BY CHRISTINE BARBOUR
Walk inside Topo’s 403, Bloomington’s fabulous new Greek restaurant, and the first thing you see is the elegant wallpaper: swirls of intricate blue-on-blue design with bright floral accents, a Victorian print that matches the vintage of the walls it covers. It’s only on a closer look that the lacy pattern resolves itself into a tongue-in-cheek extravaganza of octopi, squids, and jellyfish. That’s your first clue that someone at Topo’s is having an awful lot of fun.
Topo’s 403 is named for its owner and its address. The owner is Dr. James Topolgus Jr., known more informally to the medical profession in town and many of his surgical patients as “Topo.” He and daughter Stephanie, who is running the show and who picked the wallpaper, may be having the most fun here. It has been Topolgus’ long-held ambition to carry on the family restaurant tradition started by his mother and her siblings who owned the forever-missed Gables on South Indiana Avenue. He also loves the building—the stately Millen-Chase-McCalla House at 403 N. Walnut, better known as the Topolgus Building, since the family has owned it for more than a third of its 168 years.
Also having fun at Topo’s are the chefs. The menu is the product of Consulting Executive Chef David Tallent, carried out with a sure touch by Chef de Cuisine Jason Shoulders. Shoulders did a stint as pastry chef and sous chef at Restaurant Tallent before spending nearly four years in the kitchen at Oakleys Bistro in Indianapolis, and it shows. The food at Topo’s is terrific—creative, upscale Greek/Mediterranean made with fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Try, for instance, the avgolemono soup. A cut way above the usual Greek taverna standby, this soup is a delicate, lemony chicken broth, with crispy risotto balls lending a crackle of texture and fried chicken goodness. It is really superb. Other appetizer standouts include pappardelle pasta with a sunny ratatouille and fresh mozzarella; savory mussels with sausage, chickpeas, and a licoricy splash of ouzo; and a grilled summer melon salad bright with tapenade and mint against creamy manouri cheese, warmed on the grill. And those spritely octopi from the wallpaper make an appearance in a cold octopus and shrimp salad with fennel and apples.
For mains, there is a daily vegetarian preparation of pasticcio—a custardy Greek pasta casserole that is comfort food at its best. Meaty Greek spaghetti is fragrant with cinnamon and shredded myzithra cheese. (If you want the buttery vegetarian version reminiscent of the one The Gables used to serve, you have to order off the children’s menu, but don’t let that stop you.) A huge lamb chop from Viking Farms is sauced with roasted artichokes and served on some amazing braised greens. And the Hawaiian swordfish is wonderful, on a bed of orzo, studded with caramelized fennel, olive, and other Mediterranean flavors.
Any place with Chef Shoulders at the helm will have desserts that shine. The baklava is great—chunky with nuts and not too sweet. But the Loukoumades are Not. To. Be. Missed. Fried balls of yeasty sweetness, drizzled with oregano-scented honey and dunked into salty caramel sauce, they will weaken your knees.
Quite possibly the person having the most fun here will be you.