Brynn Cook sits eagerly, waiting, her hands folded in her lap, at a table covered in crisp black-and-white linens. The evening sun sets behind her, bathing the Broadway House Bistro, Princeton, Indiana, in a warm glow.
A waitress appears balancing a tray full of tempting dishes atop white china — orange-glazed salmon topped with thinly-fried carrots, a grilled pork chop with apple cider reduction, and fried green tomatoes accompanied by a signature buttermilk and brown sugar dipping sauce. Cook’s brown eyes light up with bold excitement.
“You have to try the chicken salad first,” she insists as she offers a croissant piled high with her mother’s creamy recipe, nestled against a bed of crispy steak frites sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, parsley, and salt. “Everybody is falling in love with it.”
At just 28 years old, Cook already has held many titles. Student was the first as she studied hotel and restaurant management and culinary arts at Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky. She then worked as a hostess at a P.F. Chang’s in Louisville, Kentucky, before becoming a server at Cincinnati’s once famed Jeanro Bistro.
She is a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a cook, and now, finally, a restaurant owner. She is the small-town girl who returned from the big city and brought a little of its flair along with her.
“I wanted a place where you could go for date night, but nothing too stuffy,” she says, sitting back, relaxing in the high-backed white leather chair. “I wanted home-style food but with an upscale twist, a casual fine dining experience.
“But it’s a house, too,” she says, gesturing around the 100-year-old brick bungalow, “a house I always loved growing up. So I wanted it to feel like home, like you are part of our family.”
Cook, born and raised in Princeton, is the daughter of Jeff Cook, a locally admired, and now retired FedEx driver you can now find slinging mugs of craft beer behind the bistro’s bar and talking sports scores with regular and loyal patrons.
Her mother Donna often can be found in the evenings watering flowers or changing out the restaurant’s seasonal decorations.
Upon moving home, Cook went to work in food preparation for the owner of Farmer’s Daughter, a restaurant once located on Princeton’s downtown square. Farmer’s Daughter owner Sarah Wolfe is creating a new restaurant in Evansville’s Haynie’s Corner Arts District called The Dapper Pig.
She also was in the midst of a total life change, studying sonography at the University of Southern Indiana, but soon she felt herself being called back to the kitchen. Princeton, she felt, was missing an eatery like those she had come to love in the larger cities.
So with financial support from her parents, Cook purchased the old Broadway Interiors building at 404 W. Broadway St. and began renovating it.
Consistent with her sophisticated but comfortable theme, she painted the walls a muted slate gray — a beautiful contrast to the home’s exposed brick walls and historic fireplaces — and brought in modern white leather furniture, crisp linens, white plates, and new silver.
The house, built by a doctor as a home and makeshift hospital in 1917, already had a lot of historic character, and the entire Cook family has added their own special touches. One of Cook’s brothers built a rusted steel bar top, and her mother adds charm with a wall full of what she calls “conversation pieces,” humorous décor made entirely from or dedicated to eating utensils.
But it’s the food that has made Broadway House Bistro a regional destination.
The menu pays homage to both big city and rural America, with red-wine seared duck breast on a bed of mixed greens and a peppadew vinaigrette (a South African pepper dressing) listed right next to the more home-style Broadway House Chicken Pot Pie.
Entrees include a 12-ounce ribeye served on a bed of the bistro’s mouth-watering cream cheese mashed potatoes, a “Blankenburger” topped with pepper jack cheese and bacon and crowd favorite, the juicy and tender stuffed fried chicken breast drizzled with a tangy yet sweet sun-dried tomato cream sauce on a bed of tomato and pea orzo.
Crab cakes, goat cheese and roasted corn dip, and fried green tomatoes are popular appetizer choices, and the menu also includes salads, soups, and a wide variety of signature sandwiches as well.
And for dessert, the Broadway House Bistro’s creamy bread pudding is a must as are samplings of its homemade ice cream flavors that include the traditional strawberry
to outside-the-box recipes like green tea and caramel cashew.
Cook does most of the cooking herself, a process that allows for both the solitude she enjoys and the perfectionism that has led to the bistro’s success.
The restaurant celebrates its one-year anniversary this summer, and with a focus on good customer service, dishes layered with flavor, texture, and warm and family-friendly hospitality, Cook is hopeful for continued success.
“The community has been so welcoming,” she says. “I wanted to give people options and be flexible enough to change if necessary. I want the food here to suit everyone from older couples to dates and even families.
“But I also want to force people a little outside their comfort zone. I won’t let go of serving the kind of upscale food I want to serve. I believe in what I’m doing here. I’m just taking little bitty baby steps,” she says.
Location: 404 W. Broadway St., Princeton, IN
Dining and Bar Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mon.-Fri.,11 a.m. to 2 p.m. & 4 to 9 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 4 to 10 p.m. Fri. and Sat.
Payment: All major credit cards accepted.