Hits and misses at Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant

By STEVE PAUL
The Kansas City Star

Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant gets some serious kudos for its makeover of the Plaza space that formerly housed the 810 Zone.

With glass accents, trimmed limestone columns, woodlike veneers and wine barrels, the place has a kind of sleek corporate sheen, befitting a small and expanding chain, born eight years ago outside Chicago and built around the concept of an upscale Napa Valley wine purveyor.

You might feel a little sense of dislocation when you walk in.

There’s a retail store with fancy cork pullers, decanters and wine-culture odds and ends for sale. (“It reminds me of Cracker Barrel,” one of my young, wisecracking friends said on her first visit.) There’s a stand-up bar for wine tastings.

Farther in is a good-looking full-service bar with a dining area of high and low tables. Then up the open staircase (or an elevator) is a multilevel warren of dining rooms, each scaled nicely to give the overall sprawling space a sense of intimacy at your table.

Then comes the spiel.

At the outset, your eager server will explain everything to you in a fast fountain of words: how Cooper’s Hawk makes its own wines, how chefs and winemakers teamed up to create dishes with a specific wine in mind (look for the bin numbers to find the one that goes with your food), yada yada. You might feel exhausted by the time you start looking over the menu, which in itself is an eye-glazing romp of all-over-the-place American-fusion tastes.

The Cooper’s Hawk strategy — judging by its food and its wines — seems to be “something for everyone.” The menu is peppered with a wide variety of Asian-influenced dishes as well as Mexican, Italian and American Midwestern tastes. And the wine ranges from the most cloying of sweet reds and fruit wines to some elegant and sophisticated pours.

On my first visit, with my regular dining companion, She Who Is Not Easily Pleased, we spent some wait time on a Saturday night sipping the monthly selection of wines at the tasting kiosk ($7 a person). I felt kind of trapped and not just because Cooper’s Hawk products are the only wines served.

For a while we were surrounded by a proselytizing member of the restaurant’s wine club and a wobbly, drunk college student. But I dutifully made my way through a half dozen small samples, a couple of which I’d probably try again. I had no interest in the almond-flavored bubbly at the end, but luckily, sort of, by the time we got to that one our table was ready.

We came from that dinner with emphatically mixed feelings, especially after an encounter with a hardly edible dish of canneloni — it was way too salty, and the pasta was way underdone. When we mentioned it to the manager, he said he understood our displeasure. Just the day before, he’d complained to the kitchen that there wasn’t enough salt in a vat of stock. Maybe they’d overcompensated. In any case, he took the dish off the bill.

We had been pleasantly surprised by an appetizer of Asian BBQ pork belly nachos, a lively mix of textures (crispy tortillas, tender braised pork belly) and distinct flavors (tangy radish, chili sauce). But I had an issue with my bowl of short rib risotto: the meat was not quite tender enough inside and had a crust that was too chewy by half, suggesting that the short rib had either been undercooked or had sat too long in a post-prep state before being reheated to serve.

I gave the place some shakeout time before going back.

Then, for lunch one day I downed a Zin burger — a half-pound patty of ground Angus topped by zinfandel-braised onions and a slice of Gruyere. I lost track of how many times the chatty server mentioned how fantastic that one was, but it was just OK. And I was not too impressed with the funky Asian slaw on the side — I’m not sure if it was the julienned cabbage and bell peppers or the soy ginger sauce they were tossed in, but I left most of it on the plate; I could’ve had fries, but no, I was trying to be good.

So I had a sense of dread recently going back for dinner.

Pleasant surprise: Despite a few issues, things turned out much better than expected.

Some mild alarms went off round my table of five serious eaters when a couple of our appetizers came to the table somewhat short of hot. Yet the Mexican drunken shrimp had its attractive qualities — fresh avocado and a spiky tequila-lime butter sauce — although with a mere sliver of bacon on each tender shrimp, all of us experienced a momentary longing for crispy bacon-wrapped Paco shrimp, a standard-setting version that was a bar staple at the late great JJ’s.

A platter of chicken-stuffed mushrooms also came out a bit tepid, and, despite one of the longest ingredient lists I’ve ever seen, more than one of my table mates judged the dish to be disappointingly bland. The ground chicken filling hardly showed off the promised seasonings and accents. (For the record: “Slow-Roasted Chicken Rubbed with Traditional Mexican Spices and Savory Chiles, Chicken Chorizo, Pepperjack Cheese, and Cilantro. Stuffed in Jumbo White Mushrooms. Served with a Chipotle Tomato Sauce, Crispy Tortilla Strips, and Sour Cream.”)

We were very much impressed by that night’s special: a Parmesan-crusted grilled flounder. Fresh fish arrives daily, we were told, and the flaky fillet was allowed to speak for itself beneath a very light coat of cheese. The achievement here bodes well for the pistachio-crusted grouper on the main menu, which I have not yet sampled.

Jambalaya, with chicken, shrimp and spicy cubes of andouille sausage, was rich, filling and vibrant. We shared a plate of gnocchi pomodoro as a communal side dish and liked the house-made, ricotta-light dumpling and its velvety coating of tomato sauce.

Other dishes met mostly medium expectations, though each fell short of perfection: Scallops were slightly undercooked and lacked a crispy cap, but that didn’t detract much from the savory package, including asparagus spears and tarragon wine butter sauce. Flatiron steak frites had a lot going for it, including crispy, seasoned fries, though the meat came out much closer to rare than medium rare as ordered. The red wine mustard short ribs were a cut above my early experience with short rib risotto, and the mustard beurre blanc gave a sassy edge to the bed of roasted vegetables and potatoes, along with the fried onion strings on top.

We never got around to checking bin numbers and trying to pair suggested wines with each dish. We tended to order what we thought we liked, sampled a range of tastes at various price points, and, lo and behold, the better glasses went quite well with whatever we found on our plates. As it should ever be. The point being, you don’t need to feel like you’re on a forced march through a Cooper’s Hawk wine experience.

As it turned out, our fivesome had quite a good time around the table for three hours or more, and, it seemed, we closed the joint down without even realizing it.

Star ratings

Food: * *  A solid variety of new American fusion tastes comes out of an industrial-oriented kitchen not always hitting on all cylinders.

Service: * * 1/2 Friendly, eager, fairly well trained and sometimes overly enthusiastic.

Atmosphere: * * *  A good looking place with surprising opportunities for intimate dining.

Star code: * Fair, * * Good, * * * Excellent, * * * * Extraordinary

Restaurant hours: 11:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11:30: a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.

Entree average (including nightly specials): $$

Vegetarian options: Lots of salad options, portobello sandwich, caprese panini, roasted eggplant ravioli, plus “life balance” and gluten-free menus.

Handicapped accessible: A ramp on the hillside Broadway entrance; elevator access to upper floors.

Parking: Street or nearby Plaza garages.

Kids: A kids menu includes some typical offerings such as hot dogs, a burger and mac and cheese ($5.99 each), plus a junior filet for $13.99.

Noise level: There’s a general buzz befitting a large place, but good table spacing gives you some privacy.

Reservations: Recommended on weekends; by phone.

Price code: $ Average entree under $10; $$ under $20; $$$ under $30; $$$$ over $30.

Code of ethics: Starred reviews are written after a minimum of two visits to a restaurant. When required, reservations are made in a name other than the reviewer’s. The Star pays for review meals.

Recommended

Ahi tuna tacos: $11.99

Asian BBQ pork belly nachos: $8.99

Gnocchi pomodoro: $14.99

Jambalaya: $17.99

Sea scallops: $25.99

Key lime pie: $6.99

What to drink

A full bar and a craft cocktail list are available, as well as a short list of draft and bottled beers, including an ale made by Cooper’s Hawk. When it comes to wine, though, snobs (OK, that’s kind of me, too) must get over the fact that their only options are wines made and labeled by Cooper’s Hawk. But the menu lists 45 varieties, available by the glass or bottle (mostly under $30), plus a lineup of various sangrias and a bellini.

Among the best I tasted were Lux Chardonnay, a serious glass of seasoned-fruit flavors ($9.50 a glass, $37.99 a bottle), a pretty solid Barbera ($8.50, $29.99), and the Winemaker’s Barrel Reserve, a Bordeaux-style blend available only by the glass and straight from an on-site barrel ($8.75). Unlike a lot of people, I happen to like well-made dessert wines, so I tried Cooper’s Hawk Ice Wine, and though it lacked the kind of viscosity you find in major-league versions, it gave a pleasant punctuation on a big meal.

Cooper’s Hawk Soars High Amid Indy’s Restaurant Scene

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating
By , About.com Guide
About a month ago, I was driving across 96th street and noticed Cooper’s Hawk for the first time. I don’t know how I’d missed it before, but I was instantly curious about it. I hadn’t even heard anyone talking about it. I later discovered that Cooper’s Hawk has been at that location for several years! When my department announced it was holding our holiday party there, I was excited to give it a try. I headed to Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant eagerly.

The Experience

Located at 3815 E. 96th Street on the northside of Indianapolis, Cooper’s Hawk is both a winery and a restaurant. The entrance opens into the tasting room, which includes a small gift shop. The store is filled with wine accessories and gifts and you can of course, purchase bottles there. You may also sample wines from the latest selection in the tasting room. A tasting includes eight wines and no reservations are required. Freshly-made dessserts are also available from the bakery case.

Inside, Cooper’s Hawk has both a classy and comfortable feel. Wine barrels add to the decor and warm woods contribute to its classic feel. Because Cooper’s Hawk is a winery, much of its decor reflects that.

The Service

When our group arrived, the private room that was reserved for us was not quite ready. It was a weeknight, but the waiting area in the tasting room gets crowded because of the gift shop. After cruising the tasting room for a few minutes, we were seated in a nice, private room. The private party room had three small tables that seat about six and a wine serving table. The room is lined with old wooden wine barrels,creating a warm, intimate feel.

As we were seated, we were kindly greeted by our personal server for the evening. For our company party, both red and white wines were available on the table. In addition, the server promptly took our drink orders as our party trickled in. Once we had all settled into our seats, our order was taken and appetizers arrived shortly.

Throughout the meal, we received impeccable service. We were never without drinks and the server was observant and took care of our needs without hovering. He provided us with menu suggestions, offered his personal favorites and politely answered our questions. Cooper’s Hawk strives to be what they call a “modern casual” restaurant and that was reflected in their service style. While the service was the quality of a five star restaurant, it was personable. I once ate at a local restaurant where a nervous man flew to our table and scraped the crumbs between each course. It felt stuffy and cold and frankly, made me uncomfortable. There is none of that at Cooper’s Hawk, which added to the pleasant experience.

The Food

Cooper’s Hawk offers a varied menu – everything from sandwiches and burgers to Italian dishes and flavorful steaks. Guests on nearly every diet should be able to find something to fit their needs. The restaurant offers a special gluten free menu and what they call a Life Balance menu, which features dishes under 600 calories and smaller portions. Calorie counts are listed beside each menu item and extra care is taken in measuring portion sizes to ensure accuracy. As someone who is currently mindful of every calorie, this would be so helpful. However, on this night, I most certainly was not counting calories.

The wine aspect of Cooper’s Hawk is ever-present. Each menu items includes a bin number beside it with its perfect wine pairing. The dishes are made with their signature wines in mind. These wines will compliment the dishes and take the meal to another level of flavor. However, you can certainly dine at Cooper’s Hawk without ever sipping wine.

There are several signature dishes on their menu that have become diner favorites. One of these is the Trio of Medallions. The entree features broiled USDA Angus horseradish, bleu cheese, and parmesan-crusted filet medallions. The medallions are served with Mary’s potatoes (whipped with butter and cream) and asparagus. Sandwich specialties include the Asian BBQ Pork Tenderloin Sandwich. The sandwich is made with sliced BBQ pork tenderloin, prosciutto, pineapple, swiss cheese, ginger scallion mayo, and crunchy Asian slaw on sweet onion pocket bread.

Cooper’s Hawk also offers a special brunch menu on Sundays from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. The brunch includes a complimentary Mimosa, Bellini or glass of sparkling wine. I would love to go back and try their Naple-Style Brunch which for $14.99, includes baked fresh toast with apples and dried cherries, scrambled eggs, country potatoes, fresh fruit and a choice of Nueske’s appledwood smoked bacon or Vermon maple sausage links. For the little ones in your party, regular and brunch kid’s menus are available.

The Review

I started my meal off at Cooper’s Hawk with a Raspberry Spritzer. I enjoy sweet, white wines but did not care for their Moscato, which is generally my favorite. Their version is made from melons and having never been a fan, that faint taste was enough to set me off it. I did sample a few white wines but in the end, decided I would enjoy something sweeter. I was very happy with the spritzer. It was refreshing and sweet and large enough that I could drink it throughout the meal.

We began our meal with the Cooper’s Hawk Sampler which includes Over the Border Egg Rolls, Tenderloin Sliders, Chicken Potstickers, and Mini Crab Cakes. I was able to sample both the chicken potstickers and a mini crab cake. Both were delicious. The Caprese Flatbread was also part of our appetizer order. It is made with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, red onion, Julienne basil, pesto, and a balsamic reduction. I enjoyed the crisp, fresh flavor of the flatbread’s ingredients.

I was in the mood for a good steak, so when I spied the Cowboy Ribeye, I knew it was my choice. The 20 oz USDA Angus bone-in ribeye is cut with flavorful marbling and topped with butter and crispy onion strings. It is served with broccoli and a choice of side. I chose the baked potato. I knew the Cowboy was going to be huge but I really wanted a flavorful cut and I knew with the marbling, the ribeye was going to suit me. The Cowboy did not disappoint. It was full of great flavor and the onion strings on top, combined with the broccoli, complimented the steak. While I have often been disappointed with expensive steaks ($35), I thought this steak lived up. I did, however, have to save over half of it for the following day!

Several of my co-workers ordered the Medallion Trio and said it was delicious – a great blend of flavors. They were pleased with the portion size and the presentation. Those that ordered the Medallions were able to finish it at the restaurant.

For dessert, I opted for the Cooper’s Hawk Chocolate Cake ($6.99). This chocolately confection is layers of chocolate cake, chocolate moose and rich chocolate ganache, served with vanilla bean ice cream. With it, I had a cup of coffee. The chocolate cake was moist, rich and huge! Half of that also went home. With coffee to cut some of the sweetness, it was a perfect dessert. Several at the table got the Creme Brulee and while they said it was okay, it was too sweet for them and the concensus was they’d had better at other restaurants. Cooper Hawk’s specialty dessert, the Banoffee Pie received rave reviews. It is fresh bananas in a toffee filling in a graham cracker crust, with fresh whipped cream.

As you can see, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant. I was delighted with my choices and everything from the drinks to the dessert was good. I enjoyed their “modern casual” environment and appreciated their vast menu with unique flavor combinations. While I was not footing the bill for this meal, I do appreciate that there are menu choices for every price range. You can enjoy a quick dinner on a Tuesday night or a special anniversary dinner in the same restaurant. It’s casual enough for jeans, but nice enough that you won’t feel out of place in dress clothes. For a fun and tasty evening out, I highly recommend Cooper’s Hawk.

Recommendations

  • Chicken Potstickers
  • Cowboy Ribeye
  • Trio of Medallions

Pros

  • Quality Food
  • Nice Atmosphere
  • Friendly and Knowledgeable Staff

Cons

  • Crowded Tasting Room/Wait Area

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Cooper’s Hawk: Sufficiently intriguing

by , Nuvo- Indy’s Alternative Voice

Asian BBQ Pork Belly Nachos. Photo by Mark Lee

With its generous expanses of exposed limestone and natural-hued wood, Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant, on the inside at least, resembles a sort-of fantasy incarnation of the idyllic wine country restaurant.  Bordeaux barrels adorn the walls and the ambience is light and spacious. If it weren’t for the view of H.H. Gregg next door, you could almost be in Napa.

Entering the front door, you find yourself not in a traditional restaurant lobby, but in a tasting room-gift shop full of the latest essential wine-related accoutrements, chocolates and, of course, wine for sale and for tasting. For Cooper’s Hawk not only serves wine, it makes it too, at the restaurant’s headquarters in Illinois, from grapes sourced from notable growing regions around the country. At first glance, the gift shop seems a bit heavy-handed, like an upscale Cracker Barrel, but in spite of having been warned to expect an equally heavy sales pitch for the winery’s club, the subject wasn’t broached a single time during the course of a very agreeable recent meal. Seated promptly, we were attended to with efficient yet unstuffy courtesy throughout the course of lunch by our knowledgeable and helpful server. Cooper’s Hawk offers an epic menu, with a full complement of salads, sandwiches, soups, pasta, fish, poultry and meats, not to mention desserts and cheeses. Usually a menu of this scope could only achieve middling quality at best, for obvious reasons, but in this case the kitchen did a credible job of bringing freshness and vitality to most of the dishes we sampled.

First off, and best of all, was an appetizer of Asian BBQ Pork Belly Nachos, small individual crisp tortillas topped with slices of sweetly spicy belly, finished with a heaping crunch of scallions and radish and a smear of subtly spiced barbecue sauce. Served six to a plate for $8.99, this was a generous portion.

Somewhat less successful, but still quite tasty, was a plate of Mexican Drunken Shrimp ($12.99) served in a tequila lime sauce. Although good-looking on paper, the bacon-wrapped shrimp could have used more crunch, and the sauce appeared to have been thickened with cornstarch, slightly dulling the edge of the otherwise snappy main ingredients. Of the two entrees we sampled, the house-made gnocchi, topped with fresh spinach and a lively tomato sauce, was a solid effort, the gnocchi being perfectly cooked and just slightly firm in the middle. The chicken piccata, a wonderful traditional dish when done perfectly, was almost there but not quite: the super-thin chicken escalopes had become a bit tired and chewy and the sauce was on the creamy side, lacking the dish’s essential zip but still delivering a good depth of lemon-caper flavor in spite of that.

Rounding out the meal we enjoyed the aptly named banoffee pie, a surprisingly light and airy confection centered around bananas, caramel and cream. And what of the wine? Although Cooper’s Hawk offers numerous tastings and wine flights, this was lunch, so I confined myself to a very well-made and varietally true gewürztraminer, a wine sufficiently intriguing to prompt a future visit to try a few more.

Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant 3815 E. 96th St. 574-9463 coopershawkwinery.com
Mon-Thu:  11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Fri-Sat: 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m. Sun: 10 a.m.–9 p.m.
Food: 3.5 stars Service: 3.5 stars Atmosphere: 3.5 stars

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