Best of Indy 2016: Food & Drink


Dim Sum Pancake – The Alexander

When chef Eli Laidlaw returned to The Alexander hotel as sous chef this spring, charged with updating the menu of cocktail plates at Plat 99, he applied his considerable pastry skills to this East-meets-Mediterranean twist on the breakfast favorite. Starting with a yeasted focaccia dough enriched with turbinado sugar and ginger oil, Laidlaw works scallions and chili-garlic paste into the mix for a crunchy, chewy “snack” that spans the length of the wooden plank it’s served on. Drizzled with a sticky, spicy-sweet honey soy sauce, the pancake hits on just about every flavor note. 333 S. Delaware St., 317-624-8200,

Tortas Shack – Tortas El Guero

It takes something special to draw lines of regulars willing to dine on Mexican food from the backs of their cars. But stop in Tortas El Guero long after the dinner hour most nights, and you’ll see just that: a crowd of devoted fans of this small westside joint devouring tortas and tacos by the light of the Home Depot next door. The sandwiches are particularly tasty, layering in hearty ingredients such as grilled fish, pork al pastor, and carne asada. Just be prepared to wait behind customers putting in some extensive takeout orders. 3818 N. High School Rd., 317-709-2328

Gluten-Free Cookie – Amelia’s Bakery

You really can’t go wrong when picking an afternoon treat from under the glass domes at Amelia’s Bakery, one of Fletcher Place’s newest specialty food destinations. But the gluten-free salted chocolate buckwheat cookie is especially right. The slightly crisp crust of this pillowy cookie gives way to a soft, fudgy interior, creating an effect that’s akin to the coveted corner piece from the brownie pan. The satisfying crunch from a sprinkle of kosher salt flakes brings it all together. This cookie isn’t just “good, for a gluten-free cookie.” It’s good—no qualifier necessary. 653 Virginia Ave., 317-686-1583,

New Meat Market – Tyner Pond Farm 

Plenty of specialty markets make local meats available to farm-to-table fans. Few, however, give customers 24-hours-a-day access, letting you marry your love of pork and beef with your college habit of shopping in the wee hours of night. Although it’s something of a secret, Tyner Pond Farm Store never closes, and keeps refrigerators stocked with brisket, bacon, and smoked chicken legs. Just drop cash in a slot near the door or pay by credit card on an iPad. And while this location will only be around for a few more months, Tyner Pond expects to open a store in Irvington soon. 7408 E. 200 S., Greenfield, 888-319-7402,

Girls Night Out – Louie’s Wine Dive

Much has been made of Louie’s Wine Dive’s name, and whether the sleek, industrial-chic hot spot can rightly be called a dive. But at its core, a dive is friendly and approachable—adjectives that definitely apply to this newcomer with Mass Ave and Broad Ripple locations. The place is serious about its wine, too, boasting a full-bodied list of reds and whites. Once your girls are through their first glass, order the cheese plate (with bacon jam!) or indulge in decadent gnocchi for dinner. How many dives can claim a menu like that? 345 Massachusetts Ave., 317-929-1644; 701 Broad Ripple Ave., 317-722-0140,

Monon Trail Addition – Big Lug Canteen

If the promise of an ice-cold beer is the only thing getting you through your workout—or maybe the reason you took up exercise to begin with—Big Lug Canteen  has a mug with your name on it. The location, steps from the Monon in Nora, is new, but owners Eddie Sahm and Scott Ellis have been around the block. Ellis was a brewer at The Ram, and Sahm worked at his family’s chain of Indy eateries. When it comes to food, you’ll find a nice assortment of burgers, sandwiches, and salads, plus some fun surprises like a walking taco and variations on poutine. Plenty of ways to ruin a good run. 1435 E. 86th St., 317-672-3503,

Tomahawk Steak – Open Societysteak

Open Society‘s huge, sumptuous bone-in ribeye is wet-aged for 21 days and then dry-aged for another month before it’s finally served with a long, dramatic bone. Trust us: The steak is well worth the wait. While the meat is finished either with tamarind or a tangy fig- and-balsamic demi-glace, the chef seasons it with only salt and pepper before he chars the cut in a broiler (or finishes it in the oven if it’s ordered past medium). But you wouldn’t do that, right? 4850 N. College Ave., 317-999-8706,

Spirited Groups


IN Beer Brigade

If you’re a hardcore Hoosier craft-beer fan—and who isn’t these days?—consider joining this Brewers of Indiana Guild group for members-only merch and exclusive access to events. Among those is an annual release party, where you can sample one-time-only creations in the state’s finest tank rooms (this past fall’s offering: Three Floyds Corn King IPA). Membership costs $75 a year, but participants can save a few bucks by signing up for longer terms.


Bourbon Women Association

Out to prove every country-music stereotype about whiskey-drinking women wrong, Indy aficionados recently launched their own branch of the classy Louisville-based Bourbon Women Association. Whiskey-savvy members gather at various restaurants and distilleries around town every few months to network, sip, and learn more about America’s only native spirit. Cheers to that.


Société Mondiale du Vin

A subgroup of the international Chaîne des Rotîsseurs gastronomic society, this intimate members-only club celebrates the good life with reds, whites, and the occasional spirit. Events sometimes take place at local restaurants, but usually are held in private homes with local chefs like Neal Brown and Eli Anderson providing menus to go with the wine pairings. If you want to be invited, get on a member’s good side and ask to tag along, or try applying online.

Fried Chicken

The Iron Skillet

The skillet-fried main attraction at this northwestside fixture has gone in and out of style several times during the restaurant’s 63-year run. Platters of modestly crunchy chicken complement pickled beets, cottage cheese, and peppery whipped potatoes. 2489 W. 30th St., 317-923-6353,

Kountry Kitchen Soul Food Place

Old-fashioned chicken quarters and wings sport a thick, crunchy skin at this soul-food spot dating back to 1988. Jimmy Fallon and Barack Obama are among the diners who have bellied up to the red-vinyl tablecloths. 1831 N. College Ave., 317-926-4476,

Maxine’s Chicken & Waffles

A trio of lightly crusted chicken wings straddles Belgian waffles at this restaurant that backs up to a downtown gas station. Maxine’s now offers variations like sweet-potato waffles and (gasp) boneless strips. 132 N. East St., 317-423-3300,

The Eagle

The mound of fried chicken (order the whole bird or don’t bother) at this Mass Ave restaurant-bar boasts all of the fashionable descriptors: all-natural, free-range birds of Amish persuasion. The flecks of black pepper in the batter provide a gentle kick. 310 Massachusetts Ave., 317-929-1799,

chickenMetro Diner

Half a fried chicken, aggressively coated and salted, arrives atop a waffle at this chain where nothing is understated. Enlist the help of your friends to polish off the moist-to-the-bone breast, thigh, wing, and leg that make up a single order. 3954 E. 82nd St., 317-296-8262,


If you see chef John Adams’s tandoori fried chicken on the menu, consider it your lucky night. Adams soaks chicken thighs in tandoori masala before dredging them in seasoned chickpea-and-lentil flour and frying them to a deep-red hue. 1106 Prospect St., 317-986-6752,

Coffee Subscription Service – Indiana Coffees

Indy in a Box founder Lars Miller loved the local coffee roasters he was using for his custom gift boxes. But it wasn’t until a Facebook poster requested an all-coffee subscription that he got the idea for his monthly club, Indiana Coffees, featuring a growing cast of Hoosier coffee producers. For as little as $33 a month, you can have the single-origin, specialty blend, and dark and light roasts shipped to your door. Miller hopes to expand his list of roasters, but for now, he offers enough tasty beans that you’ll rarely have to wake up to the same cup.

Grocery Store Food Court – Table by Market District

The Market District  at 116th and Illinois streets in Carmel is a lot of things—a full-service grocery store, a cooking school, and a beauty salon, to name a few. It’s also an acceptable place for a first date. Hear us out: Table by Market District is a great restaurant serving dishes made from ingredients sourced from the grocery next door. The menu is seasonally driven, but you can always count on chewy flatbreads featuring adventurous flavor profiles, and several variations of poutine. And for those with kids who are aspiring foodies, each dish is available in a smaller serving size. 11505 N. Illinois St., Carmel, 317-569-0171,

Food-Truck-to-Restaurant Conversions

Some of them still rumble through the streets feeding hungry fans. Some have retired their trucks entirely. But all of these roaming restaurateurs have taken the kernel of a culinary idea and recently settled down in brick-and-mortar spots that allow their followers to find them day or night—whether they have a Twitter account or not.

food-truckSpice Box

The sting of Rook’s temporary closing while it moved to the Slate building last fall was tempered considerably by the opening of Nitin and Mo Naidu’s spacious iteration of their popular Indian-fusion truck in Fletcher Place. And while their City Market counter remains open, you now have a lot more weeknights and weekend hours to enjoy delectable Bombay Box combos of rice, chicken, and chutneys or goat and chicken tikki tacos. 719 Virginia Ave., 317-220-8590,

Chef Dan’s Southern Comfort

Mississippi native and New Orleans culinary- school grad Daniel Carter worked through a series of high-profile cooking gigs before he started a food truck in 2011. But his Irvington cafe, which he opened last year, has all of the hominess you’d expect from a Cajun and creole joint, perfect for enjoying perhaps Indy’s top catfish po’ boy, delectable boudin balls, and the best banana pudding north of the bayou. 5539 E. Washington St., 317-737-1801,

General American Donut Co.

Restaurateurs Adam Perry and Kari Nickander traded in their popular Asian-fusion food trucks Pho Mi and Taco Lassi for the funky space on East Street where they now fry up French toast doughnuts with maple syrup, a raspberry-filled donut with Key lime frosting, and a croissant-and- donut hybrid. And since they had lots of food truck experience, they recently returned to the streets with their new concept (a truck you can find by checking the website). 827 S. East St., 317-964-0744,

Café Carib

Irvington’s international dining options expanded this past summer when Larry and Peta-Gay Wharton, operators of the popular Taste of the Caribbean truck, turned their attentions toward renovating a Washington Street storefront and refining their versions of Jamaican curries, jerk specialties, and playful takes on American comfort classics such as Buffalo chicken mac and cheese. Coco bread, conch fritters, and curried goat all hit the mark here, and frequent live music makes this a festive spot that’s way more than a lunch cart. 5603 E. Washington St., 317-602-8923,

Byrne’s Grilled Pizza

Local pizza lovers got to know Byrne’s crispy, charred slices from the truck’s stops at the Saturday Broad Ripple Farmers Market and breweries such as Flat 12 Bierwerks. But when the former site of Oh Yumm! Bistro in Butler-Tarkington sat empty for a few months, the Reinstrom family, which started the truck, began dreaming of a hardwired location. Now offering an expanded menu of salads and classic combos such as the meaty Big Momma and the veggie-friendly Byrne’s Special, the place is no longer pie in the sky. 5615 N. Illinois St., 317-737-2056,

New Brewpub – The Koelschip

If you want to geek out over craft beer, the Koelschip is the perfect place. In the TV-less, 12-tap bar recently named one of the best in the Midwest by Draft magazine, there is little else to do but appreciate what’s in hand: idiosyncratic brews served in tulip glasses. Featuring Central State’s wild-yeast beers (the owners of the Indy brewery and this establishment are the same), the minimalist Fall Creek Place bar mirrors the deadpan “art” on its walls: The words “Tasteful Nude French Girl” and other punch lines are adorned with painting-less frames. In a similar vein, the Koelschip has provided a few tables, chairs, and some beer. You can take it from there. 2505 N Delaware St., 317-414-9539,

Desserts – Vida

Considering Vida cures its own charcuterie and serves salads of greenery plucked from a living garden wall in the kitchen, its pastry chef Hattie McDaniel has a tough act to follow. Unfazed, she pairs maple-glazed ricotta doughnut balls with brown-butter ice cream and candied bacon; tops Greek-yogurt panna cotta with strawberry foam and lavender tuile; and recasts the traditional PB&J with a glistening brioche pain perdu, peanut butter fluff, a swipe of Concord grape jelly, and a dribble of celery purée. The whimsical (sometimes bizarre) combinations of creams and cakes with dramatic swooshes of sauce may look like pop art on the plate, but the spot-on flavors prove that this is more than just eye candy. 601 E. New York St., 317-420-2323, 

New Cidery – Ash and Elm

The ancient brick walls and bare ceiling beams of the east side’s saved-from-the-wrecking-ball Neidhammer Drugstore building set an appropriately rough-hewn mood for sipping craft fermentations at Ash & Elm Cider Co. Even without the Brooklyn-loft backdrop, Andrea and Aaron Homoya’s ciders—like the champagne-inspired Dry or the bright and sharp Sunset Tart Cherry—would be worth the trip. At 6.5 percent ABV, they’ll warm you to your core. 2104 E. Washington St., 317- 600-3164,

Grab-and-Go Lunch – Wildwood Market

Every day, tiny Wildwood Market features a lunch menu pared down to a single sandwich, salad, and Circle City Soup available at the counter. Without the pesky burden of selection, customers can count on pre-made winners ranging from herbed Becker Farms turkey stacked with chorizo, Mahon cheese, avocado spread, and arugula inside a pretzel bun, to a fully loaded smoked pork loin sandwich with veggies, aioli, and tortilla strips on a toasted cheese roll. Grab one of the barstools in the window of this converted Fountain Square gas station if you can’t wait to dig in. 1015 Virginia Ave., 317-737-2653,

lick-ice-creamIce Cream Tasting Room – Lick Ice Cream

Maybe you’ve spotted Lick Ice Cream’s exotic flavors like Milk Chocolate Goat Cheese on local restaurant menus. Now you can see where the magic happens. At the new Lick Tasting Room in the Circle City Industrial Complex, Meredith Kong and Kelly Ryan scoop up root beer floats, ice cream sandwiches, and lots of samples. It’s not easy to find the small space at the end of Mass Ave (follow the signs through the labyrinth of CCIC), but there’s nothing understated about Lick’s flavors. Candied Pecan Gorgonzola, anyone? 1125 E. Brookside Ave., 317-979-0237,

Ramen Shops

Maybe you’ve noticed that the college-student staple has moved up in the world lately. Here, three local ramen dishes that will warm you up to the Japanese noodle trend.

Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya

Hot Pot: Garlic Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen, $12  Soup: Extra-rich and slightly sweet soy sauce–based broth flavored with pork and a lot of garlic. Toppings: Chashu pork, chicken, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, scallions, corn, fish cake, soft-boiled egg, greens, tofu, and bean sprouts. Rating: 5 slurps. 2450 E. 146th St., Carmel, 317-218-3553,

Ramen Rayramen

Hot Pot: Shoyu Ramen, $13  Soup: Rich, brown, soy sauce–based broth. Toppings: Chashu pork, ground pork, soft-boiled egg, corn, scallions, fried onion, and bean sprouts. Rating: 4 slurps. 5628 E. 71st St., 317-536-4259

Kobayashi Sushi & Asian Kitchen

Hot Pot: Tonkotsu Ramen, $9.50  Soup: Milky-white broth infused with the flavor of simmered pork bones. Toppings: Choice of chicken, beef, tofu, or shrimp, scallion, bamboo shoots, and soft-boiled egg. Rating: 3 slurps. 2295 Greenfield Ave., Noblesville, 317-774-8188,

Barrel-Aged Coffee – Cask Coffee

Typically, the term “barrel-aged” differentiates fine bourbon from the cheap stuff. Java aficionados will appreciate a new spin on the trend: Cask Coffee in Zionsville ages whole coffee beans in barrels previously used for spirits, giving the caffeinated beverage just a hint of that flavor. The packaging is just as sophisticated: a stamped wax seal caps a brown glass bottle of beans. At about $35 dollars, they make great gifts.

Pastries – The Gallery Pastry Shop

To get a sense of how precious the confections at The Gallery Pastry Shop are, consider the to-go packaging. Each little lemon cream éclair and gold foil–garnished Chocolate Pillow sold at this SoBro bakery sits daintily inside a windowed paper container—the little blue box of desserts. You can take a sleeve of macarons in every color of the pastel rainbow back to the office, but if your coworkers don’t deserve such pampering, it’s a treat to hang out and watch owners Ben Hardy (a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu International Culinary Academy) and his wife, Allison Keefer, assemble the sugary masterpieces. 1101 E. 54th St., 317-820-5526,

Deli Counter – Joe’s Butcher Shop

When Old Town Carmel fixture Joe’s Butcher Shop expanded into an adjacent space earlier this year, it added a bustling sandwich counter called  Joe’s Next Door  that parlays the shop’s high-end meats and cheeses into culinarian creations like The French Orchard (soft Tulip Tree Trillium brie pressed into a toasted French batard with butter bourbon-fig jam and Granny Smith apples) and The Rich Boy (a po’ boy knockoff with seared blackened scallops and housemade remoulade). But Joe’s Bahn Mi steals the show—a hot and sloppy sandwich with fatty slabs of citrus-braised pork belly that melt into the bread, spiked with house pickles, cilantro, jalapeño, and aioli. 111 W. Main St., Carmel, 317-846-8877,

Offal – Love Handle

The PR person for headcheese must have done a happy dance when Chris Benedyk opened his epicurean sandwich shop  Love Handle last year on East 10th Street. Benedyk makes his own headcheese—a chilled meat terrine of jelly and bits of meat from, yes, a pig’s head or feet—and layers it on a slab of toast with pork tongue. The combo of rich and salty flavors makes for a luscious breakfast mash-up. He also whips up pork tongue bacon and adds it to a sandwich of blueberry jam, malted miso mayo, and pickled onions. The results are delicious—trust us. 2829 E. 10th St., 317-430-5004

Chocolate Milk Shots – Traders Point Creamery

Traders Point Creamery’s attempt to moderate our consumption of its luscious chocolate milk by pouring it into cute 5-ounce bottles has only produced more empties. The grass-fed, full-fat milk mixed with cocoa tastes like a fudge pop melted down. Sealed with a foil lid, the little glass jugs do travel well inside lunch bags. But we’ll have three, thank you very much. 9101 Moore Rd., Zionsville, 317-733-1700, 

Farmers Market Brunch – Bent Rail Brewery

With a captive audience of hungry shoppers and plenty of fresh produce on hand every Saturday at Bent Rail Brewery’s winter farmers market, owners Derek Means and Craig Baker realized they could whip up an unconventional brunch. The offerings change occasionally, but past favorites such as the playful “Count Chocula” waffles and the duck sausage breakfast sandwich from Maple Leaf Farms give you an idea of the menu. The bustle of vendor booths and live music provide a festive atmosphere to enjoy these morning treats. 5301 N. Winthrop Ave., 317-737-2698,

Playful Menu Specials At Rook

Most chefs run nightly specials from time to time. Few tap into their heritage and love of culinary play as much as chef carlos-salazarCarlos Salazar at Rook (501 Virginia Ave., 317-737-2293, Here, a week’s worth of Salazar’s most innovative, of-the-moment dishes that will have you rushing to Fletcher Place to order them before they’re sold out.

Fischer Farms Tomahawk Chop

A 24-ounce long-bone ribeye, this one is served with kimchi plums, red onions, shaved foie gras torchon, and a Jägermeister house sauce. “I started with just a couple of these steaks and ran them for $60 when they should have been $98,” Salazar says. “I like running small specials that might run out—so customers will have a reason to come back in.”

Porchetta di Testa

Shaved slices of a whole cured pig’s head with Korean barbecue sauce, this exotic special (pictured) includes pistachios, chow chow, and pea shoots. “I wanted to give Kudzaishe Sitshebo, our intern from Ivy Tech, the experience of boning and curing a whole pig head that you might not get in culinary school,” the chef says. “I love the way this dish captured elements of Italy, Asia, and Indiana.”

Viking Lamb Rack of Lamb

Salazar prepares lamb chops with corn miso, fish sauce, Romesco sauce, and grilled summer tomatoes and zucchini. “I was actually on vacation when this first came available, but I talked with my sous Esteban Rosas, and he went with it,” he says. “I suggested a few things, but almost all of the dish was his.”

Crispy Pata

Starting with a fried pork hock, the chef plates it with rice, pickled green papaya, and spicy chili-vinegar dipping sauce. “When my Filipino customers saw that I was offering this, they would order four or five for the table. Now, they won’t let me take it off the menu.”

Chicks and Hoes

Miller Amish Country Poultry chicken wings pair nicely with hoecakes and miso butter. “Everyone does chicken and waffles, so I wanted to mix it up,” Salazar says. “We slow-fried the wings for ten minutes, froze them, then flash-cooked them to make them extra crispy.”

Snickers Ice Cream Sandwich

A fried bun envelops Snickers ice cream and sweetened condensed milk. “In the Philippines, we use hamburger buns for ice cream sandwiches,” the chef says. “I love these street sweets, so I knew I wanted to make one for Rook.”

Peking Quail

Salazar roasts quail from Meat the Rabbit, then dresses it with housemade mu shu pancakes, scallions, cucumbers, and sesame hoisin. “This was a week-long project where we kept drying and poaching it,” he says. “It was a great twist on the Peking duck you remember from the Chinese restaurants of your childhood.”


decbestofindy2016loqMore Best of Indy: 
The Best Food Truck-to-Restaurant Conversions in Indianapolis
Indy’s Best Ramen Shops
2016 Indianapolis Monthly Best of Indy Party