This week the world turns its attention to Indianapolis as the Midwestern city hosts Super Bowl XLVI. Long known as a chain restaurant haven, the city has seen a food transformation in recent years. Indianapolis food blogger Erin Day gives us an overview of some of the highlights of an Indianapolis that you may not be familiar with.
I was born and raised in Indianapolis and it’s a wonderful, welcoming city. I moved away for a few years and had the opportunity to live (and eat) on the west coast and in Europe. When I returned to Indy, I was curious to see what the dining scene would be like. Much of the Midwest seems so dominated by chain restaurants, but I’m happy to say that Indy has seen a food transformation in the past 5+ years. There has been an enormous increase in smallholders growing many interesting products that appear in our farmers’ markets and, luckily, in our restaurants too. Visitors to Indy for the Super Bowl this year (and anytime) can expect wonderful and inventive restaurants that rival some of the best in any city.
Downtown, visitors should bypass the inevitable national chains and check out one of my current favorite spots, The Libertine, a lovely modern bar that serves vintage cocktails and some of the most innovative food in Indianapolis. The menu is constantly changing and highlights seasonal ingredients. We recently had the pleasure of dining on Chicken Leg Confit and Artichoke Fritters. I also heard that they’ll be putting up a tent outside for Super Bowl weekend that has local beers and local brats to take away. A great option for lunch downtown is our renovated city market with plenty of food vendors to choose from. You can find everything from po boys to pizza to crepes.
Another great choice in the city center is the R Bistro, which has been open for more than 10 years and features a small, weekly changing menu of the season. It’s a cozy bistro area on one of my favorite streets in Indianapolis, Massachusetts Avenue, which has plenty of independent bars, restaurants, and shops. Other great places to eat on Mass Ave (as we locals call it) include Mesh, Black Market, and Ball & Biscuit.
Mass Ave has independent bars, restaurants and shops. (Courtesy photo of the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association)
Fountain Square is my other favorite downtown area and if you go you’ll see why? It is extremely charming and, like Mass Ave, has many local restaurants. Here you will find Thai (Siam Square), Peruvian (Mama Irma), Chinese (Naisa), Greek (Santorini), Mexican (Tortas Guicho Dominguez and El Cubanito, La Revolucion, La Margarita), Pub Food (Red Lion Grog House) , Burger (Peppy Grill), and barbecue (Smokehouse on Shelby) as well as many other independent options.
The charming Brunnenplatz offers a variety of interesting dishes. (Photo courtesy of the ICVA)
North of downtown, in Broad Ripple, we have even more options. Recess and Room 4 (two restaurants in one room) are local treasures. Recess offers one menu a day with impeccably fresh produce, seafood and meat. Room 4 is more informal and has a small a la carte menu that usually includes some of the same ingredients Recess uses. Another Broad Ripple favorite is H2O Sushi. While it offers wonderful sushi items, the daily changing specials are the highlight of the menu. You might get a gorgeous fish taco, bowl of rich ramen, or one of my newest favorites, a smoked egg that’s still runny in the middle and 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.
Broad Ripple is north of downtown Indianapolis. (Photo courtesy of the ICVA)
The pork tenderloin sandwich
But for all the wonderful innovative options, one of our most traditional local specialties is something every visitor should try at least once while in town. The breaded pork tenderloin sandwich is a Hoosier tradition, and you’ll rarely find it outside of Indiana. It’s a schnitzel made from pork tenderloin that has been beaten to varying degrees (some are really thin while others are thicker and meatier), breaded, or beaten and fried in some way. It’s served on a bun (buttered and toasted if you’re lucky) and is best with just onions and mayo in my opinion. Everyone in town will tell you where to find the best (just ask someone) but some of my favorites are the one at Muldoon in Carmel (north of town) and the Pawn Shop Pub near Broad Ripple. Good downtown options include Steer In, Sahm’s, Chatham Tap, Big Daddy’s, and Bourbon Street Distillery. Just beware of the infamous pork chunk, a processed imitation served by some restaurants. Ask if they are made in house and if so you should be fine.
A famous Indiana pork tenderloin sandwich. (Photo courtesy of the ICVA)
Wherever you land, hopefully you will have a chance to enjoy our local food and some of our famous Hoosier hospitality.
Erin Day was born and raised in Indianapolis. She currently lives there with her husband and two children. Before returning to Indy in 2006, she lived in San Francisco and Europe and developed a love for cooking, eating and trying new foods. She started her blog about Indianapolis restaurants in 2008 with the intention of raising awareness, and hopefully expectations, of the Indianapolis food scene. You can find her blog on the Indianapolis Restaurant Scene and contact her by email at [email protected] and on Twitter @indyrestscene.