Scene Maker: Flatland Kitchen
“The Red Key Tavern … is one of those places that you can’t replicate. You have to exist for a long time to feel like that.”
To experience some speakeasy decadence (and that famous shrimp cocktail), climb the stairs to St. Elmo Steak House’s second-story 1933 Lounge (127 S. Illinois St., 635-0636, stelmos.com) > Sazeracs and Chartreuse Swizzles are among the classic pours at Ball and Biscuit (331 Massachusetts Ave., 636-0539, ballandbiscuit.com), paired with Chef Brad Gates’s small plates > Vodka drinkers flock to Tini (717 Massachusetts Ave., 384-1313).
Other scaled-down epicurean spots include Northside Social (6525 N. College Ave., 253-0111, northsidesocial.com), which prepares its mac ’n’cheese with bacon, pancetta, and prosciutto > Taste Cafe (5164 N. College Ave., 925-2233, tastecafeandmarketplace.com) serves approachable gourmet > Oakleys Bistro (1464 W. 86th St., 824-1231, oakleysbistro.com) keeps us entertained with upscale versions of (shrimp) corndogs and (goat cheese and fig marmalade) pizza.
Fans of pitch-perfect surf and turf always have the fallback lushness of Peterson’s (7690 E. 96th St., Fishers, 598-8863, petersonsrestaurant.com), especially in its tender osso buco, and row of seared Maine Diver scallops with alternating disks of apple tuille on a bed of risotto > Sporting dark paneling and Germanic robustness, The Rathskeller (401 E. Michigan St., 636-0396, rathskeller.com) pioneered the civilized rustic theme. Oxtail is listed among the soups, and the sides include spaetzle, red cabbage, and warm potato salad.
Other gilded bistros were working their magpie charms long before Eggshell Bistro made its debut. Petite Chou (14390 Clay Terrace Blvd., Carmel, 566-0765; 823 Westfield Blvd., 259-0765; cafepatachou.com) sparks a craving for crepes and broken yolk sandwiches in a dining room that looks like Martha Hoover’s Pinterest board > The brunch crowd gravitates to Good Morning Mama’s (1001 E. 54th St., 255-3800, goodmorningmamas.com) for innovative breakfast-to-brunch fair in a brightly refurbished car repair shop. We love the Hoosierfied Hawaiian Loco Moco with cheesy grits and sausage gravy, and the blueberry pancakes.
Small-plate dining has taken off in Indy, but people have been sharing plates for a while here. They just called it “ordering off of the bar menu.” Meridian Restaurant & Bar (5694 N. Meridian St., 466-1111, meridianonmeridian.com) has an intriguing lineup of nibbles such as roasted beets and spiced popcorn > The happy hour menu at The Oceanaire (30 S. Meridian St., 955-2277, theoceanaire.com) ranges from crab cake bites to luscious shrimp and grits > The wafer-thin flatbreads at Palomino Restaurant & Bar (49 W. Maryland St., 974-0400, palomino.com) pair nicely with GNO beverages.
Burger connoisseurs rally behind their favorite patties, perhaps none more beloved than the crispy-edged standards at Workingman’s Friend (234 N. Belmont Ave., 636-2067) > At MacNiven’s Restaurant & Bar (339 Massachusetts Ave., 632-7268, macnivens.com), the Angus Burger spans the entire plate, wide and flat like a Frisbee. Fold it twice, like hamburger origami, to make it fit the bun > Those who like their burgers thick and artfully garnished will find bliss in the dozen-plus one-third–pound varieties at Boogie Burger (1904 Broad Ripple Ave., 255-2450, boogieburger.com) and in the hand-pattied creations at Bub’s Burgers & Ice Cream (210 W. Main St., Carmel, 706-2827, bubsburgersandicecream.com).
The spicing is subtle in some dishes, striking in others, but always precise. Sometimes the combination of ingredients challenges our middle-American notions. When was the last time you had chilled, spiced mashed potatoes molded around chicken salad? But dishes assembled with such care and presented so lovingly can grow on you and become familiar. As Indy’s ethnic food scene expands and (hopefully) fills in all of our international cracks, Mama Irma gives us a place to call home.