Yes, what is the Indianapolis equivalent of this? What is our locally founded Whataburger capable of wrapping itself into our respective personalities? I cannot speak for the city at large—that would be too presumptuous and, in the end, lacking scientific data. (The answer is MCL Cafeteria, probably.)
Instead, as the chief correspondent of the Middle-Aged Dad Sports Bureau™ here at Indy Monthly, I can very much speak as to which local chain restaurant would best lend itself to being the Whataburger of normal Indianapolis #SportsDads. That is as far as my jurisdiction extends.
The criteria for this? For starters, it has to be a local chain. Like, as in more than one. Therefore, St. Elmo’s is out. So too is Mug-n-Bun, Workingman’s Friend, and the cool Turn 2 tenderloin dealer at the Motor Speedway, the one with an eye-patch and three different beepers on his apron. Fine establishments, all. But they are not chains.
Also, are kids allowed? Because that is a critical factor here, maybe the most critical. Sorry, Taylor’s Pub. You too, Taylor’s Pub II. I adore you both immensely and long to one day return to your dark, kid-free, Kamchatka vodka–soaked interior and get lost in your delightful Cuban sandwiches.
Lastly, if the chain is to be the most truly Indianapolis-ian of the #DadBall restaurants, it has to be laid back and unpretentious. It has to be somewhat boring. It has to be set in its ways, yet warm and inviting. It must be reasonably priced. It must have cold beer and a family-friendly setting. It has to be pretty goddamn spectacular, but not know it.
Let us examine the potential contenders.
Steak-‘n-Shake. If your personality is grease-soaked sadness and health-code violations, then this is the place for you! This once admirable franchise, under its new management, is like eating in a diner-themed escape room where all the workers hate you.
White Castle. Everyone assumes this was founded here. It was not, I just learned! WHO KNEW! It was founded in Kansas. The only Indiana connection is that a White Castle Bakery in Rensselaer bakes the buns. So why, exactly, this is the de facto Hoosier trademark is confusing. And quite troublesome. We only go there drunk and regretfully, usually for a cheesy 10-sack that will poison our innards. Or after judicial conferences to get shot. Neither are healthy scenarios.
JUST … NO.
Patachou. Dads are not paying $48 for a single scoop of egg salad on sourdough toast with a side of flax seeds and a can of Diet Coke, we are just not. Not again, I mean. Too trendy, too little unhealthiness. PICK A DIFFERENT SPOT, MELISSA.
Ale Emporium. This is the Indy-area go-to for divorced dads wearing Calloway Golf fleeces, stonewashed jeans, and Brunello Cucinelli driving loafers without socks—the dads who lift weights too much. The food really is quite good, but it’s like a Geist cocktail party in a strip mall.
Arni’s Restaurant. Arni’s is fine, really. The kids enjoy it. It has beer. And comfortable seats, more or less. Nobody has ever loved or hated it, though. It serves its purpose. It is the “Joann Fabrics” of this list.
CLOSE, BUT NO.
King’s Ribs Bar-B-Q. It is THE best barbecue in the city and I will fight you if you say otherwise. That’s the good news. The bad news? The mid-century linoleum ambience makes for a less-than-romantic date-night setting.
Bazbeaux. Great pizza, but it takes too long. Incorporating a love of Bazbeaux into your personality would take 3,000 years.
YES, EXCEPT NOT UNIQUELY INDIANAPOLIS ENOUGH—OR AT ALL.
Shapiro’s. It is an Indianapolis institution for sure, but an Indianapolis institution serving extremely New York–deli cuisine. Others will think differently, certainly, but I feel strongly that our figurative Whataburger has to be at least somewhat Indy-centric. (That said, my burial shroud will be a sheet of their pastrami. I am excited, frankly.)
Yats. Same as Shapiro’s. God bless their chili-cheese etouffee, and if you don’t have cash on you, no problem! Take your food and go sit down … pay them later when you get a chance. We don’t deserve Yats. But again: Indianapolis cuisine is many things, but Cajun is not one of them, sadly. Thus bringing us to The One.
YES, ALWAYS AND FOREVER.
Sahm’s. Any of them within its vast, delicious empire. Sahm’s Place at 65th and Keystone, Sahm’s Restaurant on 116th, Sahm’s Ale House in Nora, Sahm’s Tavern downtown, it makes no difference—they are all equal in their pure, uncut, unabashed DADNESS. Comfortable. Not trendy. Reasonably priced. They’re quiet, but not too quiet, and they have servings by the cubic yard. Kid-friendly. Great beers. Cocktails. Darts! The ballgame will be on a television, but nobody will be paying it much mind.
Sahm’s wears Nike Monarchs and old Van Heusen slacks and it just wants you to be happy. It will pick you up at your party if you’ve been drinking … just call. Sahm’s will not be mad at you for doing this, but it will be disappointed. Good ol’ Sahm’s, always there when you need it.
It is the official Whataburger of the Indianapolis #DadBall set, and liking it a great deal is very much our personality.