Best Of Indy 2021: Food And Drink

People sitting in a cafe
Public Parlor House has a stunning day-to-evening look.

Photo by Tony Valainis

Instagram-Friendly Cafe

If “coffee ’til cocktails” is your mantra, you may want to move into Parlor Public House (600 E. Ohio St., 317-610-0106). With a sun-drenched loft vibe, the new Lockerbie Square destination boasts comfy couches, plants, Penn & Beech candles, and sparkling glassware to catch the light. The place functions as a cafe until 5 p.m., when it converts to a 21+ lounge. In the morning, don’t miss the blue butterfly tea latte with hints of vanilla and lavender that changes color when spritzed with lemon. Stopping in for happy hour? Try the Chasing Tail cocktail made with mezcal, grapefruit, lime and habanero bitters, and a splash of soda water.

two glasses of boba teaBoba Bar

Are you a milk tea person? A cream cheese fan? A fruit slushie aficionado? Whatever your boba poison, Castleton tea bar TsaocAa (6386 E. 82nd St., 317-863-8118) can whip up a chilly Asian-style drink worthy of its fat straw. COVID-19 social-distance protocols brought in a bank of touch-screen kiosks for ordering that display detailed photo illustrations of each drink—a handy visual aid for those of us still finding our way around the bubble tea universe.

Gluten-Free Chocolate

Dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, kosher, halal—SoChatti (1125 E. Brookside Ave., 317-600-3776) pretty much crushes any obstacle that might prevent you from enjoying chocolate. Matt Rubin developed the recipe for his wife after she was diagnosed with a milk allergy in 2013, and he uses only natural cacao nibs, cacao butter, and sugar. Pop in the tasting room at the Circle City Industrial Complex for a flight of samples sourced from around the world. Each—like fine wines or bourbons—offers its own distinctive flavor profile. Once you’ve identified your favorite, you can buy a couple of pouches to melt and drizzle on ice cream at home.

New Low–Key Bar

While Black Circle Brewing may be known for its raucous drag bingo nights and the banging metal acts it books, owner Jesse Rice has always vibed as much with the mellow house party scene he remembers from the ’90s. So he opened a second hangout called the Loom (1901 E. 46th St.) a few blocks down 46th Street, with a rec room and laundromat aesthetic. (Seriously, you can wash a load of your skivvies.) Rotating drafts, variety four-packs to go, and  nonalcoholic sippers fit any attitude, and brother Justin’s Log food trailer serves up fair food and other fried favorites you loved as a kid.

Hardware Store Cuisine

Of all the places to set up a great food counter, a hardware store may be the most unlikely. But when it’s Sullivan Hardware and Garden, which has one of the city’s best selection of grills, it kind of makes sense. The food at Sully’s Grill (6955 N. Keystone Ave., 317-255-9230), overseen by chef Rachel Hoover, is innovative and artful. Recent menus have included a smoked chicken sandwich with pickled zucchini and a bowl of rigatoni with pork Bolognese.

Fast Food Wait

Reports in early 2021 that drive-thru wait times were two hours made Speedway’s California Burger (3502 W. 16th St., 317-426-3021) a social media sensation. And while the buzz has settled a bit, occasional traffic snarls on 16th Street answer the obvious question: Yes, it’s worth it. Perfectly charred Angus beef patties and gooey American cheese tucked into a soft bun with a hefty dousing of tangy CB sauce really do deliver the character of those California burger chains, with plenty of funky upgrades like the Knockout with avocado and jalapeños. And a second, 82nd Street location, which opened in October, means you can now jam with the drive-thru crowd on two sides of town.

Tasting Room Upgrade

As fun as it was, Ash & Elm’s cider tasting room faced growing pains from the start. So owners Aaron and Andrèa Homoya quickly sought out a place where they could fully showcase their range of cider flavors and just how fitting they were with food. That spot became Ash & Elm Cider Co. Restaurant and Cider Bar (1301 E. Washington St., 317-600-3164), which opened this summer in the historic Ford Assembly Plant. Funky pop art decor, soaring ceilings, and a menu of chef Tracey Couillard’s carefully composed dishes make the new location much more than a place to grab a drink.

A bagelBialys

Indy may be flush with good bagels, but when it comes to their lesser-known but loveable cousin the bialy, our local choices are few. Thankfully, Josh Greeson of Sidedoor Bagel (1103 E. 10th St.) has been filling that hole, literally, with everything from traditional onions and poppy seeds to spinach and artichokes, scratchmade vodka tomato sauce, and sweet spiced apples. That’s because bialys don’t have the characteristic hollow center of bagels but instead come ready-to-eat with a schmear of tasty ingredients in the middle. And while bialys are baked without being boiled first, Greeson’s versions have all the delectable chew and character a Jewish bubbe would approve of.

Food Halls

Three new food courts rolled out the trays recently, and we got in line to find the best places at each.

The Garage at Bottleworks

906 Carrollton Ave.

Ever since The Garage opened in January, it has been busy with visitors from the Bottleworks Hotel across the street and locals thrilled to have a shiny, new (old) place to visit in the former Coca-Cola bottling plant on Mass Ave. And while there are 18 food businesses inside, these are some of our favorites.

Lick Ice Cream

It’s never been easier to get a quick fix of Meredith Kong and Kelly Ryan’s creative take on the humble scoop of ice cream. The duo—famous for unique flavor combinations like gingersnap lemon curd, chocolate cherry amaretto, and gorgonzola candied pecan—serves up a steady rotation of seasonal offerings in bowls, pints, cookie sandwiches, and housemade waffle cones.

Lil Dumplings Noodle Bar

Carlos Salazar moved his Lil Dumplings food stall from the Fishers Test Kitchen to downtown this year and turned it into a noodle joint. Look for Spam musubi snacks, spicy ramen bowls, sweet potato noodles for the vegan and gluten-free crowds, and the return of Salazar’s Dan Dan noodles, the most popular dish on the menu from his days at Rook.

La Chinita Poblana

This is the second coming of La Chinita Poblana, the popular Mexican-Asian taco stand from chef George Munoz. He closed the original location in Broad Ripple in 2017 as he prepared to take over Festiva Mexican restaurant, and The Garage proved to be the perfect place to relaunch his original concept. Mix and match favorites like Korean BBQ steak tacos, tilapia with curry and chipotle mayo, and spicy braised pork quesadillas with hoisin-arbol salsa.

Chapati Beta

From the family behind Chapati, the popular Pakistani restaurant in Lafayette Road’s International Marketplace, comes this smaller version for the on-the-go crowd. Must-haves on the menu are the goat beets entree, a stew made with goat meat and beetroot vegetables, and the vegan chana masala with spicy chickpeas and lentils. Brothers Maisum and Qasim Farid stacked the menu with dishes created and made by their mother, including ginger butter chicken, her own take on a traditional butter chicken recipe.

The Amp

1220 Waterway Blvd.

This food hall at 16 Tech Innovation District is filled with vendors in brightly colored shipping containers, a stage for concerts and live events, a swanky bar, and enough open space to house the Indy Winter Farmers Market on Saturdays. It’s a feast for the eyes, ears, and belly.

PB&J Factory

This is what you hoped heaven might be like when you were a kid. It’s layer upon layer of yes, please. Build a sandwich by picking the bread (ideally, Texas toast), and adding your favorite fillings. You can go for traditional ingredients like peanut butter and grape jelly, or take a big swing with marshmallow fluff and Nutella. Add a little texture by picking from a topping list that includes everything from dill pickles to strawberry shortcake crumbles.

Yamallama Delicatessen

It’s not easy to find grab-and-go items that also taste fresh, but Yamallama pulls it off. In the refrigerator case there’s a wide variety to choose from, including curry chicken salad; power bowls with veggies, grains, and proteins; and plenty of vegan and gluten-free choices. If you want a hot sandwich made to order, go for a pressed panini. We’re partial to the Roma, with ham, taleggio, and fig jam on house focaccia bread.

Healthy Soul Meal Prep & Catering

Chef Tawana Gulley’s food stand is dual purpose. There’s the made-to-order option, where diners can walk up and build their own healthy meals from ingredients such as grains, beans, veggies, proteins, and scratch sauces like Italian Moscato herb and garlic lime chili. Then there’s the meal-prep service. Customers can place orders online for ready-to-heat meals to feed individuals or families for several days at a time, with contactless pickup at The AMP on Mondays, or home delivery via third-party apps.

Tinker Coffee

The Indy-based coffee roaster has been on restaurant menus all over town since it launched in 2014, and this year it opened the first shop of its own at The AMP. All of the traditional espresso drinks are available, along with head turners like the orange blossom matcha latte, bourbon ginger pear iced tea, and the signature five spice latte. It also has housemade breakfast sandwiches and giant hand pies done by its AMP neighbor Yamallama Delicatessen, with flavors like blueberry lemon, Thai iced coffee, and s’mores.

Prox Salads

Prox makes it easy to get excited about salad. There are so many varieties that it feels like a treat, not a healthy chore. The menu has several chef-designed salads with flavor profiles such as Greek, southwest, and summertime sweet. But we keep going back for the Buffalo Indy, with chicken, Buffalo pretzel sticks, cucumbers, tomatoes, and farro, drizzled with Buffalo sauce and ranch dressing.

Fishers Test Kitchen

9713 District North Dr., Fishers

The nature of the incubator model here means chefs aren’t around for the long haul, but spend up to 18 months perfecting their business so they can leave the nest for their own brick-and-mortar location. There was a lot of changeover in 2021, with more expected next year, but here’s what you can eat at FTK right now.

One Trick Pony

Neal Brown debuted his smashburger concept here, before adding a second location at Sun King Brewery in Broad Ripple. Get your burger with everything from roasted jalapeños to Cheez Whiz to Funyuns on top, with a side of onion rings or crinkle-cut french fries. Go all in on the indulgence and add Sun King cheese sauce to those fries, or order them “oui oui” style, smothered in beef gravy and griddled onions.

Queenie’s French Bread Pizza

Also by Neal Brown, this restaurant concept chases the nostalgic feeling of popping a French bread pizza in the oven to tide you over until Mom and Dad got home from work. But it’s still Brown, so don’t expect Stouffer’s. The Cutter is flavor-packed with fennel sausage, beef sausage, ground pepperoni, and provolone. Want a side? May we suggest the chicken-fried cheese with pepperoncini aioli?

Gordito’s Rust Belt Tacos & Tortas

Levi Kinney started as a manager at One Trick Pony, but dreamed of having his own taco and torta stand. He perfected his recipes over five months in the Test Kitchen Chefs Table pop-up space, then took over the stall vacated by Carlos Salazar’s Lil Dumplings. The tacos are crispy and juicy, a result of toasting the tortillas on the flat-top grill with beef consommé. There are also tortas, coney dogs (Mexiconey and Tacoconey, of course), nachos, street corn, and other traditional sides.

The Test Kitchen Chefs Table

When the lease ran out this fall, Fishers Test Kitchen cofounder Jolene Ketzenberger left her performance kitchen space, The Signature Table, where she hosted private events, chef dinners, and restaurant pop-ups. It has been renamed The Test Kitchen Chefs Table, and will continue to host pop-ups during the holiday season and offer mixology classes during the week.

Pastry Case

To take advantage of the full selection of sweet and savory baked goods displayed like jewels inside the front counter at Landlocked Baking Company (120 S. Audubon Rd.), you have to show up early. The goodies are baked on site, with the flour-covered staff thoughtfully bent over their work just beyond the register. Watch them whip up just enough dough to keep Irvington in warm Everything croissants, ramp-and-cheddar scones, pastry kites filled with cream and fruit, and feather-light brioche doughnuts (glazed with creative flavor combos like coconut horchata, blackberry basil, and passionfruit vanilla with nibs of dehydrated strawberries) to get them through the day.

Message Cakes

The personalized Blackout Chocolate Ding Dong Cake available through Patachou Inc’s catering arm (115 E. 49th St., 317-426-5001) resembles a jumbo Hostess dessert. Like the convenience-store original, it’s layered with marshmallow fluff and sheathed in chocolate ganache. What makes these 7-inch cakes extra special is they can bear a white-icing inscription of your choosing. Consider that a challenge. The Patachou bakers will gamely adorn the top of these hefty confections with sweet analog messages ranging from a simple “Happy Birthday!” to (as one recipient prescribed) a rambling personal anecdote about an altar boy whose bladder did not survive the three-hour Christmas mass at St. John’s Catholic Church in 2000.

Group Meal

With hot plates built into long tables and an entire room lined in salad bar–like bins of fixings, from slivers of raw beef to sliced lotus root, Homey Hot Pot (3649 Lafayette Rd., 317-295-1982) is the perfect intersection of food and socializing. While you wait for your dumplings to cook and your whole raw shrimp to go opaque, you have plenty of downtime to get caught up. As a bonus, the individual pots of furiously boiling broth provide some pleasant white noise in the background.

Brunch Concept

On the last Sunday of the month, The Inferno Room (902 Virginia Ave., 317-426-2343) embraces the notion of sleeping in on the weekends with a Hangover Brunch menu that doesn’t even get out of bed until a proper 2 p.m. Maybe you stayed out a little too late Saturday night, or maybe you just need some extra weekend shut-eye. Chef Josh Ongley’s island-style char siu plate with smoked pork and macaroni salad is the good start to a lazy day. And the babingka cornbread with black sesame butter, ube sweet rolls, and (of course) a Bloody Mary with a hit of hot sauce—all served amid the low amber glow of The Inferno Room’s elaborate tiki dining room—cures all.

New Pizza Place

Futuro (19 Cruse St., 317-360-4725) had a loyal fan base the moment it fired up its two refurbished Bakers Pride ovens in the old Angie’s List campus. Husband-and-wife owners Luke Tobias and Sarah St. Aubin spent months rolling out practice pizzas (many of which they gave away) before officially opening in March. Order one of the rectangular Detroit-style pies made even heftier with housemade meatballs, ground pepperoni, and rivers of cheese, all bubbling under a pair of Motor City racing stripes of thick tomato sauce. They get a lot of the attention, and rightfully so. But Futuro’s deep-dish Chicago pies and thin-crust, tavern-style pizzas deserve just as much adoration.

Mango Lassi

In the former Rook location in Fletcher Place, Aroma Indian Cuisine (501 Virginia Ave., 317-602-7117) opened this past spring and quickly gained a following for its bhuna ghee goat, tandoori chicken, and other Indian classics. But perhaps the most delectable item here is the mango lassi, a cooling, sweet-tart yogurt drink that’s treated like a sipping dessert. Available in mango, strawberry, raspberry, or peach, the smoothies get a topping of diced candied fruit called tutti frutti. If you’re anything like us, you’ll order one long before the final course.


Making porchetta involves a long and laborious process of seasoning, marinating, wrapping, and slow-roasting a slab of precision-trimmed pork belly rolled up Swiss cake–style around prosciutto and plums. Che Chori (3124 W. 16th St., 317-737-2012) owner Marcos Cesar Perera-Blasco saves you the trouble, painstakingly re-creating the dish of his Argentinian youth in 8-pound portions that will feed a family. If you can resist eating it straight off the cutting board, layer it between thick slabs of bread and add a swipe of bright, fresh chimichurri that cuts through the fat and garlic for a decadent, delicious sandwich.