This week the world turns its attention to Indianapolis, as the Midwestern city plays host to Super Bowl XLVI. Long known as a haven for chain restaurants, in recent years the city has undergone a food transformation. Indianapolis food blogger Erin Day gives us a tour of some of the highlights of an Indianapolis you won’t recognize.
I was born and raised in Indianapolis, and it is a wonderful, welcoming city. I moved away for several years and had the opportunity to live (and eat) on the west coast and in Europe. When I moved back to Indy, I was excited to see what the restaurant scene would be like. Much of the Midwest seems to be so dominated by chain restaurants, but I am happy to say that in the last 5+ years, Indy has started to experience a food transformation. There has been a huge increase in small local farmers growing lots of interesting items that are showing up in our farmers markets and thankfully, our restaurants as well. Visitors to Indy for the Super Bowl this year (and any time) can expect to find wonderful and inventive restaurants that could keep up with some of the best in any city.
Downtown, visitors should sidestep the national chains that seem unavoidable and check out one of my current favorite spots, The Libertine, which is a lovely modern bar serving vintage cocktails, and some of the most innovative food in Indianapolis. The menu is ever changing- and highlights seasonal ingredients. Recently we had the pleasure of dining on chicken thigh confit and artichoke fritters. I have also heard they will offer a tent outside for Super Bowl weekend offering local beer and local brats to go. A great option downtown for lunch is our re-furbished City Market with many food vendors from which to choose. You can find anything from po boys to pizza to crepes.
Another great choice downtown is R Bistro which has been open for more than 10 years and highlights a small, weekly changing menu of what is in season. It is a cozy bistro space on one of my favorite streets in Indianapolis, Massachusetts Avenue, where you can find lots of independent bars, restaurants, and shops. Other good choices for dining on Mass Ave (as we locals call it) are Mesh, Black Market and the Ball & Biscuit.
Fountain Square is my other favorite downtown neighborhood and if you go, you will immediately see why—it is extremely charming, and like Mass Ave, features lots of local eateries. You can find Thai (Siam Square), Peruvian (Mama Irma), Chinese (Naisa), Greek (Santorini) Mexican (Tortas Guicho Dominguez y el Cubanito, La Revolucion, La Margarita), pub food (Red Lion Grog House), burgers (Peppy Grill) and barbecue (Smokehouse on Shelby) as well as many other independent options.
Just north of downtown, in Broad Ripple, we have even more options. Recess and Room 4 (two restaurants in one space) are local treasures. Recess offers one set menu a day featuring impeccably fresh produce, seafood, and meats. Room 4 is the more casual side, offering a small a la carte menu, usually featuring some of the same ingredients Recess is using. Another Broad Ripple favorite is H2O Sushi. While it does offer wonderful sushi items, the daily changing specials are the highlight of the menu. You may get a beautiful fish taco, a bowl of rich ramen, or one of my most recent favorites, a smoked egg, still runny in the middle served with fresh potato chips and caviar. Other good options in Broad Ripple are Brugge Brasserie, Taste Café, Café Patachou, Napolese, Thr3e Wisemen, Twenty Tap, Zest, and Fat Dan’s Deli.
The Pork Tenderloin Sandwich
But even with all the wonderful innovative options available, one of our most traditional local food specialties is something that every visitor should try at least once while they are in town. The breaded pork tenderloin sandwich is a Hoosier tradition, and you will rarely find them outside the Indiana borders. It is a cutlet of pork tenderloin that has been pounded to different degrees (some are really thin while others are thicker and meatier), breaded or battered in some way, and fried. It is served on a bun (buttered and toasted if you’re lucky) and, in my opinion, is best with just onions and mayo. Everyone in town will tell you where to find the best ones (just ask anyone), but a few of my favorites include the one at Muldoon’s in Carmel (just north of the city) and the Pawn Shop Pub near Broad Ripple. Good downtown options include the Steer In, Sahm’s, Chatham Tap, Big Daddy’s, and Bourbon Street Distillery. Just beware of the infamous pork fritter, which is a processed imitation served by some restaurants. Ask if they’re made in house and if they are, you should be fine.
Wherever you end up, hopefully you will have the opportunity to enjoy our local foods and some of our famous Hoosier hospitality.
Erin Day was born and raised in Indianapolis and currently resides there with her husband and two kids. Before moving back to Indy in 2006, she lived in San Francisco and Europe, developing a love for cooking, eating, and trying new foods. She started her blog about Indianapolis restaurants in 2008 with the intent to raise awareness, and hopefully expectations, about the Indianapolis food scene. You can find her blog at Indianapolis Restaurant Scene, and can contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @indyrestscene.