I couldn’t help but laugh when I got a direct message from the good folks at Indianapolis Monthly and the first line of is it was, “Are you busy?” Am I busy? You mean busy fruitlessly job searching during a global pandemic and a looming, inevitable recession? Busy spouting off on Twitter, desperately trying to keep hold of any fading relevance I still have in this market? Busy spending every waking hour with an attention-hungry toddler, while not being able to take him to the museum, zoo, library, swim lessons, the JCC, Grandma and Grandpa’s house, or any other place where another human might get within six feet of us? Busy? Nah, I’m not too busy to do a Guest Celebrity Superstar Awesome Blog (their words) for their terrific site! I’m honored to have been the fourth call after TJ Warren, Pippa Man, and the lady from the Andy Mohr commercials.
As we’re all hunkered down during these crazy times, I’ve been trying to think of ways to promote local restaurants. Before my exciting career in rapidly ascending world of AM radio, I worked for years in restaurants. My first job was busing tables when I was fifteen and I did everything from getting drenched in the dish tank in my teens to overcooking steaks at Outback Steakhouse in Bloomington in my twenties. That’s the place where I met my wife, Ashley. Every year, we make a list of all the local restaurants we have yet to try and cross them off as we go. It’s our absolute favorite thing to do and that’s not old and lame at all! Besides all of the amazing food, I’ve started to realize that I have personal connections and memories to many of the places we frequent here in town. I wanted to share those with you so we can all band together to support these workers in their time of need:
Keystone Sports Review (5602 N. Keystone Ave., 317-251-9902)
If you know anything about my professional background, then you knew I was going to mention this place. Sure, we can talk about the pizza, wings and the homemade bleu cheese, which are staples, but KSR has an endearing neighborhood feel to it. It’s impossible not to fit right in there. It’s what I think the show Cheers was like, even though I never actually watched Cheers. So, go grab some carryout, say hi* to the owner Larry – mustache, talkative, works like 800 hours a week – and the rest of the crew. (*from SIX FEET AWAY PLEASE)
Side note: I’ve got a running bet with a couple of friends on how long “Query & Schultz” remains on their marquee, so if you want in on it, let me know.
Brozinni (8810 S. Emerson Ave., 317-865-0911)
I grew up a close drive to New Haven, Connecticut, this country’s undisputed greatest pizza city, and a short train ride to New York City, so I’m kinddddd of a d*ck about pizza. When I first moved to Indianapolis, I was living alone and would occasionally miss home as most millennials do. Enter Brozinni’s. It’s about as close to a NY slice as you’re going to get and it’s my favorite pie in the city. I don’t often get down to the southside, but I always stop here if I’m in the neighborhood.
To many misinformed outsiders, Indy is vanilla and chain-centric, but we have some great ethnic food in the International Marketplace on the westside. King Wok is our favorite Chinese in the city (by far), but their menu is mostly known for their terrific Vietnamese dishes. Vietnamese is also a specialty of Saigon, which is in a converted Bob Evans! Seriously, walk in and you’ll think you’re about to get a plate of B’s & G’s in 1990 instead of some steamy, delicious pho.
Sahm’s (Multiple locations)
Remember the scene from Office Space where the programmer Michael Bolton lies and says he enjoys the singer Michael Bolton’s “entire catalogue?” Well, that’s the truth for me when it comes to any of the Sahm’s restaurant catalogue–Big Lug, Liter House, Rockstone—they’re all amazing. I listed this specific one, though, because I had a fish sandwich there in 2016 and I still think about that meal. It’s just a fish sandwich, right? What’s the big deal? No, you don’t understand … this was THE FISH SANDWICH. It changed my life to the extent that a fish sandwich can change one’s life.
Ed Sahm is also a fantastic person, who genuinely cares about our city. Whenever Jake Query and I had a cause and/or fundraiser that we were trying to promote on our now-defunct radio show, Ed was always the first one to reach out to ask what he could do to help. Besides their delicious food, that’s a guy, and a family, who are worth your support. He’s pivoting right now into a grocery/market with some ready-made meals for the time being, which is worth checking out.
The Donut Shop Bakery & Restaurant (5527 N. Keystone Ave., 317-255-3836)
I don’t remember if A) someone told me this, B) I saw it in a movie, or C) I total hallucinated the whole thing, but I heard you know a place is good if it has bars on the windows and/or is still CASH ONLY. The Donut Shop is one of the few spots that still fits into the latter category. I’ll usually drop Ashley off at work on the final night of her nursing rotation at Methodist so I can pick her up to swing by The Donut Shop the next morning. It’s just $3.99 for a half-dozen donuts or you can get the specialty ones a la carte. I usually get two regulars with rainbow jimmies – you guys call them “sprinkles” out here, which sounds completely ridiculous – while my wife gets maple iced and blueberry and my son always asks for strawberry iced and chocolate. They also do diner-style breakfast and lunch.
Studio C (1051 E. 54th St., 317-672-7219)
I was super excited when Greg Hardesty unpacked his knives again for this really cool/unique concept. My wife and I were huge fans of Recess, and as much as I hate the word “foodie”, Recess was a “foodie” place when “foodie” places started becoming a thing. As IM has written about in the past, Greg is like the Bill Walsh of Indianapolis chefs (sports guy makes a sports comp! derp!). For you non-sports fans, Walsh was a three-time Super Bowl champion and Hall of Fame head NFL coach, who produced dozens of other successful head coaches: Andy Reid, Tony Dungy, and Mike Holmgren all are on the branches of Walsh’s coaching tree. That’s the same for Greg, who saw acclaimed chefs like Abbi Merriss (Bluebeard), Neal Brown (Ukiyo, Pizzology, Libertine), and Jonathan Brooks (Milktooth, Beholder) come up through his kitchens.
He slings Tinker Coffee and homemade cookies in the morning, pop-up/to-go lunches in the afternoon, and private dinners at night (temporarily suspended, obviously). We had Ashley’s birthday dinner there this past December and it was a fantastic night thanks to Greg’s Room Four burger. (Full disclosure: Greg is also friend and the most humble person I know. I think there’s a stereotype to elite chefs that they’re pretentious and weird, but he’s just a laid-back dude.)
Turf Catering (8155 Castleway Court West C., 317-288-0173)
They have a ton of unique lunch offerings like a Phish sandwich which jams like its namesake, pork belly BLTs, a ham and cheese with all my favorite Italian meats, and more. I’ve gone in there before and they’ve just handed me fresh-baked cookies. Like, “Here you go, free cookie!” Every place should do this.
Any Yats location: I’m never not in the mood for Yats.
Meridian Restaurant & Bar: Jim Irsay chooses to go here and he has billions of dollars and a jet so, yeah, it’s good.
Taste of Dubai: I once ate 32 pounds of Baba Gannouj here.
Workingman’s Friend: An institution and Indy’s best burger. Say hi to Robin Miller.