A Fresh Focus
Savor Restaurant Brings Fresh Food & Unique Dining Concept to Carmel
Photographer / Eli Beaverson
Many years ago, Henri Najem hosted a fundraiser at his former Geist restaurant Bella Vita, at which Carmel Mayor James Brainard was present.
“It was just at the inception of the arts district there in Carmel, where they really started the renovation,” Najem says.
After watching the area grow and develop from that point forward, Najem decided to start a restaurant in Carmel. Savor Restaurant opened in January this year.
“It’s incredible what they’ve created, and I just thought it was time for me to put a concept in there,” Najem says.
Located in Carmel’s Arts and Design District, Savor offers up a contemporary twist on classic Mediterranean and European cuisine. Savor’s menu features handmade pasta, fresh seafood, free-range chicken, USDA prime aged beef selections and more.
From a young age, Najem was exposed to the ins and outs of the restaurant industry. His godfather owned an Italian restaurant on Indy’s westside for many decades.
“I started working in his restaurant when I was like 12 years old,” Najem says. “I started out as a busser and dishwasher. One Saturday, he was prepping back in the prep room. He was making meatballs, sauce and lasagna, and he taught me how to do those things. From there, it just sort of grew.”
Najem started his first restaurant, Paisano’s, at Binford Boulevard and 71st Street, before launching Bella Vita in 1998. Initially Bella Vita was located on the corner of Fall Creek Road and Brooks School Road, eventually moving to a location on the Geist Reservoir in 2004.
“When the Blue Heron was failing, the marina approached me about taking over that location on the reservoir,” Najem says.
After a successful run in Geist, Najem decided to sell Bella Vita in early 2014, shifting his focus to burgers.
“We became really intrigued with the burger business,” Najem says. “We started playing with different blends of beef and cooking techniques, and that’s how I created Flamme Burger.”
Eventually, however, Najem began to miss his roots.
“I sort of missed the upscale casual dining,” he says. “When I opened Flamme Burger, my challenge was that I was limited to what I could do. I can’t get too fancy because it’s mainly a burger and casual restaurant. So that’s when I really became inspired to start doing some cool, fresh fish and different types of preparations. That’s how I created Savor.”
Like Flamme Burger, Savor’s menu is filled with freshly prepared dishes.
“We have no freezers,” Najem says. “All our sauces, aiolis and everything are made from scratch. We don’t buy anything frozen or pre-prepared. I just don’t believe in it.”
Customers can find many seafood options on the Savor menu, from grilled jumbo prawns to red snapper. Najem says he’s able to offer these fresh options because of his seafood distributor.
“Fortune Seafood out of Chicago guarantees it to you two days from when it’s caught off the boat,” Najem says. “That was huge for us. We just try to create these different menu items with fresh ingredients.”
To keep everything fresh, Najem aims to purchase all of his ingredients from local distributors – even the wood for his wood-fired grill.
“Our wood comes from Greenfield,” Najem says. “With my source in wood, I was just trying to find the best combination.”
While taking a close look at the Savor menu, customers will likely notice that most entrée items feature a protein item as a focal point.
“To me, it’s always been about creating a great protein and then just putting your flare to it,” Najem says. “You start with a great protein, and from there it’s not too hard. Then it’s just pairing up different flavors.”
With his ahi tuna, for example, Najem chose to pair the fish with caponata, which he describes as the Italian version of mixed vegetables.
“Anybody can just sear a piece of tuna and put it on a plate,” he says. “The protein is the starter dish, but I like to pair something with it.”
In reflecting on the success of his restaurant so far, Najem cherishes all of the personal interactions he’s had with customers.
“You start with something you’ll like, but in the end it’s what you think your guests will enjoy,” Najem says. “The ironic thing about my menus over the years is that some of those dishes my guests have created.”
Savor is located at 211 West Main Street, Suite 102 in Carmel. For more info, call 317-564-4126 and visit SavorCarmel.com.