It is quite the disconnect, the one that exists between the simple, pastoral name Adam's Mountain Café and the complex odes to global cuisine coming from its kitchen. The dining room projects Anthropologie lite — with its wooden kitchen chairs, water-stained tables, mismatched silverware and chandeliers shaped like glowing flowers, all tied together by walls of Charles Rockey's rescued paintings — but Adam's devotion to the craft runs with expert, machine-like efficiency, down to the five prep cooks constantly churning out inventive recipes with an organic twist from the restaurant's basement.
A longtime breakfast stop as well, the restaurant kicks out 2,300 eggs, 750 dinner rolls, 500 pancakes and 100 pounds of butter per week, and those are numbers from before the restaurant fled a rented, flood-prone location at the supposedly cursed Spa Building for a purchased place farther east on Manitou Avenue, generating a level of business that's making it hard to keep up, says longtime owner Farley McDonough, who waited tables at the café for years before purchasing it a decade ago. A recent visit found a jammed parking lot full of suits and hippies alike and a 15-minute wait, and this was during lunch on a Wednesday.
"When a person comes in the door, I don't care how much money they have, I don't care how they're dressed, I don't care what their job is, I don't care about their sexual orientation," says McDonough. "I want everybody to feel the exact same way when they walk in the door, and that's that they're welcome and that this is a comfortable place to come eat a meal."
Over the years, this approach has by turns yielded frustration and fealty: frustration, because busy crowds and an inefficient kitchen often meant 45-minute waits for French toast; and fealty in that Adam's is a perennial contender for best restaurant in the Indy's Best Of voting, not to mention a hallowed shrine for the local-, vegan- and vegetarian-minded. But under the hand of David McDonough, the kitchen is flying these days, courtesy of a reboot Farley says she initiated two years ago, meaning the restaurant's "slow food" ethos is now entirely belief rather than circumstance.
And the results, guaranteed to never leave you sad-full, are spectacular.
For instance, the Senegalese Vegetables ($12, plus $5 for Red Bird Farms chicken) display an awe-inspiring mix of textures and flavors. Crunchy almond slivers give way to snow peas and crisp carrot slices and cauliflower rounds and soft chunks of potato, all coated in a citrus-peanut-and-ginger bear-hug set off with tart-sweet currants and cilantro. Get it over udon to taste a noodle dish à la Oxycontin.
The entrée is actually more robustly seasoned than some others on the menu, but still benefits from a cooking aesthetic McDonough describes as "try[ing] to cook really clean." This means the house-roasted turkey in the turkey burrito ($9.50) booms with bird, while the vegetarian green chili is all fruit and no salt. Ultimately, the less-is-more style might be less to some and more to others, but it's almost always expertly executed either way.
Take the Pozole Verde ($14), a large, "super labor-intensive" vegetarian stew that slowly and deliberately reveals itself through each bite. The roasted tomatillos give way to fat kernels of soft hominy to black beans to bell peppers to chunks of green chile. Sweet-potato wedges ooze to the top underneath house-toasted pumpkin seeds next to sour cream, lime and slices of avocado. Nothing seems touched too much, meaning every flavor sings its piece, complements another and fades away. It's like there's so much delicious restraint in the cooking that each dish is practically vibrating with kinetic-energy. Even the Mountain Blueberry smoothie ($6.50) gets in on the act.
That said, not all do. An order of an open-face Curried Pot Pie ($16) generated a beautiful, impenetrable pastry that fork could not break. When finally I sawed into it with a knife, out flowed a swampy mess of bland, steaming-hot vegetables covered in mashed potatoes. Also, a $5 bowl of Cuban black-bean soup tasted solely like a bowl of black beans. (Other options, including a seafood chowder and curried-tomato soup, are well worth it.) The Pan-Asian Style Turkey Burger ($9.50), with lemongrass and Kaffir lime, seemed out of balance, with way more "turkey" than "Pan-Asian" flavor.
But so much impresses elsewhere. A simple omelet featuring organic, house-smoked salmon ($10.75) finds the perfect combination of soft egg, cream cheese, fish, kick-ass capers and an inner lining of dill; while the Orange Almond French Toast ($7), an Adam's calling-card, is as delicious as it is well-regarded. A key-lime tart ($7.50) brings Florida to the Peak, while a crème brûlée ($7.50) perfectly encapsulates Adam's: flecked and brown, the filling looks a little pedestrian, but its deep caramel-and-coffee flavors sing a beautifully complex song.