As if cooking for a roomful of strangers weren’t enough, any restaurant that opens in this climate of social-media oversharing has to do so at its most flattering angles, too. This year’s crop of newcomers makes it look easy, smashing burgers, muddling cocktails, and locally sourcing their hearts out like they’ve been doing it forever. Here, we honor Indy’s 15 Best New Restaurants; All you have to do is decide which one of these winners to try first.
Yes, this is that place, the one where for a very short time last fall, an arguably lewd graffiti mural of two rabbits caught in flagrante delicto appeared on the side of the former auto-parts store located—depending on which table you reserved—in either Woodruff Place or Windsor Park. The spot has been a font of controversies, including: the aforementioned bunny bumping, gentrification, and $1,000 fried-chicken-wing meals. And the guy wearing the black hat and white apron is Jonathan Brooks, who commanded national attention for himself and the city thanks to hip brunch spot Milktooth, which he opened with then-wife Ashley Brooks in 2014. Honors followed—notably a Best New Chefs nod from Food & Wine and a Best New Restaurants award from Bon Appétit in 2015. A year later, Brooks won hearts by explaining to a writer from the latter that Indianapolis isn’t “f—king Brooklyn,” so stop with the forced comparisons, thanks.
Somewhere along the way, Brooks divorced, traded morning for night and conceived his new spot as a departure from the brunch fare that had won so much acclaim, and christened it after a Dungeons & Dragons monster. He pissed off neighbors with the Jules Muck mural, and then nearly everyone else with an ill-advised Facebook follow-up post saying we were lucky to have him. He also got married again, on Valentine’s Day, in his new restaurant.
So how’s Beholder? To paraphrase Brooks, it isn’t f—king Milktooth. But it is every bit of the above. Hot passion, a bad decision or two, and frantic creativity—on a plate.
Geraldine’s Supper Club
More than one person has marveled at the idea of somebody named “Fat Dan,” proprietor of a couple of local delis, opening a swanky supper club. But from the start, Dan Jarman’s new spot has been marked by supreme self-confidence. He channels his years of childhood evenings out with his folks at the likes of the Vesper Club in Philadelphia—places a lot like this ruggedly elegant den of exposed-brick walls and handsomely raw woodwork, where thick-cut steaks are carried sizzling from the kitchen and dry-as-a-bone martinis get shaken at the bar. Geraldine’s is not just Sinatra, it’s the best version of Frank—the one with that lopsided grin and a fedora tipped forward over one eye. See how long your group can sit at a cloth-topped table, clearing away the last few tastes of amuse-bouche sorbet from vintage-style coupe glasses, without somebody using the word “throwback” to describe the joint.
Jarman clearly embraces this steakhouses-of-yore vibe, adorning the walls with photos of The Rat Pack and proclaiming on the website, beneath a lusciously photographed hunk of meat, “A place where Dean Martin would go to get a martini and a steak.” The menu lists where the various cuts of grass-fed beef are sourced, but don’t expect too much more of a nod to modernity than that. You’ll slice into your mushroom caps and Delmonico, and it will be every bit as glorious as you remember. Or imagine it might have been.
Just Pop In! Popcorn Cafe
Girls’ night out options got a serious upgrade when Carly Swift and Mandy Selke’s cafe opened in Broad Ripple last fall. Sitting pretty on the Monon Trail just north of the Canal, the modern-farmhouse facade gives way to a chic South Beach vibe with pineapple wallpaper, turquoise barstools, and a fanciful collection of art that includes an illuminated miniature Ferris wheel. When warmer weather arrives, the wrap-around porch promises some of the most coveted al fresco seating in town.
A tight menu brings JPI’s signature puffed product out of the movie theater to costar in beer/wine-paired flights and to make cameo appearances alongside bagels, tuna salads, desserts, and charcuterie. Adam Ramsey gets credit for the sherry-centric cocktail program, while Bill Kennedy of Crossroads Vineyards manages a list of wine selections that includes summery frozen sangria and a Moscato-fortified strawberry-rhubarb Circle City Kombucha slush. Look for live music performances and Sunday brunch to join the lineup soon. Who knows? Maybe a name change is in order. How about … Stay A While?
It’s awfully pretty for a steakhouse. The 9,000-square-foot knockout in the middle of Carmel’s glossy new downtown is a spectacle of high ceilings and glass walls overlooking one of the Monon’s pulse points. The front bar is lined in green-velvet banquettes. The main dining room is awash in white tablecloths and cushy upholstered club chairs. And a private upper-level dining room houses the original bar from Carmel’s grandfather of fine dining, The Glass Chimney.
The luxe stage dressing doesn’t distract from the star of the show, a menu of noble, single-sourced Colorado steaks that range in opulence from a 32-ounce porterhouse for two, to an 18-ounce Cowgirl ribeye, to a deceptively wee 8-ounce Wagyu filet. The cuts are prepared to order in a kitchen that has also mastered a stunning Duroc pork-belly appetizer—barbecue-glazed and scattered with charred sweet corn—that melts in the mouth, and lobster bisque garnished with the tempura-fried tail of the beast. With all of its designer touches and gourmet garnishes, this sleek newcomer beautifully demonstrates how red meat can come out of the man cave.
Nesso Coastal Italia
The shuttering of James Beard–nominated chef Alan Sternberg’s Cerulean in late 2017 was a culinary loss, but when Cunningham Restaurant Group installed a leggy Italian joint in its old home, broken hearts quickly mended. While Cerulean was no plain Jane, CRG somehow reimagined the showstopping CityWay space with a smoky eye toward assuring everyone that the complex on the corner of Delaware and South streets will remain the city’s indissoluble thirst trap: Here, impossibly good-looking people sleep (at the Alexander hotel), drink (at Plat 99), and eat (at Nesso).
With a menu that leans toward the Amalfi Coast, delicate plates composed like a seaside plein-air artist’s palette, such as the Tonno (tuna) and Polpo (octopus), tease the eye and stomach. Heartier options like the herbed sea bass, short-rib polenta, and veal with marsala are the kind of dishes you’ll share with the table—but not without nagging resentment. And then there is the unassuming gnocchi, featuring a chicken meatball that will make you take back all the bad things you have ever said about chicken meatballs. Pastry chef Hattie McDaniel blows up the Italian classic desserts (tiramisu, spumoni, zeppole) with her signature whimsical deconstruction. Don’t leave behind a hazelnut crumb of dark-chocolate Tartufo di Cioccolato, which—even in a place like this—might be the sexiest thing in the room.
When your accolades include a nod for the best pastrami in the city, a fanatical farmers-market following for your painstakingly perfected pepperoni, and an inclusion in the 2019 “30 Under 30” class from Forbes, you might decide to put your feet up and take it easy for a few months. Not George Turkette. This ball of energy and butchering boy wonder put his cleaver to the grindstone last summer and, along with partner Amanda DeVary, realized his longtime dream of opening a bona fide big-city delicatessen that is quickly becoming Fountain Square’s most insider lunch draw. But Turkette isn’t just throwing his capocollo and prosciutto onto cold sandwiches. He and his kitchen staff are crafting knockout brunch creations such as a smash burger with tallow fries; eggs Benedict with radicchio and sage hollandaise; and perhaps the thickest, most decadent slice of French toast in the city, dressed up with maple mascarpone and candied bacon. Pair that with an Italian aperitivo or a loaded bloody mary (cheese cube, olive, and, of course, salami), and you have far more than your corner sandwich shop. The shotgun spot (in the former home of Marrow) includes a chummy full-service bar, grab-and-go meat cases, and a mini butcher counter where you can take home the makings of dinner. But Turkette is soon to pair his deli with a full-service USDA butcher shop next door that will ship a bit of Fountain Square’s old Italian heritage all across the country.
Hedge Row might have given you the wrong impression when it opened last year. Indy blushed as it earned the approval of founder Kimbal Musk, a real-food evangelist who embraces soil as passionately as his brother, Elon, does space. Colorado-based Kimbal dresses like a ranch hand and talks up a mission of sustainability and farm friendliness, so you might have expected Hedge Row to skew earthy—or at least down to earth.
The menu bridges Hedge Row’s citified face and cornfed soul. Wood-fired preparations served on gray stoneware dominate the tight menu of simple à la carte vegetables and rustic entrées. The headlining dishes are straightforward meats and fish in a refined sauce, and that’s about it—maybe a bed of couscous or vegetables. Some dishes are more composed, like a Gunthorp Farms bone-in roasted pork chop in its unabashed jus that doesn’t even need the garnish of cooked pears, and salmon resting atop a mélange of bok choy and shiitakes in smoky bacon broth and flecked with hazelnut-parsley pesto. Chef Brad Gates, an Indy veteran, has the confidence and experience to plate his food without fussy embellishments. Because of that, the rush of excitement we got from Musk’s endorsement has been replaced by an appreciation for Hedge Row’s food—because it’s real.
When Greg and Jackie Dikos decided to open a brewery on Main Street in Westfield, they went all in. They built the modern structure, with its glass walls and metal roof, from the ground up and hired three-time James Beard nominee Alan Sternberg to oversee the scratch kitchen. If the sunny and expansive dining space—buzzing with foodies taking pictures of their plates—is any indication, those bold moves are paying off. Servers deliver honey pastrami chicken sandwiches and ricotta gnocchi with umami sauce to a crowd that looks more than game to devour Sternberg’s creative alternatives to traditional brewery food. The nods to brewpub greatest hits are there, but the sweet and sticky chicken wings in garlic sauce are grilled instead of fried, and the sandwiches are served on sourdough bread made in-house, using the spent grain that is a byproduct of the brewing process. Not long after opening for dinner, the restaurant added lunch service, Sunday brunch, and a craft coffee bar, where you can order your green-tea latte with macadamia-nut milk to go.
When this avant-garde sandwich shop moved out of its original East 10th Street spot and into a new, bright, open space on Mass Ave, it changed more than just its ZIP code. It practically reinvented itself—which is why it belongs on this list of fresh starts. Now, pale pink walls and sparkled green booths set the tone for a sweet pastel interior dotted with sentimental tchotchkes. It’s the perfect setting for the programming that owners Chris and Ally Benedyk incorporated into their relaunch—as Movie Nights and Fish Frydays have become weekly staples.
The menu also took the opportunity to spread out a bit—beyond the bread, if you will—without losing its original adventurous spunk. It’s still as if the Benedyks are laying down a challenge to diners scanning the chalkboard-menu options: Buffalo chicken gizzards … braised beef tongue … smoked halibut hash. You could play it safe with the biscuits and gravy, two flaky discs smothered in a thick, porky sauce—or break out of your comfort zone with crispy sweetbreads, ghost-pepper cream cheese, and cabbage slaw squished between slices of crusty bread. Or the crunchy chicken skins blanketed in bright-orange salmon roe, which is exactly the kind of grub that draws diners to Love Handle when another burger simply won’t do.
When Adam and Alicia Sweet introduced Indy’s Holy Cross neighborhood to pies from their Bloomington-born pizzeria in mid-
January, it was a dream come true for some. A longtime resident seated at a table with his children and grandchildren on the Saturday King Dough soft-opened its new location muttered in near-disbelief: “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this.” Though some of the pizzas that emerge from a brick oven named the Thunder Dome are indeed a revelation, it’s more than likely the man was simply expressing appreciation for a place the near-eastside ’hood could call its own.
The spot—a remodel of a vacant auto shop on an angular parcel—radiates the anima of your aunt’s kitschy basement. Crocheted slices of pizza hang from the walls and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figurines stand on guard throughout a dining room rowdy with patrons pulling apart leopard-spotted pizzas, like the Grape and Gorgonzola (it’s what it sounds like, kids) and the Big Boy (pepperoni, Italian sausage, peppadews, and red onion).
While the pies are first-rate and expand the Indianapolis pizza universe, diners would be remiss to skip the meatballs with hunks of grilled bread, the old-school salads, and complex pastas that can go toe-to-toe with the city’s best. Holy Cross, thy kingdom come.
Tavern At The Point
Like jalapeños? Then close your eyes and point to an item on Tavern at the Point’s menu of modernized country food, and you’ll be happy. The bar that took over a landmark spot downtown—the nose of the flatiron building at Massachusetts Avenue and Vermont Street, a watering hole dating back to 1887 and most recently the patio hangout Old Point Tavern—brings the heat in nearly every elevated snack. Most importantly, they’re in place on the nachos, Old Point’s signature, spiffed up by new owners Cunningham Restaurant Group into a mature brisket version soberly arranged on a metal pan with radishes and fresh pico. The peppers garnish a bean-dense brisket chili, a deeply satisfying trifecta of sweet, smoky, and spicy. Flavor explodes from the messy Southern-style grilled cheese, a napkin-guzzling stack of thick smoked ham, pimento and white cheddar cheese, and elderflower-jalapeño jam, all oozing over the edges of housemade water bread. What’s that on top of the soupy mac-and-pimento-cheese? Sliced jalapeños. The kitchen leaves them off of a classic Hoosier tenderloin sandwich, a cut that doesn’t need comical measurements to dazzle; it’s breaded golden and run through the garden. That figures. The local empire-builder that hardly ever misses the mark with a new restaurant concept is just as deft at upgrading an old favorite.
Daredevil Brewery moved its southeast-Indy production to Speedway’s rejuvenated Main Street in 2015, which seemed a fitting change of address for a craft-beer–maker with a vintage motorsport helmet as its logo. But then, the brand’s latest scene change early this year was into a ground-level spread at the luxurious Ironworks Hotel complex, which sounds like an infield-to-paddock upgrade. Luckily, the new location is as laidback and chug-friendly as its predecessor, even with a pristine 4,200-square-foot space and a menu created and hyped by local star chef Neal Brown (of Pizzology, Libertine, and Ukiyo).
Blue-jeaned, black-T-shirted servers wield flights of Daredevil’s award-winning beers and solid advice on food-and-drink pairings. The menu ranges from burgers and huge platters of poutine to German beer-hall standards, like a locally stuffed currywurst, a crispy chicken schnitzel sandwich, and a selection of spaetzles—including one with braised oxtail, onion marmalade, and a poached egg. You can sit in the bar or in the echo chamber of a dining room with wood-topped community tables and a kid’s menu, those wholesome indicators of the family-friendly brewery concept. And that says more about where you are in life than how much fun you want to have with it.
The Inferno Room
Kitschy. Campy. Deliciously tacky. Everything you want out of a tiki bar, right? But The Inferno Room is none of these things, preferring to succeed on its own startling merits. The buzz around the latest venture from local restaurateur Ed Rudisell (Rook, Siam Square, Black Market) and his business partner, Chris Coy, had reached fever pitch by the time The Inferno Room finally swung open its door beneath a neon flame in September. For two years or so, we’d heard about a tiki lounge coming to Indianapolis, and opening day kept getting pushed back as management tinkered with the details—arranging for all that hand-carved bamboo, fussing with those hundreds of masks and statues and skulls plucked from the jungles of Papua New Guinea. So, any of those skulls real? Let’s just say someone offered to sell Rudisell and Coy a shrunken head, and leave it at that.
Indeed, mystery is at the heart of darkness here, where the brief food menu includes a few sparse words of description per item, and the drink menu seems written to evoke various moods rather than provide a list of ingredients. That kind of day? You’ll want the “prescription-strength” Painkiller, the best-selling cocktail on the list. When handed a mélange of rum, coconut, nutmeg, and fresh pineapple and orange juices, how can you ignore the menu’s instructions to “escape the day into tropical euphoria”? “It’s the one that gets all the attention,” says Rudisell. “They’ve probably had a Painkiller. We try to make sure we’re doing a really good version.”
These are not your grandmother’s pork chops. The shiniest cog in Eddie Sahm’s growing local dining empire, the restaurant whose name is a word play on “lederhosen” skillfully reimagines traditional German cuisine using familiar Indiana ingredients, with deliciously modern results. The boisterous SoBro gastropub bears little resemblance to its Bent Rail Brewery predecessor, now all grown up in contemporary continental style with concrete floors, wood booths, and artsy German travel posters. “My grandfather owns a home in Switzerland, so I’ve always had a thing for Central Europe,” Sahm says.
The R&D he did during a trip through the region several years ago, to get a firsthand feel for the beer and food culture, seems to have paid off handsomely. Skate-wing schnitzel and chimichurri-dressed ribeyes comfortably coexist here with smoked chicken wings, cornmeal cobbler, and a sausagefest of wursts. Menus change up a couple times a year to capitalize on seasonality, with cheeky themed dinners thrown in for good measure.
Beverage director Lindsay Slone made herself right at home in these new digs, curating a wine list that gives diners pause before defaulting to hefty glass steins of Big Lug ales and lagers. A backside addition, Half Liter, piggybacked onto the property last month, offering Texas-style barbecue.
The bar has the neon patina of a dusty old watering hole, and the low stage and dance floor were built to perform, not impress. In spite of (because of?) Duke’s divey charms, in a tin-roofed roadhouse just outside of downtown, folks joined the fan club as soon as it opened its cartoonish heavy door, a relic from its previous life as the Ice House. It’s a happy coincidence that owner Dustin Boyer, a former operations manager at Sun King Brewery who has both honky-tonk and home cooking in his bloodline, also makes a mean tater-tot waffle. A few short-order stars make up the lunch menu: tacos, burgers, a hot chicken sandwich, a noble fried tenderloin sandwich, and usually a smoked-meat special, always served on metal barbecue-shack trays scattered with puffy wagonwheel duros chips. For dinner, Boyer downsizes to just a pressure-cooked fried-chicken dinner that you can (and absolutely should) order as “The Whole Damned Thing,” which includes an entire bird and ensemble cast of family-style sides—spicy mac and cheese, a tater-tot waffle, and fried Brussels sprouts—for $35.
There are fancier places in town, but none of those places have as much heart as Duke’s, which is why we would hang our hat here if we had one.