Best Of Indianapolis 2018 — Dine & Drink
Boozy Food Court
Eataly revived the food-hall concept, and Sun King Spirits has put a local stamp on the trend. The new multilevel industrial-spiffy space in Carmel—a $4 million investment from the brewing giant—hosts local eateries Oca, Pi, Den by FoxGardin, and La Margarita situated around a group of tables. Of course, the real draw at the all-ages facility is the hard stuff from Indy’s most ubiquitous adult beverage maker. For the best of both worlds, grab a bite to eat, then order the No Mean Peach, a slushy fortified with Sun King’s IPA and a gin made in partnership with Hotel Tango Distillery. Long live the food court.
The Inferno Room owners Ed Rudisell and Chris Coy took more than a year to tweak, perfect, and unveil their epic tribute to the great American tiki bar. And when the two-story torch-lit paradise behind a bamboo door finally opened in September, it exceeded expectations. Authentic Papua New Guinea art lines the walls, rattan accoutrements fill every corner, and yet somehow it all comes off as cool instead of kitschy. We were under its spell even before that first bracing sip of Navy Grog. For anyone who seeks a little magic in the bottom of a coconut shell, this is Disneyland on a mai tai bender.
Shrimp and Grits
From an abandoned garage reimagined as an HGTV-worthy brunch spot, The Lemon Bar has made a name on its name: sweets and cocktails. But a surprise hit on the cafe’s menu is good enough to make diners forget about the dessert case and peach bellinis: chef Laney Glick’s shrimp and grits. A generous portion of white cheddar grits supports a heap of Smoking Goose tasso ham, beer-battered jalapeños, and colossal garlic-marinated shrimp. No one around gets this low-country favorite so right.
The labor-intensive concoctions at Beholder have covered the libations spectrum from the Daydream (a sweet, aromatic tropical postcard deepened with banana and coconut-rum liqueurs) to a Mezcal Old Fashioned that warms all the way down to The Big Pawpaw daiquiri that elevates the Indiana Banana to the height of mixology. Bar manager and co-owner Josh Mazanowski’s presentation is so precise, the flavors so intentional, that it’s hard to imagine a more worthy pairing for chef Jonathan Brooks’s boundary-pushing menu.
Alt Wedding Cake
For dairy lovers, wedding planners are stacking wheels of Tulip Tree Creamery cheeses and staging them with fruit, flowers, ribbons, and toppers as a funky alternative to traditional cakes and desserts. As a bonus, the creations cover your something old (OK, aged), something new, and something blue.
A patty produced in a lab? Yeah, even serious burger joints like Bru Burger Bar have no beef with the Impossible craze, adding the plant-only alternative to their menus. Thanks to some engineering, it tastes, smells, looks, and even bleeds like hamburger. At Bru, you can get the 7.5-ouncer with vegan cheese and vegan mayo, or sub it for the meat in any loaded burger, like the garlic three cheese. Bru’s polished presentation completes the disguise.
ClusterTruck churros debuted on the delivery disruptor’s recent menu overhaul, and now they’re an irresistible add-on at just $3.49 for a quartet of thick, scratch-made, cinnamon-coated cake sticks and caramel dip. The proportion of crunchy crust to soft middle is spot-on, and deep ridges hold plenty of sugar. Because ClusterTruck’s successful model hinges on delivering food right after it’s made, the Mexican treats always
Rise ’n Roll Bakery’s cinnamon caramel doughnut was honored as the official treat of National Doughnut Day this year. One bite and you’ll know why it’s famous: The special blend of super-fine powdered cinnamon sugar on a thin coat of caramel frosting melts on contact, and the yeast ring is rich and fluffy. You’ll want to add the loose powder in the box to your coffee. The Amish bakery rooted in Middlebury opened its first Indy-area location this year, in Greenwood. Door Dash delivers around the city.
The use of a metal accordion taco server is a far cry from a taqueria’s paper wrapper, but the Baja-style fish taco served at Kimbal Musk’s Hedge Row American Bistro otherwise comes so close to a true version of the oft-misunderstood deep-fried street food. OK, so butter lettuce replaces the soft tortilla. The tempura rockfish is so light, crisp, and easy to cram in your mouth, and the smoked chili tartar such a full-flavored replacement for the traditional Mexican crema, that it is easy to forgive the alteration.
For two years, whole-animal butcher George Turkette has been supplying local farmers markets and specialty shops with Old World salami, bacon, and n’duja. But it wasn’t until this past summer that he finally opened Turchetti’s Salumeria. The pastrami sandwich quickly became a favorite at the full-service deli. Topped with Fermenti Garden Kraut, Swiss, and Thousand Island dressing on toasted rye bread from Amelia’s, the brined beef melts in the middle like butter. It’s all that and a bag of chips.
Honky Tonk Night
Near-southside roadhouse Duke’s Indy immediately earned a reputation for its fried-chicken dinner, but it’s just as popular for the weekend live music influenced by owner Dustin Boyer’s upbringing on his grandparents’ classic-country playlist. Acts have included Nashville indie darling Joshua Hedley. The neon-on-timber joint is the new hotspot for fans of twang as well as partiers who need another reason to wear those cowboy boots they bought for a barn wedding once. The tater-tot waffles and boozy slushies are scoot-worthy, too.
Using a palette knife and her fine arts background, chef Lynnzie Floor at Gallery Pastry Shop turns out gorgeous confections that look like buttercream oil paintings. She creates dreamy aquatic scenes and desert vistas on iced canvases. Even her trendy naked cakes, partially un-iced for a rustic effect, look like cool pastel Impressionist prints.
Several years into the craft doughnut revolution and Rebellion Doughnuts in Noblesville still managed to develop new flavors (with the help of pastry queen Cindy Hawkins of Circle City Sweets). The Everything is a spin on a loaded bagel, sandwiching a layer of cream cheese. The Nutella Espresso incorporates a shot as a drizzle over chocolate-hazelnut spread. Some doughnuts have real fruit garnishes. Actual peanut butter subs for icing on some. Rebel by having two.
The workhouse of weeknight cooking always goes a bit dry in a store’s heater. Tyner Pond Farm’s giant, gorgeously golden three-and-a-half-pounder (for $16) suffers less because of its size, and birds are pasture-raised on the market’s own farm in Greenfield. Three flavors are available: original (our favorite), herbed (even better cold), and lemon pepper (the seasoning is strong). The Irvington market takes orders and roasts a couple extra each day. Pluck one from the warmer around 3:30 p.m. for the freshest product.
In a city steeped in German traditions, it was daring for Big Lug Canteen’s Eddie Sahm to open a beer hall last summer fusing central European staples with Texas barbecue. Even riskier? Offering schnitzel on a “Bavariana” menu that switched the veal—or, in Indiana, more often pork—with rich, buttery skate wing. Delicate and shatteringly crisp, Liter House elevated the original (also available) beyond biergarten fodder. Now it’s featured mainly as a special, so catch it when you can.
An expert alchemy of flavors makes Tavern at the Point’s brisket nachos more sophisticated than the legendary corn chip tower of the restaurant’s former occupant. The main difference is a pile of tender brisket burnt ends, so bulky and robust you want to make a sandwich with it. Shredded lettuce, fresh pico, and slivers of jalapeño and radish lighten and add heat. Yes, it’s nacho gentrification. But it’s hard to grumble with your mouth stuffed.
Weighing in at a luscious 14 ounces, the crabcake at Tony’s Steaks and Seafood can anchor a light meal. The crusty mound of lump blue crab easily knocks more typical breaded shellfish pucks out of contention for the best of its kind in a steakhouse.
Fish fry aficionados generally turn to church fundraisers for their fix. Fortunately, Love Handle owners Chris and Ally Benedyk, transplants from fish fry–loving Milwaukee, fill the tartar-sauce gap. Their weekly fry-ups offer all the waxed-paper charm of Lenten festivals, but with lake trout, crunchy smelts, or skate wing standing in for the standard cod. Cheddar Bay waffles and house remoulade, as well as screenings of Jaws II, turn abstaining into a weekly party.
New Coffee Shop
When java-scene darling Coat Check Coffee opened its chic second location, called Provider, in Tinker House in the spring, it had all the mystique of an undiscovered retreat. That didn’t last long, and it’s no wonder, given it added easy-sipping long drinks alongside Coat Check’s famous turmeric ginger beer and beetroot latte.
Carmel’s latest homey hangout, Indie Coffee Roasters pours cups of single-origin Central and South American beans and dishes out pastries from Porter Books & Bread. No worries if tables are filled with work-from-homers pecking away at MacBooks—grab a seat at the bar and chat with the baristas and owners. By the time your mug is empty, you’ll feel like part of the pack.
Opened less than a year ago in an old high school basketball gym, Moontown Brewing Company is a newcomer to the craft beer game. But head brewer Cody Peczkowski has shown a deft hand in developing a deep bench of styles to suit all palates, making the Whitestown brew-and-barbecue pub a player to be reckoned with.
New Brewpub Menu
When a talent like chef Alan Sternberg, recent star of Cerulean’s innovative kitchen and pop-up supper club Common House, needs a new gig, you might give his résumé a look. That’s what Jackie and Gregory Dikos did at Westfield’s dazzling new Field Brewing, where Sternberg’s crispy lamb ribs, maple-roasted Brussels sprouts, and seasonal salads rewrite the brewpub playbook.
You could haul a cake to your celebration at Just Pop In!, the new, enchanting Broad Ripple cafe with pineapple wallpaper and a lit-up Ferris wheel mural. But allow the owners to sell you on the virtues of a popcorn bar instead. Up to 49 guests can nibble on Sun King Dark Chocolate Osiris and Lemony Snackets, along with small-plates, with an indoor fireplace and a wraparound veranda. Given the buzz around the place, everyone will RSVP “yaaasss!” to an invitation here.
With room for 975 partiers (and private rooms for rent), Punch Bowl Social takes having fun as seriously as anyone in town. Book the Holiday Lodge, dressed up like a Vermont B&B, for the best place to convene in between wandering the 20,000-square-foot premises lit up with an arcade, karaoke rooms, bowling, and foosball.
Oatmeal Cream Pie
When facing something called a Kitchen Sink cookie, which you know to contain pretzels, white chocolate, butterscotch chips, and buttercream laced with potato chips, you might start thinking the name sounds uncomfortably apt. But the salty-sweet combo by Confectioneiress Cupcakes & Sweets is a knockout. As the most outrageous of the rotation of cookie sandwiches, it’s not too cloyingly sugary, nor overly sodium-packed. The minimum order of six won’t be enough.