16th in a Series
Story by Elizabeth Granger
Interior designer Russell Irving fell in love with Muncie’s Neely house – and Thomas Neely’s 19th century diaries. Now the house is an upscale restaurant and, enhanced by the magic of chef Nick Kirkpatrick, is ‘in the business of making memories.’
Nick Kirkpatrick: The Neely House
MUNCIE – It started in an ordinary enough way, with a high school kid working at a fast food place to make a few bucks.
But that kid already had ideas about food, and then a boss who let him improvise. Encouraged him, even. That continued when Nick Kirkpatrick moved on from fast food to chain to upscale restaurants. And others in all those kitchens took note. He’s not yet 30, but his interest, drive and attention to detail have made him the executive chef at The Neely House in Muncie.
Kirkpatrick couldn’t officially work in a restaurant kitchen until he was 18, when, he says, “I fell in love with it.” And throughout the past decade or so, in restaurants in Valparaiso and then Muncie, he’s continued that love affair.
Meanwhile, Russell Irving was falling in love with Thomas Neely’s 1852 home on Muncie’s East Adams Street as well as with Neely’s daily diaries about life on the homestead, which he kept for more than 40 years.
Irving’s plan to create an upscale restaurant in Neely’s home melded with Kirkpatrick’s growing culinary expertise. Kirkpatrick was hired before the restaurant opened last
fall and was able to be involved in the planning, not only for the kitchen but also for the dining and bar areas. Although he did not go to school for the culinary arts, Kirkpatrick modestly says he has “pretty good knowledge and experience” as well as a desire “to do better.”
“I haven’t gone to school proper but every day I’m going to class,” he says. “And every day I’m teaching.” Staff members have told him they’ve learned more from him than they did from culinary classes they’d taken. The Neely House’s food is classified
as new American cuisine. And there’s Neely’s influence, via those diaries. “When he (Neely) is not writing something historically significant, it’s all about the food,” Irving says. “What he was growing, how they were preparing it, what they were eating.
So we’ve put back every tree in the orchard that he had, plus more, and his gardens. We serve what he had in his gardens as much as we can.”
Kirkpatrick adds, “We dress things up but also stay homey. We’re upscale but not pretentious.”
There are always a filet and another steak on the menu, along with fried chicken. An online reviewer wrote: “That fried chicken … trust me, this is what you want to order. Man, is it good. So juicy, super crispy and extra flavorful.”
Three raised beds of herbs grow right outside the kitchen door, where the Chef’s Table seats diners on sunny days. And next door, there’s a 38-foot- by-38-foot garden. In season, it’s garden to table as much as possible.
The home was restored closely to what it looked like at the time of Neely’s death in 1901. Separate rooms, both downstairs and up, insure a more intimate dining experience.
The restaurant is open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner; Saturday and Sunday for brunch. “We’re always trying to make our menu items better,” Kirkpatrick says. Often Irving describes a particular dish; Kirkpatrick works to replicate it.
An “Extraordinary Pairings” series began in April; additional pairings, limited to 30 guests, will be offered every other month.
Other special events included two late May “Fireflies in the Orchard” evenings, and a July 4 ice cream social “because Thomas Neely was fond of ice cream.” An October party will celebrate the restaurant’s first anniversary.
Kirkpatrick says he’s in the business of making memories. And he adds, “I really love doing this.”
The Neely House
617 E. Adams St. Muncie, IN 47305