhaps, one of the more unique restaurants in Indianapolis. In their own words: “features the food of northeastern Italy and its Alpine neighbors Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.”

Pioneersausage

One of Pioneer’s signature dishes – sausage

My dining friend and I dubbed it fine dining comfort food. There’s no other way to put it. The menu is made for sharing. There are currently 12 choices on the “plates” portion of the menu running $8-$15.

We enjoyed the steak tartar ($15) and the wonderful German potato pancakes ($8). The tartar was seasoned perfectly with shallots, radish, Dijon, croutons, fried capers, and chives. The heat was a bit much for me but the steak was wonderful.

The potato pancakes were crispy on the outside and wonderfully smooth with rich and buttery potato flavor inside. The garlic aioli rocked!

pioneerpasta

Delicious pasta with a little kick.

We order the Cavatelli pasta and the sausage plate for our entre. The Cavatelli ($13) with leeks, chili flakes, white wine, and butter sauce had wonderful flavor. I’m not of fan of heat with a white sauce pasta but the flavor was delicious. The only misstep of the night was the pasta arrived warm with a few bites cold. That was a big disappointment I shared privately with our wonderful waitress.

The sausage plate was killer if not a tad overpriced at $35. All sausages are made in house. Boudin Blanc (pork and chicken) and Bratwurst were serves as an ample protein entrée. Pureed potatoes, cabbage, beer-braised apples, and pork jus finished off the dish. The two sausages were a nice ying-yang for the main dish. The bratwurst was seasoned to a full flavored polka in your mouth. The Boudin Blanc was much softer in flavor but tasty.

We finished off with a good apple strudel ($9).

PioneerWineThe wine list is not extensive but features the expected Riesling and Gruner Veltliner. The surprise is the restaurant bar program seeks out small production wineries. I thought the Berger Gruner was an incredible value for $29. The wine has wonderful minerality with a light palate of citrus and stone fruit.

The restaurant is in the heart of Fountain Square occupying the old Deano’s Vino location. The ownership has essentially gutted the building exposing some great brick walls. They’ve made a significant investment to create an inviting dining space. A small stage welcomes weekend live music.

Pioneer is a must visit. It certainly is something a bit different. A night before New Year’s Eve the restaurant was very busy. Our waitress said it was actually fewer guests than the two previous nights.

Pioneer is a welcome addition to Indy’s dynamic dining scene.

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