My initial concerns about eating at The Indigo Duck in Franklin, IN were not eased when we arrived. There wasn’t a lot of parking, and some of it was blocked off as part of a construction project. There was a sign on the door that encouraged you to use a little more force than usual on the door because it would sometimes stick. And there was a completely unexpected and hard-to-see incline as you entered, causing both of us to nearly stub our toes.
We had studied the menu ahead of time, and a lot of things sounded good, but I had to admit that I was at least as skeptical as I was excited. I love the town of Franklin, but it’s not the sort of place where you expect to find “foodie” cuisine. I had some reservations that we were going to receive sort of “wannabe foodie” dishes.
Ann and I had pre-determined that we were going to order a bowl of soup (to split), a couple appetizers, and a few “small plates” instead of any main dishes. I’m pretty sure this threw off our waiter. My skepticism deepened slightly.
Ann ordered a red wine that turned out to be slightly jammy — almost like a port. I ordered a “Hoosier Manhattan” — BackBone Bourbon, Dolin Blanc Sweet Vermouth, and Angostura Bitters. It was tasty but potent, so I took my time on it while I enjoyed my glass of water.
After our complimentary bread (delicious and warm with whipped butter), we were given an unexpected and unordered treat. The chef was apparently trying something new, and patrons were receiving a very small bite of “eggplant caviar.” It had none of the bitterness that you can sometimes get in eggplant, and “caviar” just referred to the texture. It was garlicky and flavorful, served on a crostini. I could taste just a bit of jalapeno and I’m 99% sure there was sesame in there as well.
After that, we received our two appetizers: Sun King Battered Onion Rings and Salmon Pastrami Sliders. The onion rings themselves were perfectly done, but — and I say this without the intent to criticize — they were “just” onion rings. What made them worthy of being re-ordered time and time again were the two dipping sauces. The first was a cranberry honey mustard, and the second was a housemade thousand island sauce. The sliders were served on a thinly cut rye toast (that I think was barely toasted), with gravlax and a dill mustard crema. I have no complaints about the dish — it was done impeccably — but it was so good that I ended up having one tiny nitpick. It needed some splash of intensity. Ann and I agreed that a tiny bit of red onion would have pushed it to the next level. Still, I would gladly eat a platter full of those, even without that tweak.
Our appetizers were followed by their version of French onion soup — Roasted Oxtail and Onion Soup. It was phenomenal. There was a faint sweetness in the broth that I couldn’t quite place but I suspect was a red wine of some variety. The soup was thick and tasted strongly of beef despite having no obvious traces of oxtail still in it. The bread and cheese on top were melt-in-your-mouth smooth.
Finally, our small plates arrived; we had selected three of them. The Crispy Fried Oyster Tacos were excellent and still managed to be my least favorite of the three, and that’s strictly because I’ve never been a fan of soft corn tortillas. The oysters were incredibly creamy and reminded me — exactly — of a fried oyster po’boy I had on my only trip to New Orleans. The green tomato pico added a great crunch, and the honey jalapeno mayo that acted as a sour cream element was terrifically spicy without being overwhelming. The Fried Green Tomatoes came with several jumbo chili pickled shrimp and thick-cut bacon. There was also a tarragon caper aioli and a buttermilk herb dressing. Every single part of this dish was delicious. My only complaint — again nitpicking — is that the dish was difficult to eat together, and I ended up eating it as individual components.
The third dish we ordered was Jumbo Lump Crab & Avocado Pancakes (with a citrus butter sauce and a mango drizzle).
With every ounce of respect: you are not supposed to be able to get such high-quality seafood dishes in a landlocked state, let alone in Franklin, Indiana.
The crab was perfectly sized, perfectly cooked, perfectly tender, perfect, perfect, perfect. The avocado pancakes were small and thick, and their texture was both crispy and creamy. The sauces were impeccable. No one flavor became overwhelming.
I was so blown away by the quality and flavor of this dish, I actually became the sort of obnoxious foodie jerk who uses the word “transcendent.”
It is — hands down — the best dish I have ever had in any restaurant, anywhere, ever.
If you have not been to The Indigo Duck, and if you are not intimidated by their menu, you owe it to yourself to try it out. (If you’re opposed to “frou-frou” food, like many Indiana men, stay away. But if that’s the case, what are you doing reading this blog?)
I guarantee that I will be back there whenever possible. I want to try everything on the menu… although I suspect I might just order three plates’ worth of the Jumbo Lump Crab & Avocado Pancakes.