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  • Parmesan Truffle Pommes Frites at Voodoo Public House in Peru.

  • Ahi Won Ton Tacos at Voodoo Public House in Peru.

  • The Bourbon Peach Streusel Cheesecake at Voodoo Public House in Peru.

  • From left, duck, banh mi and spicy pork tacos at Voodoo Public House in Peru.

  • Gorgonzola Pear Salad at Voodoo Public House in Peru.

  • The Watermelon radish salad at Voodoo Public House in Peru was as beautiful as it was delicious.

  • The green curry soup (top) and red curry soup (bottom) were essentially the same except for the type of spices used to make them at Voodoo Public House in Peru.

  • Voodoo Public House in Peru.

  • Puzzle tots with a gochujang sauce (top) and a paprika dip at Voodoo Public House in Peru.

  • Local artwork is on display at Voodoo Public House in Peru.

  • Truffled deviled eggs at Voodoo Public House in Peru.

  • The black bean and lentil burger at Voodoo Public House in Peru.

  • Voodoo Public House in Peru has a cool atmosphere highlighted by a trendy, mid-century modern sputnik chandelier.

Sunday, July 09, 2017 1:00 am

Peru worth the drive for this excellent fare

RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette

Voodoo Public House

****1/2

Out of a possible five

$$$

There has never been a better reason to visit Peru than the Circus City Festival, which begins Friday.

But for foodies, there may be another just as good, and it definitely deserves the center-ring spotlight.

Voodoo Public House began as a taco truck in 2013 and became a brick-and-mortar restaurant in August 2015. Since then, it has earned plenty of accolades and was named on many online lists of must-try places in the state.

My first bite there made me realize it deserved the hype. And it was, not surprisingly, a taco – sort of.

The Ahi Wonton Tacos from the “preface” page of the menu featured raw sashimi-grade tuna in crispy, fried, light green, vegan wonton wraps shaped like taco shells with jicama slaw and a drizzle of wasabi-lime aioli. They were easily the best thing I have eaten this summer.

The tuna was dressed with a soy-ginger glaze, which added just the right salty notes to pair with the slightly sweet, creamy, super crunchy slaw. Even the shells were flavorful, so every bite packed a punch. Those shells also allow Voodoo to make a vegan version with chopped tomatoes instead of tuna.

This place was far from a taco joint, however.

Take the most substantial offering on the ever-changing menu, the Oven-Baked Barramundi. A skin-on fillet of this so-moist-it-was-almost-buttery fish was lightly sauced with miso butter, which made it even more buttery. It was paired with a mini salad of the restaurant's artisan Tuscan greens with tomatoes, onions and a zesty ginger dressing. The dish was subdued in a good way so the fish was the real star, as it should be. It needed nothing else.

The other salads followed suit being brilliant in their simplicity.

The featured Watermelon Radish and Pistachio salad was so beautiful it was frameable, with big round slices of the signature ingredient's bright pink flesh, avocado wedges, cucumber, red onion, fresh cilantro and a generous amount of whole pistachios over the greens. Its honey-orange vinaigrette had just the right sweet-acidic note, too.

The Gorgonzola Pear salad was a sweet venture with the sliced fruit, candied walnuts and dried cranberries, but the raw red onions, pungent cheese and a simply perfect balsamic vinaigrette tamed it nicely.

Though not a small-plate eatery, going that route might be the best option as those salads, soups and all the appetizers were fantastic.

The Parmesan Truffle Pommes Frites had just the right amount of coarse salt and pepper, grated cheese, a little fresh cilantro and parsley on top to make it impossible to stop eating. I also found myself wondering what other things I might dip into the thick basil aioli.

The Puzzle Tots also had a couple of worthy dip options – a vegan gochujang sauce with the color and consistency of ketchup but more heat and a thicker, creamy paprika dip. They were crunchy but not homemade, which held them back.

The Truffle-Bacon Deviled Eggs were highlighted by the shard of super crispy bacon wedged in the whipped egg yolks, but they lacked truffle favor and needed more white truffle oil.

The only side/small-plate item I would not try again was the Mexican Street Corn. Roasted with butter, chiles and garlic and topped with queso fresco and herbs, the corn was badly overcooked and had no natural sweetness.

The green curry and red curry soups were basically the same sans color. These vegan offerings were packed with lentils, chickpeas, potatoes, tricolored carrots, onions and tomatoes and had a creamy broth with plenty of curry flavor and some heat but not enough to make them obtrusive. The red had just a little more coconut milk flavor and a subtle sweetness.

Another vegan offering – Voodoo takes care to mark all of these dishes and the many that are gluten free on their menu – that won favor was the Black Bean & Lentil Burger. This nicely seasoned patty, which also featured sunflower seeds, oats and carrots in it, was hard-seared to be brown and crispy outside.

My server, who did not miss a beat during either visit, suggested havarti cheese with it and that was a great choice as it oozed much more than the other cheese choices – queso fresco, feta and bleu – would have. And who doesn't want oozing cheese on their burger, even a meatless one?

And, yes, the regular tacos were as brilliant as those ahi ones.

The Duck taco had moist shredded duck confit, onion, creamy goat cheese and a reduction of dried cherries cooked in wine. The chewy cherries were a fantastic textural addition and I could have eaten a dozen of these tacos, I think.

The Upstate was a Buffalo wing-lover's dream with no chicken. It had spicy pulled pork, a creamy chopped celery slaw, buttermilk dressing and a pile of blue cheese crumbles. It was spicy, creamy, crunchy, funky and fantastic.

The Banh Mi taco was also brilliant, leaving no question as why Voodoo's truck did so well but with plenty of questions as to which of these double tortilla-wrapped tacos I liked best. Barbecued Asian pork was joined by a red cabbage and carrot slaw, cilantro and pickled cucumber with a spicy sriracha mayo.

If that wasn't enough, I had a dessert I would drive back to Peru to have again. The Bourbon Peach Streusel Cheesecake had a lightly whipped, but still decadent, base and was full of fresh, firm, spiced peach slices on a cinnamon-infused crust with a sugary brown streusel on top.

Just writing that makes me want another slice. And that server said the pistachio version is even better.

Though rather generic looking from the outside, the space Voodoo occupies has been transformed inside into something hip and chic. The walls are covered with modern, local paintings, which are for sale, and the tables with padded chairs and a super-cool Sputnik chandelier are post-modern gems.

It all made it clear that Voodoo Public House is not just worth the drive to Peru, it is indeed also one of the most exciting places in the state.

Restaurant: Voodoo Public House

Address: 112 S. Broadway, Peru

Phone: 765-327-2519

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Beer and wine

Smoking status: Non-smoking

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Ahi tacos ($8), radish salad ($9), pear salad ($48), barramundi ($13.50), lentil burger ($8), frites ($6), eggs ($6), tacos ($8 for 2; $10.50 for 3; $13 for 4), corn ($2.70), tots ($3.50), soup ($3 cup; $4.50 bowl), cheesecake ($5)

Rating breakdown: Food: **1/2 (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.