Pioneers of locally-focused, farm-to-fork dining, Becky and John Hostetter bring decades of experience to their newest venture, Duos Kitchen, a centrally-situated but slightly off the beaten path location inside the International Medical Group building (at 29th and Meridian streets). With partner John Garnier, it's the Hostetters' first brick-and-mortar restaurant venture since Essential Edibles back in the nineties, an eatery which, in spite of all the best intentions and even better food, was unable to support its own rapid growth at an already difficult time for independent establishments.
Offering cafeteria-style breakfast and lunch, as well as serving as the commissary for the food truck by the same name, Duos caters to a loyal and steadily expanding clientele from both inside and outside the building, including many former customers from the Essential Edibles days.
True to the original Duos concept - the food truck was an established force on the scene well before the cafeteria opened - the short, seasonal menu contrasts John Hostetter's love of meat with Becky's vegetarianism. Menu items might include a Buffalo chicken casserole, a steak sandwich, or the perpetually popular Balance Bowl, which combines organic rice, legumes, farm eggs and vegetables into a savory and sustaining dish. At lunch there's almost always a soup, as well as a healthy selection of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free mains and desserts.
Having grown up on a small farm outside Bloomington, Becky is passionately outspoken about locally-grown produce and sustainable practices, and is equally frustrated at the dearth of healthy food in institutions and inner-city neighborhoods.
"We're at the point where we think it's OK to feed people what I don't even consider to be food," she says. "It's difficult to serve good food at hospitals, because it has to be certified, yet they serve McDonalds at children's hospitals. I used to write to my obstetrician to complain."
Nevertheless, Hostetter is realistic about the obstacles facing anyone attempting to provide a seasonal organic menu to budget-minded diners: "Making it accessible is a conundrum. Farmers' markets are expensive. We need to provide fresh local food to people on a moderate income, so the next step has to be accessibility."
Working with such local producers as Fisher Farms and David Robb at Harvest Land, the Hostetters strive to find a balance between their philosophical ambitions and their budgetary constraints, making top-notch produce available to a broader market, not just to the fortunate few who can afford the luxury.
Although Indiana's relatively short growing season and cold winters offer serious challenges to the year-round sourcing of local produce, Becky sees this as a chance to highlight winter squashes grown under hoops or some late-season Tuscan kale, as well as vegetables pickled earlier in the season. "We must stop looking at everything as a road block," she says, "and see opportunity instead. Even if it's on the pricy side, as long as it showcases Indiana, I'll bite the bullet."
Of course, running a sustainable restaurant is about more than hunting down local ingredients. Being located inside the International Medical Group building has its advantages: "Sustainability and local impact is a huge challenge. The building is very good about recycling, so we can recycle just about everything." Food waste which cannot be recycled is taken away by KI EcoCenter for composting and subsequent use as fertilizer.
The Indianapolis dining scene has changed a lot since Essential Edibles opened its doors some two decades ago, and Becky Hostetter is confident about the future. "Young people are curious and are eager to work in this field: I'm always getting calls from schools when they are starting on their gardens. I'm very excited for Indianapolis."