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Mixing a fine pre-Prohibition cocktail takes work, sending the vested bartenders at The Libertine into a dance of controlled fury. Belly up and behold the routine: demolishing ice, scaling the wall of cubbies to reach a bottle of Fernet-Branca, whipping liqueur from jigger to glass, carving a wispy orange rind—all while keeping their ties clean. Finally, something to make us look up from our iPhones. 38 E. Washington St., 631-3333
It’s a given that this appetizer must be housemade and must be yummy. 1933 Lounge at St. Elmo has added a rule—must have bacon, like the new hangout’s smoky Fried Bacon Infused Mac & Cheese, three golden orbs served with a (sinus-friendly) remoulade. 127 S. Illinois St., 635-0636
The hostess at Chef JJ’s Backyard hands you a pint of Sun King when you arrive at a quarterly Brewer’s Dinner, and the suds keep coming through five grilled courses. The focus is on pairings—like smoked pork loin, spaghetti squash, and kale served with the malty Wee Muckle. As guests of honor, the owners of Sun King pour forth with stories from the brewing biz. 1040 Broad Ripple Ave., 602-3828
Beware morning commuters leaving Virginia Kay’s, a new doughnut shop on Meridian Street. Their attention is probably riveted on a soft, chewy sweet roll wearing a shimmering glaze and oozing just enough fresh-tasting raspberry filling to make fingers sticky. In the name of knowing thy enemy, better get your own. 2402 N. Meridian St., 925-5297Note: After press time, this business closed.
Before pastry chefs started making it with Krispy Kremes, bread pudding was just a way to use up day-old bread in a creamy, straightforwardly sweet dessert—like the version served at Kelties, which adds little but cream, eggs, butter, and a caramel sauce that will have you licking the spoon. 110 S. Union St., Westfield, 867-3525
Whether or not these savory stuffed buns are actually “sandwiches” is a matter of some dispute, but there’s no debating the lure of the namesake nosh at Caracas Arepas Grill. Warm and crisp with a sweet and creamy interior, the traditional Venezuelan arepas (above) enshroud such fillings as well-seasoned shredded beef, black beans, and plantains. 7490 N. Michigan Rd., 228-9550
No mere munchie, the egg rolls at Foon Ying stretch to six inches and could easily fill you up at lunch. Light, crispy, and seasoned with plenty of five spice, these monsters are legendary among eastsiders. 3770 N. Shadeland Ave., 547-2285
The “mini indulgences” that end a meal at Seasons 52 achieve rich satisfaction in the space of a shot glass. Particularly luscious: a chocolate–peanut butter mousse with a well-roasted undertone, and a Key lime pie as tangy and creamy as it gets. At $2.50 each, you can have them both. 8650 Keystone Crossing, 846-5252
Occupying the gap between taqueria originals and bistro-fusion fare, the tacos at Revolucion re-quire a double layer of corn tortillas mortared together with melted cheese to contain the carne asada, pork, shrimp, or veggie filling. Ask for the spicy-vinegary “Pink Death” sauce—because whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you swear undying love. 1132 Prospect St., 423-9490
Flatbread is not pizza. It’s a crisp, contemporary take on pizza. The Northside Social gets it oh-so-right with its Canyon flatbread appetizer, triangles of unleavened dough brushed lightly with pesto and topped with pulled chicken, roasted tomatoes, fresh basil, and a sprinkling of mozzarella. 6525 N. College Ave., 253-0111__________________________
>> BEST FANCY SLIDERS: Harry & Izzy's, 153 S. Illinois St., 635-9594; 4050 E. 82nd St., 915-8045
—Eric Prime, Bargersville__________________________
The six-table setup is sweetly petite, but the sandwiches at Tortas Guicho Dominguez y El Cubanito are anything but. Airy buns about the size of a catcher’s mitt are stuffed with any combo of breaded steak, chorizo, chicken, ham, hotdogs, pineapple, avocado, peppers, onions, eggs, and mozzarella. 641 Virginia Ave., 658-0735
The new Dark Chocolate Osiris popcorn from Just Pop In! covers crunchy popcorn with a sticky coating that includes caramel, cocoa, dark chocolate, a white-chocolate drizzle, and—cheers!— Osiris Pale Ale from Sun King Brewing for a malty richness. 6302 N. Guilford Ave., 257-9338
Don’t let the ham and roast beef classics fool you. K & T Deli serves 10 versions of banh mi, the French-influenced Vietnamese baguette sandwich piled with everything from pork belly to sardines. 3738 Lafayette Rd., 602-2416
Greg Hardesty wanted to play with the dessert menu at his new streamlined eatery, Room 4, so he planned to serve candy bars straight up. Ha! Get it? Well, customers didn’t, and Hardesty was stuck with crates of Twix and Butterfingers. But from the ashes of gastronomic irony rose the Candy Bar Cookie, all warm caramel, milk chocolate, and crispety, crunchety peanut butter. 4907 N. College Ave., 925-7529
Yes, people will stare when a server at St. Elmo Steak House delivers a 32-ounce Tomahawk ribeye, a dry-aged, French-cut feat of gluttony with a protruding rib bone roughly the size of a billy club. After slicing away at the rich, chewy, generously marbled meat, you might be tempted to grab the entire cut by the bone and tear at it, paleo-style. 127 S. Illinois St., 635-0636
Served on a sheet tray, an appetizer of kettle-style spuds dressed with bits of local Lone Pine Farms bacon and creamy bleu-cheese sauce at Thr3e Wise Men Brewing Company can easily feed two people. You can be healthy tomorrow night. 1021 Broad Ripple Ave., 255-5151
Going against the grain in all the right ways, Mesh on Mass dishes up a delectable crabcake (no bread filler and more of the good stuff) as part of a well-rounded celiac-friendly menu. If you aren’t a gluten-free convert when you arrive, you will be when you leave. 725 Massachusetts Ave., 955-9600
Chef Nick Carter at Black Swan Brewpub gives this in-vogue appetizer a signature twist by slicing whole pickles every day and serving up spears, not chips. Each one yields several bites of tasty breading and crunchy pickle, even better with a dash of ranch. 2067 E. Hadley Rd., Plainfield, 838-7444
The mozzarella at Locally Grown Gardens disappears fast in the summer once the tomato crop comes in, so buy it when you see it. As to the provenance of these little clusters—gooey, asymmetrical, rich, and milky, with just a hint of sour tang—proprietor Ron Harris will say only that an Italian family in Wisconsin makes them from pasteurized cows’ milk. He can keep his secrets; we just want that cheese. 1050 E. 54th St., 255-8555
At locally owned Hotcakes Emporium, the accent is on “cake.” Resist the menu’s countless fussed-up flapjacks and go for the short stack of buttermilks, consistently souffle-like in texture. Make like a regular and sit in Rae’s section. 8555 Ditch Rd., 254-5993
Health-conscious Tulip Noir Cafe pulls off the too-good-to-be-true combo of wholesome and decadent, like organic-flour–based “pancakeys” drizzled with honey, sprinkled with cinnamon, and topped with sliced bananas and almonds—flat-out perfection. 1224 W. 86th St., 848-5252
TOP ROW: Peanut Butter at Ginger's Cafe (1804 E. Conner St., Noblesvilla, 773-0303); Pecan at MCL Cafeteria (Multiple locations); Strawberry at Indy's Upper Crust Artisan Pies (Available at Goose the Market, The Loft at Traders Point Creamery, and other area restaurants as updated on Facebook; 840-0833)MIDDLE ROW: Cherry Crumb at Grand Traverse Pie Company (1155 E. Stop 11 Rd., Greenwood, 885-7437); Buttermilk at R Bistro (888 Massachusetts Ave., 423-0312); Banana Praline at Pipers Cafe (2130 W. Southport Rd., 888-7667)BOTTOM ROW: Apple at Locally Grown Gardens (1050 E. 54th St., 255-8555); Pumpkin at Gray Brothers Cafeteria (555 S. Indiana St., Mooresville, 831-33450)
Just four ingredients, yet so many ways to go wrong—too sweet, too bitter, too warm. The classic cocktail is done just right at The Oceanaire Seafood Room, where Remy Martin VSOP and Grand Marnier are shaken up with lemon juice and simple syrup and served chilled in a sugar-rimmed martini glass. 30 S. Meridian St., 955-2277
With snappy names like “Monkey’s Uncle” and “James Dean” and loads of organic fruits, juices, and energy supplements on the menu, the frozen concoctions get the respect they deserve at Georgetown Market. And customers get free samples at the lunch counter. 4375 Georgetown Rd., 293-9525
Pinky fingers naturally rise into place upon crossing the threshold of The Ruby Pear, set in a Victorian house in Noblesville where luncheon-goers pass bon-bon plates, china teapots, and freshly baked scones. 1095 E. Conner St., Noblesville, 770-8322
Starbucks may have popularized the cake pop’s comeback, but Sweeties Gourmet Treats bakes circles around the chain with oversized orbs in 14 flavors, including strawberry lemonade and Oreo. In between birthday parties, find them every day at the Broad Ripple dessert cafe, which has blessed us with the term “brownie pop,” as well. 1081 Broad Ripple Ave., 602-3999
Every Wednesday night, Chef Tyler Herald at Broad Ripple’s Petite Chou seasons his fryer with duck fat, a secret ingredient that lends a subtle richness and depth to fried chicken served with a crunchy and never-greasy skin. 823 E. Westfield Blvd., 259-0765
Culture shock on Aisle 12! The middle-American foodscape at Meijer also holds a surprisingly large and diverse World Cuisines section: Polish fudge, German mustards, British ginger preserves, Scandinavian snacks, and a huge variety of Asian noodles, with an English translation for every item. Multiple locations.
Looking for the kind of warm, buttery croissant that reminds you of Paris? Make it to Rene’s Bakery when it opens—usually, that’s 7 a.m.—and grab one straight out of the oven, when the delicate, flaky pastry will cause you to hallucinate poodles and street painters. 6524B N. Cornell Ave., 251-2253
The heroic Joe’s Butcher Shop & Fish Market on Carmel’s main drag offers dry-aged beef—hard to find, and perhaps the best steaks we’ve ever grilled. Sourced from Indiana farms and dried at Dewig’s in Evansville, the New York strips and ribeyes here, having spent several weeks in the locker, achieve a concentrated, mineral beef flavor. Expensive—$17.99 per pound—and worth every penny. 111 W. Main St., Carmel, 846-8877
The Ripple Inn inverts this salad by making beets—six types, yellow to crimson, cooked down to sweet perfection and tossed with a light Dijon-citrus vinaigrette—a base for oranges, nibs of full-bodied Maytag bleu cheese, and a tuft of baby watercress. 929 E. Westfield Blvd., 252-2600
Oscar-style is fine, and nobody is going to turn away sizzling butter, but the ribeyes and filets at Eddie Merlot’s wear more-elaborate crowns. The menu of “steak enhancements” offers such royal treatments as foie gras slices, coldwater lobster tail, Alaskan King crab legs, and a gooey crust of bacon and Gorgonzola. 3645 E. 96th St., 846-8303
The mural of veggies painted by neighborhood folks at Pogue’s Run Grocer tells you everything you need to know about this eastside food co-op. Green, organic, local, slow, fair trade—all things wholesome are here, among brown-rice flours, some 20 kinds of beans, and a section devoted to Hoosier foods. Bring a quarter for the seed-bomb dispenser. 2828 E. 10th St., 426-4963
If you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain, you probably will not be a fan of the Lychee Martini at Miyagi's. But give the whole fruity-cocktail genre one more chance with this fragrant but potent mix of vodka and berry-like lychee liqueur. It's a bracing refresher, whatever the weather. 3625 E. 96th St., 846-7077
Proving that authenticity is overrated, Oaken Barrel Hoosier-fies the British mutton casserole by combining tender chunks of braised tenderloin in a thick mushroom gravy with whopping chunks of carrots, potatoes, and onions, all topped with a scoop of mashed potatoes and melted cheddar. Long live the revolution. 50 N. Airport Pkwy., Greenwood, 887-2287
Only on rare occasions does the light, nutty flavor of rainbow trout need further adornment. But at Bonefish Grill, the slight crunch of a pecan-Parmesan crust deftly plays up the mild, smoky flesh of this plate-spanning filet. A scattering of artichoke hearts and rich lemon-butter sauce further the argument that sometimes good can get even better. 4501 E. 82nd St., 863-3474; 1001 N. State Rd. 135, Greenwood, 884-3992
More than 50 varieties of longneck soft drinks greet shoppers at Sullivan Hardware & Garden on Keystone Avenue, and the exotic and throwback flavors (banana, birch beer, rock and rye) and groovy labels with kitschy slogans (Leninade: “Get hammered & sickled!”) make for tough work filling a $9.99 mix-and-match six-pack—never mind picking just one to swig cold. 6955 N. Keystone Ave., 255-9230.
Photography by Tony Valainis.
This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue.
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