Best Of Indy 2020: Food And Drink
Ice Cream Nachos
How do nachos, the world’s most perfect mountain of food, get even better? Make them dessert and add ice cream. Carl Gordon of Gordon’s Milkshake Bar (865 Massachusetts Ave., 317-453-1360) toasts tortilla strips and coats them in cinnamon and sugar before adding seasonal flavors and fresh ice cream (made by the Gordon’s team in a facility not far from the milkshake shop). Stewed sweet potatoes and marshmallows topped with cheesecake ice cream have a fall feel; fresh strawberries with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream recall a summer vibe. Get creative with your own favorite flavors, and remember: Ain’t no mountain high enough.
Pop-up Burrito Concept
Chris Benedyk (chef at Love Handle) and Eric Nolan (owner of creative studio Flatland Kitchen) were looking for a creative outlet when COVID hit the restaurant industry this spring. They found it rolled in a tortilla. Their pop-up burrito place Bubbatown (bubbatown.com) pairs Benedyk’s comfort-food sensibility with Nolan’s quirky design and marketing skills. The short menu includes a vegan hash burrito packed with eggplant, avocado, potatoes, peppers, and onions, as well as a gut-busting biscuits-and-gravy variety with Becker Farm pork and housemade gravy. They’ve been serving the Mexican staples outside 8th Day Distillery and Provider, and they’re available for pickup at Love Handle on weekend days from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Slide your quarters into the old vending machine repurposed as a self-serve booze-delivery system at 1718 Bates-Hendricks Housebar (1718 S. East St., 317-744-0004, 1718hb.com), and you shall receive your choice of a good old-fashioned PBR or Busch Light, or one of a mixed bag of canned spirits when you press the Mystery Cocktail button. It’s a great gimmick that feels right at home in this cozy place.
Use of Spam
Spam has made a comeback on local menus, and the reigning queen of our canned-pork hearts is the Spam musubi at Mikado Japanese Restaurant (148 S. Illinois St., 317-972-4180, mikadoindy.com). Chef Connie Lee put it on the menu because Spam is one of her favorite ingredients for a quick meal. Musubi is a classic Hawaiian snack that looks like sushi, with a grilled slice of Spam secured on top of a block of white rice with a strip of dried seaweed. It’s a little salty, slightly sweet, and exactly right for any time of day.
Soul Food Delivery
Long before hungry, homebound locals were looking up new delivery options in 2020, chef Tawana Gulley was quietly building a customer base here with soulful Southern dishes, learned from her mother, at Black Bowè Bistro & Bakery (317-210-0345, bistrofoodforthesoul.com/black-bistro). Now with new meal-prep options, the kitchen offers delicate fried catfish, salmon patties, cheesesteaks, and smothered potatoes and onions. Recently, Gulley added house-fried rice, jumbo egg rolls, and decadent double buttah burgers. All of it is a welcome departure from the takeout pizza and Chinese food we’ve been eating.
Cupcakes in a Jar
V. Taybron‘s cupcakes in a jar (savorv.com) are a unique, photo-ready way to mark a special occasion. And while you can’t go wrong ordering Taybron’s top-selling M.C. Grahammer (graham-cracker cupcake with cheesecake filling and cherry frosting), she has a holiday line of cupcakes including bourbon candied yam and gingerbread cheesecake that can be shipped to your family for socially distanced Christmas celebrations on Zoom.
New Restaurant Incubator
We weren’t sure what to expect of Fishers Test Kitchen (The Yard at Fishers District, Fishers, 317-953-6400, fisherstestkitchen.com). But when the restaurant incubator finally debuted this year, it was better than we could have imagined. With slots for three restaurant concepts to develop menus and build their brands, the Sun King–anchored spot hit it out of the ballpark by landing former Rook chef Carlos Salazar and his global street-food counter Lil Dumplings. A couple of feet away, Korave turned traditional Korean favorites like beef bulgogi and gochu pork into crave-worthy rice bowls. A third booth provides the setting for experimental pop-ups, from up-and-comers like Shoyu Shop to seasoned chef Neal Brown’s One Trick Pony burger stand. If this is the first course, we can’t wait to see what the place serves next.
Massive trays of seafood-boil dinners might get top billing at Exotic on the Run (3106 W. 16th St., 317-672-7467, exoticontherunindy.com), but you should always add an order of the hushpuppy-sized crab cakes to eat, preferably on the drive home while they’re still piping hot. The deep-fried orbs are strictly finger food, chunky with sweet crab meat that’s loosely packed with just a pinch of breadcrumb binder. Crack through the crunchy, fryer-kissed exoskeleton to get at the fluffy interior that manages to be both hefty and delicate.
Gourmet TV Dinners
Don’t let the humble aluminum trays at Oakleys Bistro (1464 W. 86th St., 317-824-1231, oakleysbistro.com) fool you. Steve Oakley’s take on the TV dinners of yesteryear reflects the creativity of a chef who has multiple James Beard nominations under his belt and slayed Bobby Flay in a televised battle over shrimp corn dogs. The Salisbury steak is a blend of four styles of local beef, the gravy has morel mushrooms in it, and the creamed spinach is garnished with pickled Indiana ramps. The TV dinners were a nostalgic idea Oakley came up with during quarantine, and they were so popular they continue to be in regular rotation on the menu. Offerings change all the time, with other fan favorites including chicken Parmesan, Maryland crab cakes, and ricotta-stuffed shells.
When St. Elmo Steak House (127 S. Illinois St., 317-635-0636, stelmofoods.com/products) rolled out its legendary cocktail sauce in grocery stores last year, the fiery condiment proved to be a huge hit. So Indy’s most famous restaurant decided to sell its entire selection of sauces and seasonings in bottles. From its addictive remoulade for dolloping on crab cakes and brightening sandwiches to a bougie A-1 replacement called Izzy Sauce, the line beats the horseradish out of the other options at Kroger. And to wash it all down, St. Elmo has canned its heady house sipper, the Elmo Cola, which marries Bourbon whiskey with hits of dark cherry and vanilla.
Grocery Delivery Service
In a year when even routine trips to the grocery store have seemed daunting, Market Wagon (marketwagon.com) has been one of the few food businesses to benefit. The brainchild of Indianapolis entrepreneurs Nick Carter and Dan Brunner, the grocery delivery service started in 2016 as a means of combining technology and logistics to make local foods more accessible. In 2020, their business exploded as homebound shoppers packed their online carts with seasonal produce, local meats, homemade baked goods, gourmet dog biscuits, and artisanal honey. For a $6 fee, the service will bring your order right to your door in insulated cooler bags. It also offers monthly and annual subscription plans, plus a handful of Indy-area Market Host locations for free order pickups. The process is so convenient that we plan to keep this wagon on the hitch long after the pandemic is over.
When her 1-year-old son was suffering from severe food allergies, Christian Robinson and her family decided to do a 30-day vegan challenge. “I didn’t even know what ‘vegan’ was,” she says. “Then I started educating myself about plant-based cooking, and constantly posting my meals on Facebook.” Earlier this year, she parlayed her meat-free lifestyle into a new career, as owner of the vegan “ghost kitchen” Smoove’s (10202 E. Washington St., 317-967-2555, smoovesindy.com). Robinson offers a full menu of weekly vegan meal prep, but her runaway best-seller is her vegan cauliflower wingz, tender florets entombed in a thick and savory gluten-free coating and then liberally doused in either sweet barbecue, mild Buffalo sauce, or Parmesan-garlic sauce. Pre-order for delivery or pickup outside Smoove’s Washington Square prep kitchen, or have them shipped frozen and ready to heat-and-eat at home.
When their tables and deli cases went off limits in March, these local stalwarts quickly retooled into online grocery stores that brought back a cherished tradition of yore: the corner market. Purchasing a variety box of Ummmy Bars from Our Sons Bakery (1025 E. 30th St., 317-643-1033, oursonsbakery.com) is a delicious way to get acquainted with this kid-run pop-up at Broadway United Methodist Church. Designed to teach entrepreneurial skills to Black and Hispanic boys as young as 6 years old, the business sells brownie-sized goodies in a rotation of more than 50 flavors, ranging from Honey Butter Cinnamon Swirl to Browned Butter Marshmallow & Fudge Swirl. Order them online for pickup, or catch them at one of their curbside pop-ups or collaborations with the likes of Tinker Coffee.
Tinker Gemini (1125 W. 16th St., 317-438-5728, tinkercoffee.com) is the catering arm of Tinker Coffee (its Gemini “twin”), and the weekly Friday morning pop-ups at the roastery are equal parts delicious and stressful. Delicious because the Tinker team collaborates with some of the most popular food businesses in town to offer everything from fresh bagel sandwiches (Sidedoor Bagel) to warm apple fritters (Indy Dough); and stressful because the menus are posted midweek and typically sell out within hours. It’s basically The Hunger Games over there. Watch the Tinker Gemini Instagram page for weekly menus and set your alarm for when sales go live. May the odds be ever in your favor.
New Prix Fixe Menu
While other restaurants were converting to curbside carryout this past summer, Nobuharu Nakajima was powering forward with plans to open a fixed-price Japanese eatery the likes of which locals had yet to see. The result is Hinata Japanese Fine Dining (130 E. Washington St., 317-672-4929, hinataindy.com), which offers multicourse meals of celebrated chef Akinori Tanigawa’s fresh takes on sashimi, chawanmushi with roasted chicken thigh, and seasonal Hoosier produce such as brûléed miso-basted eggplant. With a main-course nod to popular hibachi steakhouses in the form of delectable rare beef tenderloin and steamed sea bass, even finicky diners will leave satisfied.
It may have been the smashburger that made you a regular at the Fountain Square butcher shop Turchetti’s Salumeria, but owners George Turkette and Amanda DeVary wasted no time in expanding their offerings, adding sauces, soups, and pizza kits for home cooks. They also bought a truck and launched Turchetti’s Supply and Protein Service, a monthly subscription that will keep you from ever running out of meaty dinner options. 1106 Prospect St., 317-426-3048, turchettis.com
No stranger to takeout, Goose the Market, the longtime butcher shop, charcuterie, and wine bar went to work putting its entire inventory online so housebound foodies could browse at their leisure and drop by for whole smoked chickens, pounds of applewood bacon, and hundreds of staples, all bagged up and ready for pickup. Recently, the market has added pasta dinners and cheese flights. Of course, you can still get the sandwich that first won your heart: the Batali. 2503 N. Delaware St., 317-924-4944, goosethemarket.com
While many restaurants liquidated their pantries when the quarantine was ordered, Eddie Sahm reminded his customers that restaurants have just about everything you need for your home kitchen. At his virtual Sahm’s Marketplace, you can stock your larder with a selection of veggies, meats, sauces, and baked goods, not the least of which is the famous Sahm’s coffee cake, now with flavors dreamed up by the talented pastry chef Hattie McDaniel. Various locations, sahms.com
If there was a sweet side to 2020’s impact on Indy’s culinary scene, it was the emergence of top-notch new bakeries for excellent bread and pastries. None has drawn longer lines of hungry carb lovers than Leviathan Bakehouse (1101 N. College Ave., 317-493-1879, leviathanbakehouse.com), the funky patisserie and lunch spot that local pastry chef Pete Schmutte opened in July. The bakery’s signature jambon beurre sandwich of ham and imported butter on a chewy, light baguette quickly became a social media darling. But danishes filled with Indian saag paneer or fresh figs and goat cheese were equal standouts, as well as world-class croissants, brown-butter cookies, and éclairs.
Quarantined home cooks who feared they wouldn’t be able to find the yeast and flour for their baking projects, as well as many other hard-to-source gourmet ingredients, got a delicious gift this past spring. Combining the culinary forces of Bluebeard and Amelia’s Bread (653 Virginia Ave., 317-686-1583, ameliasbread.com), Edward Battista and his faithful skeleton crew cobbled together a new online ordering system featuring everything from Bluebeard takeout favorites to housemade gelato, cheese, salumi, pastry staples, and sauces that could more than stock a pandemic pantry. Born were new traditions of Tuesday pizza nights, Wednesday-morning bagels, and all-week lines of cars pulling off Virginia Avenue as customers phoned in their orders and had bags of grocery treats brought to their cars.
There may be no laws where White Claw is concerned, but the prevailing attitude governing Sun King Brewing’s (various locations, sunkingbrewing.com) new line of adult sparkling waters is that they should stand up to the quality locals have come to expect from the beverage maker’s beers. Dry, subtly flavored, and finely carbonated, the four spiked seltzers Sun King unveiled this year are every bit as good as an Osiris pale ale. A variety pack includes the tart, citrus-forward lemonade, a slightly funkier tropical mango, black cherry with a gently medicinal hint, and a sophisticated passion orange you’ll definitely want to feature at your next patio party.
The large volcanic-rock dish at Verde Flavors of Mexico (multiple locations, verdeflavorsofmexico.com) arrives scalding hot and draped with still-sizzling meats, shrimp, and tender cactus paddles. Crowned with pink pickled onions and flowers, it’s a spectacle of a presentation that compels diners at nearby tables to whisper in your direction: Excuse me, what is that? The answer: a traditional Mexican mixed-grill that reveals layers of savory components—chorizo, onions, peppers, and chunks of queso cooking in a lava of ranchera salsa. Tucked inside warm tortillas with rice and beans, it’s enough to feed two (or more), and Verde makes a delicious art of it.
The Canadians may get most of the credit for giving the world an A-level comfort food in poutine, with its French-fried potatoes, cheese curds, and creamy gravy. But South Korean–born brothers Jung Gyu and Jung Min Kim have upped the ante with their bulgogi poutine at Korave Korean BBQ at the Fishers Test Kitchen (The Yard at Fishers District, Fishers, 317-953-6412, korave.us). The dish starts with traditional fries, but builds with layers of grilled beef, Monterey Jack cheese, and sweet and spicy sauces. The recently expanded menu options allow customers to customize their poutine with additional topping options such as kimchi, a fried egg, or grilled peppers and onions for a style the Kim brothers call K-Philly.
Remote Wine Tasting
Nicole Kearney is making Zoom meetings fun again. The founder of SIP & SHARE WINES (sipandsharewines.com) launched SipSperiences this year, in which small groups assemble virtually and swirl, sniff, and sip wines made by Kearney and her team on the south side of Indy. Flights of red and white wines are delivered to participants in advance, usually four to seven individual bottles of 5-ounce pours. Kearney—one of a growing community of Black winemakers—collaborates with other minority business owners to offer add-ons to enjoy during the tastings, such as vegan baked goods or cigars. And yes, many of the wines are great.
The Fruity Pebble Treat ice-cream sandwich at Teejay’s Sweet Tooth (8660 Purdue Rd., 317-744-9764, teejayssweettooth.com) is so beautiful, it’s almost as if the Instagram gods conjured it from a bag of sugar and food coloring. The treats are made in house, and customers pick the ice cream filling. (We recommend hint-of-raspberry Blue Moon for maximum paparazzi impact). If you want to mix things up, you can trade the marshmallow bun for doughnuts to complete this Technicolor jaw-dropper.
As GoldLeaf Savory & Sweet (1901 E. 46th St., 317-600-3542) prepared to open in SoBro early this spring, its owners imagined a classy evening joint with shareable plates. Then the pandemic wrecked everything, and the cafe pivoted to a coffee bar with a few carryout items, notably truly spectacular pastries. Some savory (an open-faced jalapeño popper with Smoking Goose ham, cheddar, and Dijon), some sweet (a raspberry chocolate chip croissant), the pastries weren’t what chef Kristine Bockman expected to focus on this year. But when life isn’t golden, you have to look for the silver lining.
The to-go refrigerator at Nicole-Taylor’s Pasta Market (1134 E. 54th St., 317-257-7374, nicoletaylorspasta.com) takes up an entire wall, and it seems designed to meet the needs of the home cook who would rather run naked through SoBro than make dinner after another day of virtual school supervision. There are ready-to-bake pizzas, pans of lasagna, charcuterie snack packs, fresh sauces, salads, and more. You can also grab a loaf of Italian bread, as well as filled-to-order cannolis if it’s one of those days where dessert is a spiritual necessity.
One of True Kimchi’s (truekimchi.com) most popular items was born of COVID necessity. When founder Samantha Yim faced a sudden slowdown in orders, she had to figure out what to do with all of the kimchi that had nowhere to go. So she dehydrated it for 30 hours, ground it into a coarse powder, and offered the spice for sale. The demand was so great that it’s now a permanent part of her lineup. Sprinkle it on rice bowls, salad, eggs, pizza, or whatever your heart desires for that complex tangy flavor you can only get with fermented kimchi.
At first glance, the Gomez BBQ (222 E. Market St., 317-414-7661, gomezbbq.com) snack mix might look like a run-of-the-mill version of Chex mix. But upon tasting it, you’ll realize it would be a mistake not to stockpile it for an apocalypse. The secret is owner Matt Gomez’s two-step process, which he starts by tossing his proprietary barbecue seasoning with the main ingredients (Chex cereal, pretzel sticks, rye crackers, nuts, and Cheez-Its) and baking it in the oven. Then he takes things to the next level by doing a pass with a smoke gun. What started as something he made occasionally for a few local bars is now produced several times a week to keep up with sales.