Photo by Tony Valainis
With marshmallow, caramelized sugar, and vanilla extract, ’Shmallow, the newest bourbon from Hotel Tango Distillery, is a far more sophisticated take on flavored spirits than the gourmand Smirnoff you drank in college. The s’mores-like profile is strengthened by subtle hints of smoke, and ’Shmallow is smooth enough that even clear-liquor fans might be tempted to sip it on its own—perhaps with a crushed-graham-cracker rim?
It was only a matter of time before a local crumble-master arrived on the scene to give a certain chain sensation a run for its sugar bombs. While the focus at The Cavity Factory cookie truck is the rotating menu of unparalleled mashups like Almond Joy, Oreo Butterfinger, and milk chocolate pistachio, don’t snooze on the chocolate chip, a thick, gooey treat you’ll hunt down all over the city. 317-281-7659
Every toothsome piece of perfectly al dente pasta at Cortona’s Italian Cuisine & Wine Bar is a real deal made by owner Simone Lucarini, who hails from the Tuscan town where Eat, Pray, Love was filmed. If the special is spaghetti awash in a family-recipe pecorino sauce, order it and watch as it’s tossed tableside in a hollowed-out shell of Parmigiano-Reggiano. The required vessel isn’t always on hand, so catch the show if you can. 209 S. Main St., Fortville, 317-747-4242
Giving comfort food the respect of fine-dining finesse, The Fountain Room lives up to its self-appointed superlative, “Mass Ave’s finest supper club.” The two-story showstopper borrows the Art Deco splendor of the Bottleworks Hotel next door with tufted leather chairs, glamorous clamshell booths, marble bar tops, and cascading chandeliers. Executive chef Andrew Popp’s big-shouldered menu covers everything from fine-tuned steaks and seafood to wild-card winners like a 20-ounce Circle City Cut prime rib with a tableside pour of jus, a noble old-school relish tray, utterly decadent French onion soup, and the best Coca-Cola barbecue ribs in town. 830 Massachusetts Ave., 463-238-3800
Sangria isn’t just for summer, and Bocca proves it. The new midtown hotspot’s take blends Italian red wine, deep-flavored Italian herbal liqueur, apple cider, and housemade spiced syrup into a low-alcohol cocktail you can enjoy without overindulging. It’s the perfect intro into what Bocca does best: infuse traditional menu items with modern Italian ingredients. 122 E. 22nd St., 317-426-2045
Newcomer distiller Hi & Mighty nailed its first round of canned offerings by perfectly capturing seasonal flavors. Those missing the State Fair need only to crack open a Lemon Shake Up, a gin-based riff on the midway staple. And when the leaves start to change, the brandy-forward, cinnamon-spiked Spiced Apple Sidekick is practically a requirement around a bonfire.
It may look like a humble produce stand from the outside, but the counter staff at Isaro’s Market and Juice Bar in Fletcher Place take their blenders seriously, whether they’re making a textbook strawberry–banana festooned with fruit
garnishes or innovating with hemp, strong-brew coffee, or beetroot. 642 Virginia Ave., 317-426-4916
Ice Cream Case
Pans brimming with voluminous folds of colorful housemade gelato and ice cream—some studded with marshmallows, drizzled with fruit syrup, or even layered with soft hunks of snack cakes—fill the cold cases at The New Age of Ice Cream and More. And tidy rows of gem-like popsicles stand like soldiers, ready to be pulled from their chilly ranks. Many flavors here are seasonal, but expect at least one cookie variation—like the creamy, aromatic Mint Oreo swirled with cookie chunks—and nearly as many vegan options as milk-based ones. 1325 Shelby St., 317-384-1093
If you’re looking for a more exotic, less sugary sipper than traditional colas, Bollygood should be your go-to. Maxine Henderson riffs on the lemony beverage nimbu pani that’s popular in Indian markets by spiking up the sparkling soda with ginger and mint or lime and cumin, plus a signature hit of salt. Drink one straight up or use it as a mixer for an aromatic cocktail. You’ll have to stay online to get them, try clicking the above.
If you don’t already love Cholita for the heady margaritas and build-your-own taco platters, we have another reason to hit the Broad Ripple taqueria. With popular DJs on tap, they also know how to turn up the volume on date night. Before you can even care that it’s too loud to hear, you’ll be ordering another round to enjoy the free concert from the comfort of a cushy velvet booth. 1001 Broad Ripple Ave., 317-389-5555
You only need one Lemon Souffle Pancake at Gallery on 16th, not a stack. This Japanese riff is a fresh-baked pillowy shell that stands a few inches tall and is filled with smooth lemon curd and then dressed up like a luau dancer with fresh fruit, flowers, and flakes of gold leaf placed with tweezers. 319 E. 16th St., 317-820-5526
These colorful Hawaiian-style doughnuts combine the best aspects of a pillowy glazed yeast and sticky-sweet mochi ice cream bon bons—a science that Mochi Joy Donuts has mastered in the most delightful way from the modest kitchen of Noblesville’s VFW Thursday through Sunday. Owners Tom Nguyen and Rachel Burnett churn them out in a rainbow of flavors: banana pudding pie rimmed in crushed Nilla Wafers, a pixie-dusted purple Taro Unicorn, strawberry funnel cake, deep-purple ube, sweet corn pie, and even a slightly savory black sesame. Buy them individually or by the box—but do not dawdle. Arriving after they have sold out for the day (as they often do) is a killjoy. 654 S. 9th St., Noblesville, 463-266-0021
If you can’t attend one of Ruchi Shah’s interactive, educational high teas featuring her family’s recipe for aromatic chai, you can order a box of Chai High Tea’s tasty sweet and savory pastries for your own afternoon party. The boxes, available for pickup in spring, include twists on Indian snacks such as chutney sandwiches, curried sweet potato hand pies, scones with clotted cream, and pistachio cake rusk, a biscotti-like treat that’s perfect for dunking in one of their own chai blends.
Some people call it junk food, but Bluebeard does not trifle with our most compulsive snack habit. The Fletcher Place eatery presents its appetizer potato chips—thin-sliced yet sturdy, ringed in a filament of potato skin—in a proper white bowl. The accompanying trivet of chunky French onion dip is cool and surprisingly light with pockets of garlic and complex waves of umami. Instead of salty overkill, you get this perfect balance: an earthy snap of spud that holds up well under the dip’s delicate creaminess. For the record, you can’t eat just one. 653 Virginia Ave., 317-686-1580
Not many great chefs fuss over this game-day staple, but thankfully, Tia Wilson of Chicken Scratch isn’t snobby. She brings a slam-dunk combination of tradition and creativity to crispy, juicy, bone-in drumettes drenched in sauces like hot honey, mango habanero, garlic buffalo, and Cajun ranch. 5308 N. Keystone Ave., 317-426-3457
More tennis bracelet than chunky bangle, the wispy loops of allium served by the paper basket at Apocalypse Burger take the less-is-more approach to deep-fried bliss. Sweet onions are sliced on a mandolin, lightly coated in a peppery seasoned flour, and flash-fried into a crunchy nest of addictively munchable ringlets. (Imagine a warm, finger-food version of French’s crispy-fried casserole topper.) Each batch comes with a dipping sauce of choice, from ranch to wasabi aioli to ginger chili, making a good thing even better. 115 E. 49th St., 317-426-5001
Customers who can resist the urge toward sweet at Amelia’s gourmet bakeries are rewarded with limited-edition tarts and Danishes that substitute for meals. Cheddar cheese and savory granola have topped the laminated green tomato chutney toast. There have been Crois-Dawgs (like jumbo pigs in a blanket), sweet-pepper pizza pastries, Cuban croissants garnished with cornichons, and caprese kites. Danish variations have included tomato and hot honey popping with Baharat-spiced fried chickpeas, and a mouthwatering beauty topped with au gratin potatoes, spring onion, and mornay. Try not to fall in love with any of them, though. The flaky inventory rotates weekly. 653 Virginia Ave., 1637 Nowland Ave.; 317-686-1583
Pizza by the Slice
Last year, they went deep with their Detroit-style Futuro. This year, Indy’s first couple of pizza dough, Luke Tobias and Sarah Saint Aubin, took on the oversized New York slice at their cozy follow-up, Grump’s Slice Stop. The massive triangles are lightly sauced, generously crusted, and pliable enough to achieve a classic Naples al libretto fold. A single slice makes a meal—and a fine one when you consider the range of toppings includes a solid margherita, a State Fair–inspired ranch pickle, and a fierce spicy salami lit up with jalapeño and hot honey (plus piped-on ricotta for the cooldown). The $5 weekday lunch special that bundles a piece of cheese or pepperoni with a fresh, hot jumbo breadstick, dipping sauce, and canned soda is the best deal in town. 2201 E. 46th St., 317-792-1413
Supersize a cupcake so it fits perfectly inside a small styrofoam clamshell and voila—a social-media sensation. A few bakers here offer the darling Korean lunchbox cakes by special order, but you can usually find the two-person, double-layer treat ready to go at The Flying Cupcake in Carmel for $29. 831 S. Rangeline Rd., Carmel, 317-396-2696
It takes a lot for a home baker to stand out from the crowded pack. Banner Sparks of Blooming Bakes makes the cookie her canvas for gorgeous handpainted (not printed) masterpieces, including uncanny portrait work. The new mom’s custom orders are on hold, but she starts selling four-pack holiday gift sets in early December. And yes, the soft sugar cookies are delicious.
Other versions might soar higher off the plate or have a more impressive noodle count. But the gooey, old-world entree at Our Table is so tender and cheesy, so judiciously sauced so that the sticky-tomato flavor punches through the mozz and Parm, that you might weep with the first bite. Don’t worry that it sits so low on the plate, a midcentury-modern pasta structure buried under heavy layers of molten cheese. It’s an unapologetically humble version (a grower, not a shower, if you will) that any nonna would be proud to serve. 5080 State Rd. 135, Bargersville, 317-530-2624
When Sugar Factory opened in April, confection connoisseurs lined up. And Instagram blew up … with the over-the-top shakes. In classic flavors of vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, cookies and cream, and coffee, Insane Milkshakes are poured into chocolate-and-sprinkle-coated mugs, thick but sippable and worthy of their old-timey striped paper straws. The towering concoctions are stacked with chocolate-dipped bananas, spiral lollipops, candy necklaces, caramel waffles, blue glazed doughnuts, pink frosted cupcakes, cotton candy, and cheesecake hunks. If you’re going to do it, do it right. 49 W. Maryland St., 463-217-0383
Soft. Flaky. Warm. Substantial. Crunchy (just a little). Grandma’s recipe at Big Bear Biscuits earns every adjective. While the heavenly heft adds to the experience of the many sandwiches (bologna, short rib) and sweets (blueberry cobbler, bourbon brownie), if you came for the namesake nibble, we suggest The Bears and The Bees. That’s just biscuits loaded with brie, pecans, fruit, jam, and local honey. 3905 E. 96th St., 317-343-2103