Baseball’s postseason is underway, once again giving the sport’s detractors and passionate fans a chance to marvel at the cavernous coliseums that taxpayers have built so a few dozen men can play a children’s game. It’s a baseball cliche to compare stadiums to European cathedrals, but the simile persists, because even fun-loving Americans sometimes struggle to reconcile that much majesty and grandeur with the simplest of pleasures.
Cuisine: Rustic Italian, emphasizing vegetables and what can be done with dough
representative dish: Pizza with roasted Brussel sprouts, fontina, honeycrisp apples, pepperincino and pecorino.
Address: 526 King St.
Bar: Full service
Hours: 5-10 p.m., daily, The bar stays open later on Friday and Saturday.
Service: 3 1/2
Costs: Salads, $10-$13; pastas, $14-$24; pizzas, $14-$17; entrees, $23-$27
Vegetarian Options: Yes
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes
Other: A four-course chef’s choice dinner costs $45.
What our stars mean
5 stars: Exceptional; sets a standard for dining excellence.
4 stars: Superior; worth a trip beyond your neighborhood or culinary comfort zone.
3 stars: Solid example of this type of dining.
2 stars: Adequate if you’re in the neighborhood or seeking this type of dining.
1 star: Generally disappointing dining experience.
What our $ signs mean
One $: $5 to $15
Two $$: $15-$25
Three $$$: $25-$50
Four $$$$: $50 +
Yet what’s more deserving of the temple treatment than a concept everyone can understand? Surely the U.S. landscape should be cluttered with awesome monuments to snow days and afternoon naps and pizza.
Luckily for Charleston, it already has a blueprint for the last of those much-needed landmarks in Indaco, the Indigo Road Restaurant Group’s rustic Italian cooking clearinghouse, which two months ago opened on upper King Street.
The folks charged with promoting Indaco will protest that the restaurant’s no mere pizzeria. And they’re absolutely right: The lofty menu presents a full complement of salads, pastas and meats, most of which are well worth ordering. But the wood-fired pies, now offered until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, are exceptional, and taste all the more so for being served in a highly polished room that thrums with sophisticated energy.
Indaco smartly recognizes that diners who are fond of quality bread and cheese shouldn’t be sentenced to fluorescent-lit pizza parlors with cheap furniture; the restaurant is a proper cathedral to our quintessential favorite food.
If by “rustic,” executive chef Robert Berry means unrefined, there’s plenty of evidence of his veracity in the squid salad, a sprawling tumble of oiled arugula and radicchio leaves, smoked squid loops, tender chickpeas, split cerignola olives and crisped potato wedges, with a pool of sassy aioli alongside. It’s nearly impossible to predict what a fork plunged into the vegetal wildness will skewer, but every shaggy bite works. On a menu that has lost and gained items multiple times since opening day (come back soon, sformato!) the squid salad looks fated to go the distance.
Beyond the plate, though, nothing at Indaco could accurately be described as primitive or untamed. The dining room is reminiscent of an Italian vacation with a Type A personality in tow.
All of the details associated with farmhouse architecture are on display, but in spectacularly ordered fashion: A pair of elevated butcher block tables runs through the center of the white-bricked room, leading back to a partially open kitchen and its wood-burning oven, magnetic as a campfire.
Once the restaurant opens its adjoining patio, which may act as a valve for guests’ gleeful indoor chatter and knock Indaco a few needed notches down the decibel scale, there will be 100 seats.
That figure includes the stylish wooden stools at the bar, which offers an array of craft cocktails, disappointingly few of which speak the same language as the food. The 15th State is a terrifically balanced take on rye and ginger, but many of the other recipes seem cribbed from another restaurant.
Where there should be gin, Campari and Aperol, there’s tequila and cucumbers. It felt revealing of Indaco’s beverage mindset that when I asked for an off-menu Americano, a low-alcohol cousin to the Negroni, our server misheard and brought me a margarita.
There are batched Negroni on tap, but the sticky cocktail’s no match for the wine list, which is thoroughly Italian. Most of the bottles are reasonably priced, and there are enough by-the-glass options that I didn’t blame my server for not being familiar with a negroamaro from a Puglian winemaker. Impressively, he offered me a taste rather than pretending to know anything about the varietal.
Service at Indaco is solicitous (although if you want bread, you’ll have to ask for it) and personable. All of my servers spoke about various dishes with an enthusiasm eaters usually reserve for their relatives’ cooking.
Whether it has anything to do with national feelings about pizza, Indaco makes people inordinately happy. On one visit, I was seated next to an Atlanta couple celebrating their first anniversary. I’m not sure the husband was sold on the scheme, but the wife repeatedly declared her intention to celebrate every future anniversary at the restaurant.
Indaco starts wowing from the get-go, with a six-buck serving of Aleppo-peppered chickpeas, fried with shallots until they shed their skins. The crunchy end product is something like a Corn Nut with a graduate degree.
Less shareable starters include a graceful chilled cauliflower soup, its earthy flavors lifted by spritzes of agrumato, a mingled press of lemon and olive oils, and sweetened by bobbing curlicues of red onion and golden raisins.
The bitter greens salad, really a rebellious Caesar with brasher flavors and a less-kempt look, is a heroic combination of dark leaves, anchovy paste and a jiggly egg.
Like so many of the dishes at Indaco, the salad suffers only from a gratuitous carpet-bombing of finely grated cheese. Parmesan and pecorino are delicious, but it’s hard to taste past their distinctive nuttiness when a single dish is burdened with enough cheese to fill a snow globe.
Fried polenta sticks that accompanied oily slices of a lackluster flatiron steak were buried beneath mounds of parmesan, and nearly every pasta dish was similarly suffocated.
Still, Indaco nails the hard stuff with its excellent housemade pastas, most of which are available in two sizes. No matter how shaped (the current menu includes bucatini; tortellini and fettuccine tossed with wine-braised rabbit), the correctly cooked noodles have a muscular flavor never found in chain restaurants where parmesan’s grated to order.
To be fair, some of the pizzas also are strewn with too much cheese, although I was initially too busy rudely ogling the underside of my dining companion’s slice to notice.
The crust, supporting such brilliantly engineered toppings as roasted Brussels sprouts and apple slices or peppery pork sausage and mustard greens, is beautifully freckled. Crackly and cushy in all the right places, the smoke-scented crust is a wonderfully complex canvas for the sweet, bitter and briny ingredients splayed across it.
For dessert, there’s an almond budino, which played some part in persuading the young anniversary celebrant to swear her Indaco allegiance, and an affogato with Fernet ice cream. The blend of espresso and amaro signals the evening’s end as eloquently as Taps, a suitable finish at a restaurant that rightly surrounds its elegant pizzas with glory.
Reach Hanna Raskin at 937-5560.