Bluebeard in Indianapolis, Ind.

Salvaged goods give stylish ambience to Bluebeard, Indianapolis' new James Beard nominee.

Tucked away on a block that’s transforming the Holy Rosary-Danish Church Historic District on the south side of downtown Indianapolis into an upscale neighborhood, Bluebeard is a place that makes you gawk as you pass through its doors.

Partial owner and Indiana native Tom Battista greeted my husband and me one warm, misty evening, and told us how he transformed a 1924 warehouse originally built for a printing company into a neighborhood restaurant and bar serving contemporary Italian-inspired cuisine. But  when he purchased the building and its two neighbors in 2011, he had a different vision. “I love good bread and couldn’t find it here in Indianapolis,” he says. So he established Amelia’s, a wholesale bakery offering fresh artisan bread. Bluebeard grew out of that idea, and both operations opened last year.

Exposed brick walls, wood floors and moldings, and uncovered steel beams give Bluebeard’s decor an industrial feel. Battista is most proud of the casement windows, which are original to the building. They were boarded up when he bought the property, but he and his son Ed refurbished each one, replacing 120 broken panes with clear and colored wire glass.

Always a recycler and salvager who’s had barns, shops, and garages full of “stuff ” in southern Indiana since the 1970s, Battista has turned that stuff into works of art. Everything is repurposed: The bar top is an old bowling lane, tables were made from a friend’s old walnut tree, and bar patrons sit on old factory stools. (No two are alike.) I couldn’t keep my eyes off the twenty-plus vintage typewriters gracing the shelves—homage to another native son, writer Kurt Vonnegut, whose novel Bluebeard inspired the establishment’s name.

Dinner was an assortment of shared plates, and we started with Amelia’s grilled bread, a mixed greens salad, and roasted snap peas in a horseradish crème fraîche. Entrees were grilled octopus, softshell crab, scallops, and fideo—a dish of mussels, shrimp, and vermicelli.

We knew after our first bite why Bluebeard, with chefs and partners John and Abbi Adams, was named a 2013 James Beard Foundation semifinalist for Best New Restaurant. For a man who only wanted to sell good bread, Battista has created a dining experience that doesn’t come along often.

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