Building Bridges in Greencastle
On any given day, Chef Sal Fernandez can be found creating dishes such as artisan pizza with mushrooms and fresh mozzarella cheese, bacon- wrapped prawns and a summer melon salad with prosciutto and vinaigrette. These dishes sound like they’re straight off a five-star Italian restaurant menu in Chicago, New York or San Francisco—but they are enjoyed at Bridges Craft Pizza and Wine Bar, located in the heart of Greencastle’s historic Courthouse Square. Bridges is the creation of Joyce and Judson Green, two DePauw University alumni with a mission of giving back to Greencastle. Their vision started with Music on the Square (Music Squared, or M2 as it’s frequently called), a music center that provides free music classes for students. When the space next to M2 came available, the Greens saw that as an opportunity to “bridge” music and food by creating a small café or wine bar to further their vision.
That small café soon became a larger endeavor when the Greens decided to create a true, authentic Italian restaurant that would highlight local farmers and feature a seasonal menu with dishes that changed on a regular basis. The restaurant brought in the Mario Acunto wood-fired oven from Naples. All its pasta dough is handmade in house with Antimo Caputo Italian 00 flour. And the menu changes weekly to highlight the farmers and make sure the dishes were created with local ingredients.
The Bridges Chorus
While Bridges is a collaborative effort among all its chefs and staff, Chef Fernandez is the conductor of this culinary orchestra. He was raised in Napa Valley, before it was home to today’s premier California vineyards, and would often help his farmer father pick grapes. When he was 13 years old, he got a job washing dishes at a pizza parlor in St. Helena, California. It was in that job that he first tasted pepperoni and salami, and learned how to make pizza. That’s when he knew the cooking life was what he wanted.
But becoming a chef was not an easy endeavor, especially during a time when cooking and the Food Network were not popular like they are today. Chef Fernandez planned to attend the newly opened Culinary Institute of American (CIA) in Napa upon his high school graduation in 2004. But instead of enrolling right away, he served in the Air Force for six years. He completed his tour as a staff sergeant and used his educational benefits to attend the CIA. Once he finished his culinary training, he spent time as a chef at a high-end restaurant in Orlando, and later Ohio. The move to Greencastle came when his former chef, Brandon McGlamery, asked him to meet with the Greens, who wanted to open an Italian restaurant in Indiana.
Chef Fernandez, who now calls Greencastle home, has been involved in helping to create the Bridges concept since the beginning. He admits his military training heavily influences his food philosophy, specifically the commitment to high quality and simplicity. “We rarely have a dish that’s more than five ingredients,” he says. “I like to keep things simple, yet different.”
An example of this elegant simplicity is the Latin American–infused fried ravioli. “The ravioli is made of masa (corn flour), and stuffed with braised beef tongue, mozzarella and queso fresco. Then we top it with a tomato relish and lemon crema. It tastes Latin and looks Italian. It’s simple and unique.”
Several other assistant chefs and colleagues play a part in Bridges’ success. Angelica Raygoza, a CIA graduate who worked at several prestigious resorts in Palm Springs, California, is the mastermind behind Bridges’ hand-crafted breads. Raygoza developed the restaurant’s focaccia, French baguettes and brioche. She is also the reason Bridges plans to open a bakery up the street, which will serve as an artisan and commercial bakery.
Many of Bridges’ young staff were born and raised in Greencastle. “We have 17- and 18-year olds working here. Many of them don’t know what they want to do with their lives long-term, but they love cooking and serving the community through food,” says Chef Fernandez. “I’m trying to teach them that if you learn the basics, respect people, work hard and make a good product, it will get you somewhere in life.”
Tyler Smith is a young protégé who is already making his mark at Bridges and in the culinary community. The 17-year-old pastry chef started working at Bridges in June 2017 and won the Best Pastry award at the Indianapolis Fantastic Food Fest for his Quattro Leches cake (above).
A Community Partnership
One of the reasons Bridges is such a unique concept in Greencastle is its partnership with local farmers and the fact that the menu items include the local fare. While it’s a common practice for many Indianapolis restaurants to work with community farmers, that was not the standard in Greencastle.
DePauw University Campus Farm and Bob Zaring, owner of Zaring’s Produce, are two community partners that play a big role at Bridges.
“Bob is a huge part of this restaurant, and a big part of what we can do,” says Chef Fernandez. He’s been such an integral part of Bridges that the chef named three menu items in the farmer’s honor, including the summer melon salad that sells out daily. Zaring has been farming produce on his seven-acre lot since the mid 1980s. He admits that working with Bridges has had a profound effect on his livelihood as a farmer.
“Working with Bridges has helped my farm a lot,” says Zaring. “Before Bridges, I’d grow items like kale, kohlrabi and turnips, but would end up throwing so much of it away because people didn’t buy it. But here, Bridges buys everything I grow and puts it on the menu.”
Their partnership has been so successful that Zaring is now trying to grow produce for Bridges through the winter months. He is also attempting to grow new items, such as microgreens and corn shoots.
The Future of Bridges
While Bridges has only been open for one year, the restaurant is growing and attracting more customers every week. It’s become a local favorite of Greencastle residents and is now attracting guests from Indianapolis and other cities. Beginning in late spring, Bridges opened its rooftop for outside dining and began offering carryout picnic service.
The restaurant will host a James Beard Foundation dinner at Bridges in June in the hopes of winning that prestigious organization’s award for the restaurant and assure Bridges is a culinary force in Indiana.
“No restaurant in Indiana has a James Beard Award,” says Chef Fernandez. “We can do it in Greencastle. Many of the young kids who work here will not go beyond the city in their lives. That’s why this award is so important for Bridges and Greencastle. I want those kids and the community to see what’s possible for them.”
Bridges Craft Pizza & Wine Bar | 19 N. Indiana St., Greencastle | 765.653.0021 | BridgesWineBar.com