Best of Indy: Food & Drink
Cake or yeast. Glazed or filled. Doughnuts were straightforward until the craft-everything movement swept in and refined the rings of dough. This year, Indy got its first taste of the trend with the arrival of General American Donut Co., a white cinderblock building on East Street where husband-and-wife duo Adam Perry and Kari Nickander fry up sophisticated flavors that fly off the shelves at $1 to $3 a pop. We rounded up a dozen of their best creations. 827 S. East St., 317-964-0744, generalamericandonutco.com
Small-batch roasting and slow, methodical service—the anti-Starbucks business model—work to the advantage of Bee Coffee Roasters, which has gained a loyal following by setting up shop at local farmers markets and food festivals. In 2013, the gourmet bean-counters expanded into a Pan Am Plaza storefront that opens at 6:30 a.m., giving early birds easy access to their daily jolt in a variety of eccentric flavors. Perhaps a Burundi aged in barrels seasoned by New Day Meadery? 201 S. Capitol Ave., 317-426-2504, beecoffeeroasters.com
New Popcorn Flavor
Just Pop In! has been sharing the kettle with local businesses like Smoking Goose (Caramel Bacon & Cheddar) since the shop sprang into
existence in 2003. But the company has really outdone itself with the Hoosier Mama Bloody Mary flavor. Each kernel captures the zesty tomato
and horseradish of the locally made cocktail potion, while citrus sea salt and cheddar make it taste like popcorn. And there will be no mystery about who pilfered your stash—just look for the orange-stained fingers. 6302 Guilford Ave., 317-257-9338, justpopinonline.com
Repurposing of an Indiana Food Product
Based in Tipton, My Dad’s Sweet Corn attracts lines long and neat enough to plow at farmers markets throughout the summer. So it was only a matter of time until someone thought to cook with the stuff. Circle City Soups makes a My Dad’s Sweet Corn chowder as addictive as its base ingredient. Owner Roger Hawkins stirs in heavy cream, salt, and butter until a silky texture develops. From July to September, you can call ahead to order quarts of the stuff from local farmers markets. Start checking the Circle City Soups Facebook page early next summer for its return date. 222 E. Market St., 317-632-3644, facebook.com/circlecitysoup
New Seafood Place
No opening this year filled a niche in the local food scene better than Nick and Andrew Caplinger’s colorful, well-stocked Caplinger’s Fresh Catch. Once owners of the beloved 56th Street Fish Market, the father-son duo had long wanted to open in another location. The “lobsta” roll on a buttery Roll With It Bakery bun and the fried Vietnamese basa sandwich (“The Caplinger Special”) were worth the wait. For landlocked Hoosiers planning a dinner party, fresh perch, shrimp, and a large selection of other seafood are available for carryout. 7460 N. Shadeland Ave., 317-288-7263, caplingersfreshcatch.com
Once Sun King Brewing let beer out of the bottle, it was only a matter of time until others joined the party. Before 2013, canning was an anomaly in Central Indiana, with only the area’s largest brewer producing Osiris Pale Ales in aluminum containers many associated with cheap beer. In the last two years, however, several breweries have made the switch. Sure, cans protect suds from light, which can be detrimental to freshness. And venues like the Speedway welcome aluminum, not glass. But the real advantage is the weight—lugging a recycling bin full of craft bottles to the curb is enough to make us long for a Coors Light. Here, a few of our crushes now available in a crushable package:
Okay, we know what you might think: No meat, no cheese, no cream—and it’s raw? But don’t knock Ezra’s Enlightened Cafe until you’ve tried it. One of two new all-vegetarian restaurants to open in Indy this year (after a long dry spell with none), the bright little Broad Ripple Village breakfast/brunch/lunch spot elevates “beegan” cooking to a refined art. Well, not “cooking,” exactly, but certainly inventive preparation. The creamy jalapeño-corn soup is so thick and rich, you’ll be certain a cow was involved (nope—organic almond milk). And if you manage to get all the way through the Buddha Bowl (pictured), loaded with kale, avocado, beets, ginger, sprouts, carrots, farm-fresh greens, fermented shredded veggies, falafel balls, and lemon tahini dressing, you’ll be full enough to understand why they don’t call it a salad. But Ezra’s saves the best for last, with dairy- and gluten-free desserts—like a tart, velvety Key lime pie with a coconut-date-almond crust—that make eating healthy feel downright decadent. 6516 Ferguson St., 317-255-3972, ezrasenlightenedcafe.com
The drink list has a sweet Kentucky twang at The North End, restaurateur Ryan Nelson’s homage to barbecue and moonshine. In addition to the eatery’s slate of swillbilly cocktails like the lemony Lawn Chair (St. George dry rye, lemon, maraschino, orange bitters, and a splash of beer) and the Ginger Baker (Elijah Craig 12, spiced rum, ginger syrup, and cracked pepper), the bar shelves brim with 55 bourbons and nearly as many bottles of rye, wheat, Tennessee, Scotch, Irish, and Canadian whiskeys. The North End even stocks the Taketsuru Japanese whiskey. Bartenders can shake up an Angel’s Envy Old Fashioned with muddled cherries and a whiff of bitters for classic slow sipping. And the fellow sitting next to you at the rough-hewn bar chomping on a pulled-pork sandwich probably has an interesting story or two, whether he’s sipping Maker’s Mark or a $50 pour of 26-year Old Blowhard. 1250 E. 86th St., 317-614-7427, thenorthendbbq.com
Joshua Gonzales’s 10-month-old, deliberately grungy hangout on the edge of Fountain Square feels like it has been there for ages. In a way, it has. In the 1950s, the location housed a venue for live rock ’n’ roll—the original Thunderbird Nite Club. Today, the Thunderbird bartenders are the headline act, mixing up an evolving menu of drinks layered with complementing and contrasting flavors. Recently, that included the Joke About Jamaica—its rummy darkness perfumed with citrus and sweetened with pomegranate sugar—and the 1776, which adds a whiff of cinnamon and mole bitters to Old Forester bourbon. The kitchen provides Southern-inspired bar snacks in its rotating menu, along the lines of hush puppies with redeye gravy aioli and a grilled pimiento-cheese sandwich. It’s easy to find a spot along the brick wall and settle in for the evening—or party like a rock star (for old time’s sake, of course). 1127 Shelby St., 317-974-9580, thunderbirdindy.com
New Food Truck
Operating out of a hulking black Chevrolet step van with a raucous generator, Jude Dowell and Marla Tate of Citizen Hash set out a weekly chalkboard menu that impresses even the most jaded food-truck connoisseurs. Their focus on rootsy Korean-Latin fusion shows up in well-composed dishes like grilled Mexican Street Corn with spicy mayo and Cotija cheese, a Tijuana Seoul Dog wrapped in bacon with caramelized onions, and Loaded Cachapas—Venezuelan corn pancakes topped with shredded chicken and cheese that you dunk in a slate of dipping sauces from chimichurri to avocado crema. It’s all prepared with a level of culinary conviction rarely found curbside, and everything benefits from a ceremonial squirt of rooster sauce from the Sriracha bottle, a permanent fixture on the truck’s knotty wooden counter. citizenhash.com
ExactTarget entrepreneur–turned–gentleman farmer Chris Baggott took over a shuttered Greenfield drive-in in January and turned it into a lively spot for locally sourced Americana delivered straight to your car. The Mug uses pork from Baggott’s nearby Tyner Pond Farm for its ultimate BLT, Cuban sandwich, and tenderloins. Baggott called up his local-food network to fill out the menu, including apples from Tuttle Orchard and ice-cream flavors from Sundae’s. Mugs are filled with root beer from Wisconsin’s Sprecher Brewing. 117 Apple St., Greenfield, 317-477-7550
There’s nothing flashy about the tangy, deeply flavorful house pickles at Twenty Tap. The kitchen even bucks convention by using watery English cucumbers, which require extra salting when they’re sliced up in five-gallon batches. But the hipster chefs of Portland have nothing on this mix of garlic, dill, and spices, which makes these pickles perfect eaten out of hand, fried up with a panko coating as an occasional special, or tucked into Twenty Tap’s famous Cuban. 5406 N. College Ave., 317-602-8840, twentytap.com
Although chilaquiles, a Mexican breakfast standard, have traditionally been a way to use up extra tortillas by softening them in a sauce of chiles, there’s little that says “leftovers” about the dolled-up version at La Mulita. Poblanos, salsa verde, radishes, crema, and both chihuahua and queso fresco cheese all get thrown into the delicious, rib-sticking mix. Adding tender grilled steak or a fried egg—or both—sends this popular hangover antidote over the edge. 5215 N. College Ave., 317-925-0677, lamulitaindy.com
Healthy Mexican Food
Inside the tight quarters of his darling purple carryout hut east of downtown, Tlaolli owner Carlos Hutchinson ladles up bowls of vegan calabezita soup; layers tortas with pureed black beans, avocado, and pickled onions; and plucks pork tamales out of steamer pots—all while working the register and chatting up customers who pop in for a Styrofoam container of “fresh Mex” fare. The native of Monterrey, Mexico, runs the 400-square-foot kitchen with his daughter, Carla (who also serves as chef), with a focus on trimming the fat from traditional family recipes without sacrificing flavor. The Sunday brunch features dishes like Green Eggs & Goat Cheese, bathed in the house salsa verde. And there’s not a chimichanga in sight. 2830 E. Washington St., 317-410-9507, tlaolli.com
Sweetened with cane sugar and available in pioneering flavors like cherry-vanilla cream and caramel apple (in addition to the standard root beer and the cheekily named Please Dew), Jerry Rezny’s Handcrafted Beverages could do for fizz what craft beers did for foam. While the sodas are on tap at places like the Broad Ripple Brewpub, you can order the syrups directly from the Avon-basedcompany and add seltzer to bring them to life. handcraftedbeverages.com
Distant cousins of the sticky, mouth-scorching nibbles that arrive in a paper basket alongside bottled bleu-cheese dressing and celery sticks, gourmet wings now take up valuable real estate on some of the top menus in town. Here, a primer on the wings that soar above the rest.
Meat Chicken wings and drumettes
Sauce A sesame-soy glaze with hints of red chile
Garnish Seaweed salad
Tasting Notes The sauce clings nicely to the pieces, coating every crevice of the crisped skin with the salty-sweet Asian flavors of soy and fresh ginger, plus a hit of spiciness from chili oil.
Libertine Liquor Bar
Meat Chicken wings and drumettes
Sauce Buffalo-style hot sauce
Garnish Celery-and-carrot salad, chunky bleu cheese
Tasting Notes Libertine elevates the bar-side classic in this Jackson Pollacked plate of wings, fried in duck fat to a delicate crispness and arranged with veggies. A dollop of bleu-cheese dressing has, sadly, replaced the original crumbles
of blue-veined cheese but still provides a cooling counterpart to the vinegar-based hot sauce.
Price $15 for 6 pieces
Shoefly Public House
Meat Duck drumettes
Sauce Garlic-Parmesan, hickory Dijon, chimichurri, guajillo chili, or rosemary-maple barbecue
Garnish Greens in olive oil
Tasting Notes The sauces have gourmet leanings—especially the tangy chimichurri option. But this starter is all about the meat. The duck pieces have a slightly gamier taste than chicken, and the higher fat content gives the morsels a less chewy texture—more like elaborately dressed drumsticks.
Price $9 for 5 pieces
Meat Hickory-smoked whole chicken wings
Sauce Housemade Agave Beer or Smokin’ Bourbon BBQ
Garnish Barbecue-ranch dressing
Tasting Notes The kitchen opts to simply drizzle on the sauce, rather than drench the pieces—a testament to the integrity of the meat. Fried to lock in the flavor, the large portions have a high bone-to-meat ratio that makes every bite juicy enough to forgo the Applebee’s-caliber dipping sauce.
Price $9 for 4 pieces
Meat Whole smoked chicken wings
Garnish Watermelon salad
Tasting Notes These pull-apart appendages benefit from Southern-style slow cooking, the skin’s fat rendered to a crispy sheath over an open flame and then swathed in a sticky-sweet sauce countered by bits of char. The meat is dense and smoky enough to tempt you to pick the bones clean.
Price $9.95 for 4 pieces
To see all 119 Best of Indy winners, click here.