Top Indy restaurateur Mike Cunningham runs five major Mass Ave. eateries. His Cunningham Restaurant Group owns 21 restaurants spread among Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. Here's what he sees ahead for Mass Ave., Fountain Square and Broad Ripple.

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By Liz Biro

Indianapolis Star

The owner of Mass Ave.’s popular Bru Burger Bar, Mesh and Union 50 restaurants plans an Italian restaurant in the soon-to-be shuttered Cerulean at The Alexander hotel and two other new concepts in Downtown Indianapolis.

“Coastal Italian” is the theme of the yet-to-be named restaurant scheduled to open in late April or early May at 339 S. Delaware St., Cunningham Restaurant Group CEO Mike Cunningham said.

Additionally, Cunningham plans a Nashville hot chicken spot Downtown. A third restaurant concept is still in development. A site for it as well as one for the hot chicken restaurant are still in negotiations, Cunningham said, declining to reveal the properties’ locations.

Cunningham said he will “totally gut” the Cerulean space for a restaurant serving lunch and dinner focused on Italian coastal cuisine and different from typical spaghetti-and-meatballs menus.

“This will be more, and I don’t even want to say traditional Italian either because we’re trying to stay away from the standard Italian menu. We want to be more creative than that. We’ll have a raw (seafood) section. We’ll have a fresh-made pasta section. Some starters, an antipasto type section,” Cunningham said.

Prices would range from $8 to $35, a spread aimed at the everyday downtown market as well as guests at The Alexander, a boutique hotel known for its art exhibits and sophisticated style.

Design hasn’t been finalized, but some elements are certain. The bar will be moved inside the dining area. Expect patio tables and maybe windows that open onto the patio with the bar in between indoor and outdoor areas. Cunningham will remove the Cerulean feature known as “the nest,” a hut fashioned from birch boards that encloses some tables.

“We’ll totally gut it,” Cunningham said.

Fine-dining Cerulean’s scheduled closing Jan.31 follows a string of Indianapolis restaurant departures over the past two years, but Cunningham, who operates 23 restaurants in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, most of them in Indianapolis, continues to see opportunity in the city. This would be the group's first dedicated Italian restaurant, unlike Cunningham's Charbonos that serves some Italian and Italian-style dishes.

“I’ve committed to my people that I would try not to do more than one new concept per year because it does take a toll on our processes,” Cunningham said. “It’s a lot easier to make another Bru or Livery or something we’ve already done. In 2018, we’ll probably have three new concepts.”

When it closes,Cerulean will be among well-known chef-driven restaurants that have said good-bye. The list includes R. Bistro on Mass Ave., Recess in SoBro, Marrow in Fountain Square and LongBranch in Fall Creek Place.

In a video at Cerulean’s website, executive chef Alan Sternberg and owner Caleb France say they are off to new projects after a successful five years serving contemporary Midwestern fare at The Alexander. France continues to operate the original Cerulean in Winona Lake and consult on other Indy-area projects.

Sternberg told the IndyStar that France is also helping him launch a New American restaurant focused on pasta and pasture-raised meats in Downtown Indy. Sternberg's goal is to open by summer 2018 what will probably be named Common House, after the chef's recently launched supper club pop-up. 

Follow IndyStar food writer Liz Biro on Twitter: @lizbiro, Instagram: @lizbiro, and on Facebook. Call her at (317) 444-6264.