My husband and I are not extravagant people. In fact, my philosophy for most material things—whether they’re my tattered-sole boots or the old, lumpy couch that deserves to be dragged to the curb and lit on fire—could be summed up with a Tom Waits lyric: “I’m gonna love you ’til the wheels come off.” But we do spend money on restaurants. We love to eat out, whether it’s for a quickie meal at nearby La Parada for enchiladas or a three-hour repast at IM’s restaurant of the year, Bluebeard, often including a spaghetti dish with creme fraiche, lemon, and Parmesan that I sometimes dream about in the middle of the day.
We’re not the only ones. The National Restaurant Association projects that Indiana’s eat-and-drink establishments will rake in $9.2 billion in sales this year. And if the expense reports I approved for this issue are any proof, dining editor Julia Spalding—along with assistant editor Trisha Brand and contributing editor Terry Kirts—probably accounts for a nice slice of that pie. The three of them eat out for a living (oh, the envy!), and they visited old and new favorites alike to make sure they got this year’s Best Restaurants list right.
But the food industry is more than just sales—it’s people. Employment in Indiana’s dining sector is expected to add 23,000-or-so jobs over the next decade. And after a somewhat depressing lull in new restaurants in the latter half of 2012, it does seem that the pace of openings is finally, thank goodness, picking up. The last couple of months alone have seen Delicia pop up in SoBro, Bakersfield Mass Ave’s tacos and tequila join the bars of lower Mass, Napolese expand to both The Fashion Mall and downtown, and Cerulean set mod-cuisine standards at The Alexander.
When the restaurant association surveyed 1,800 chefs last fall to assess trends for the coming year, many toques guessed that the public would “be more adventurous, dining out to seek new tastes and foods they can’t make at home.” For our restaurants’ sakes, let’s hope that’s true. After all, I could probably figure out how to whip up Bluebeard’s perfectly acidic pasta in my own kitchen, but then I’d miss pairing it with a smoky Sanctuary cocktail and a basket of grilled bread from adjoining Amelia’s bakery. What fun would that be?
Amanda Heckert is the editor of Indianapolis Monthly. See her bio here.
This column appeared in the May 2013 issue.