Photo by Chris Kessler
Chris and Ally Benedyk wrote a road map for love. The young, industrious Indiana expats took up culinary shop in Lilliputian confines on North Avenue in the shadow of Columbia-St. Mary’s Hospital, made meats and sweets their angle, and chose love handle for a name. The place is as charming as the moniker suggests.
Before pulling up their Hoosier state stakes, Chris worked at a chef-owned market connected to a butcher shop while Ally crafted pastries at a fine-dining restaurant. Here, despite the challenges of a tiny kitchen, the couple is thriving. Most everything is made in-house, from the beef heart bresaola (salt-cured, air-dried meat) to the duck leg with buffalo-milk blue cheese, beef brisket sandwich with arugula pesto and oyster mushrooms, pork belly sandwich with tomato jam and black garlic mayo, and other items that will appear over time. The Benedyks update the menu frequently, posting that info on a Facebook page.
Without an oven at her disposal, Ally is nevertheless banging out some tasty treats – fresh ice creams (Taleggio cheese was a recent flavor) and churro pastries served with spicy chocolate sauce. Summer fruits will inspire soft, icy sorbets.
True to the restaurant name, handles – in various sizes and shapes, and mounted on wooden boards – are the design theme. They add a layer of quirkiness to the warm lighting, hardwood tables and flooring, yellow walls, a cool logo and overall cheerful mien.
Curing, preserving and pickling are age-old techniques underscored by a wave of culinary types committed to keeping those traditions alive. The end product needn’t be fancy, as this joint proves. The simpler, the better. On a water-logged spring day, the Benedyks served a thoughtfully seasoned, satisfying vegan soup – Israeli couscous with spring greens ($6). The couple carefully chooses
the offerings. A cheese plate containing buffalo-
milk blue cheese and silky San Andreas sheep’s milk with peach mostarda (a fruit condiment) and sliced baguette is a solid beginner ($8), as is the succulent duck leg with the same funky Spanish buffalo blue cheese and the house-pickled veggies ($8). Sliced thin, a beef prosciutto of sorts, the sheets of beef heart bresaola ($7) work their way evanescently from your tongue to throat.
The main event is the sandwich. A keen choice is the rich, tender duck confit nestled inside warm, pressed bread with pea shoots and peach marmalade ($9), served with chips and a smidge of pickled cucumber. But if you try the beef brisket sandwich first, you may not make it to the duck confit. The arugula pesto and oyster mushrooms lend an air of pungency to the slices of flavorful smoked brisket ($9).
The Handle’s churros ($5) are shaped like crullers, not the thin sticks you see in Mexican bakeries. On their own, these creations are addictive, down to the cinnamon-sugar coating that sticks to your fingers. Half the plate is taken up with a bowl of subtly spiced chocolate sauce. Dip your churros liberally. They are truly made for each other.
At press time, the Benedyks awaited their liquor license, which would add craft beers and select wines to the roster of sodas (remember Shasta?) and sparkling water. Love Handle is a tasty little business, helmed by an enterprising couple looking to knit themselves into the food scene. It’s an auspicious start.