Nestled along the B-Line Trail just outside downtown Bloomington, the Cardinal Spirits patio seems like it belongs on a beachfront rather than in the middle of landlocked Indiana.
Just a few weeks ago, the patio would have been empty on a Saturday morning, but now patrons can enjoy cocktails underneath the shade of red umbrellas as they order from the distillery’s new brunch menu.
Like most sane people, I enjoy a good brunch, and after trying the Cardinal Spirit’s menu, I can safely say that I will definitely be returning for dinner at some point in the near future.
The distillery’s executive chef, Dean Wirkerman, gave me a tour of the kitchen and explained some of the processes behind making the food.
Wirkerman, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, has worked as chef de partie at Per Se, a three-star Michelin restaurant in New York City. Wirkerman said he wanted to bring that level of high-quality cuisine to Bloomington.
“We’re thinking big,” he said. “We’re not necessarily trying to compete with anyone here in Bloomington. I think everyone here is doing their own thing. We have a bit more ambitious goals, we’re trying to compete nationally.”
During the tour, Wirkerman explained that the kitchen staff makes house-made sourdough bread daily. He said some people think they bake the bread a little too long, but he thinks the process is necessary to get the best flavor.
“That’s when you start getting caramel flavors and bitter flavors that compliment the sweet, wheat flavor,” he said. “White flour, even without sugar is a very sweet tasting dough. There’s a lot of sugar in it. So when you compliment those with these nice bitter and caramel flavors, it adds more complexity.”
I got to taste the bread myself when I tried the French toast after the tour. The sourdough was dressed with spiced pecans, maple syrup and lavender, creating the extremely sweet flavor Wirkerman described.
Wirkerman said brunch is his favorite meal, and when he set out to create the menu, he did not want it to be overly complicated.
The Milk and Oats, which included Greek yogurt, granola, blackberries and Indiana honey, was simple yet delicious. On the savory side of the menu, I also tried the porchetta benedict, which consisted of poached eggs, porchetta and Mornay sauce over two house English muffins.
Overall, the food was amazing, but since Cardinal Spirits is first and foremost a distillery, it would be a crime to not mention their cocktails. I paired my meal with a drink aptly named “Stay Woke,” a combination of Songbird Coffee Liqueur, iced coffee, coconut cream, curry tincture and espresso powder.
At first, I was skeptical of how the curry tincture would taste, but it added a hint of spice that complimented the otherwise sweet drink.
As a college student, it was nice to take a break from the campus bar scene and discover that there are drinks in Bloomington besides the typical water Long Island.
Although it was a far cry from Kilroy’s breakfast club, I would encourage my peers to take time to check out Cardinal Spirits for a more relaxing weekend experience.