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authentic Italian in Indianapolis

I've gone to quite a few of Indy's Italian restaurants but have also been to Italy and Indy's restaurants are really the American version of Italian. Has anyone found an Italian restaurant in Indy that really stands out? I did love Tavola Di Tosa, not really Italian, more continental, but the food had the creativity and freshness of "real" Italian food. I haven't found anything to replace it.

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  1. I don’t know why I am even trying to answer since I have never been to Italy.

    I prefer Amalfi (based on taste but not authenticity) and I know that Mama Corolla's has also been recommended on this board (but I can't speak the authenticity there either).

    For those of us who are continentally challenged maybe you could be more specific about what you are looking for that will be reminiscent of your time spent in Italy? I don't know if you are going to find the same food here as you did in Italy as most of our Italian restaurants are owned by Italian-Americans.

    5 Replies
    1. re: bonmann

      Unfortunately, Indianapolis does not support an authentic Italian restaurant. What I mean by authentic Italian would be the standards that Tavola di Tosa set back in the day. The cuisine there was based on simple preparations in the Italian manner, meaning: utilizing fresh produce, local meats, housemade cheeses and desserts, freshly made pasta (daily), and imported Italian products. These dishes were very focused (3-4 elements in each dish at most) and straight forward to emphasize the word FRESH. Beyond the everyday struggles that small independent restaurants face on a daily basis in Indy (mainly competing with the deep pocketed, highly themed corporate restaurants), it's hard for them to be ambitious in their offerings of 'authentic' italian cuisine. Americans are used to gloppy marinara and alfredo sauces which mask the pasta to an extent of non-existence. This will be the norm at most places besides the Amalfi or just a few others, maybe. Sorry, I never go out for 'Italian' food in Indy because it's just too Americanized. The best way to learn about authentic Italian is to watch Mario Batali at 10:30AM on the food network. You will then understand the difference between a more culturally and regionally specific approach to the cuisne of Italy which relies on fresh, seasonal products versus that of the over sauced pasta with the red or white sauce along with your typical boneless, skinless chicken breast that hardly has anything to do with Italy.

      1. re: napolean

        Napolean is right on for what I am looking for and what set Tavola di Tosa apart. Great decription of Italian food in Italy. So sad to hear there are no real alternatives here yet, not even close. I'll try Amalfi again. I had one good meal there and one disappointing meal. Hopefully as Indy continues to grow, it'll support more great independents. I am going to try Matteo's in Noblesville too. I heard he is from Southern Italy and the restaurant has had some good reviews. Thanks for your input!

        1. re: knielson2

          I was actually going to mention Matteo's because I've heard good things about it. It's not that you can't find good food with some Italian influences in Indy but that's what it's going to be...influenced, not authentic. Matteo's chef is from Italy but even he has to conform to Hoosier taste buds. It's just a part of reality running a restaurant in the Midwest, especially Indiana. The closest thing you are going to get to Italy and food in Indy restaurants...check out the higher end places that work with fresh ingredients, making everything from scratch. R Bistro's menu changes weekly and has a strong European influence. I would say the Veal T-bone with celery root mashed potato and raddichio sauce (I had a few weeks ago)was very Italian, especially the sauce! Plus where else can you find that? Elements would be the other place to go and Taste Cafe has a special dinner posted for later this month and had a mix of California, Spanish and Italian influences on the pre fix menu. It's hard to find and a bit more expensive...but less than a plane trip to Rome. Good luck!

          1. re: napolean

            I am not familiar with Taste Cafe, where are they and what kind of food are they serving? I have yet to go to R Bistro but its my list of places to go SOON. Thanks for your input. Its always nice to talk with other Hoosier foodies (a rare enough breed :)

            1. re: napolean

              I think you guys are right on about the state of good Italian food in Indianapolis, I was Tony's sous chef at Tavola di Tosa and I have seen what simple ingredients, prepared well mean to Italian food. There may be a new place opening soon that just may catrer to those who want the authentic stuff. Mateos was very good when I was there a few months ago, a few things though. The sauces are still infused with the rigid acidity of tomato paste not the etheral essence of a little pasta water to correct the viscosity. I have yet to eat real italian in Indy. Try Chicago.....at least for the time being.

              PS- Isn't it sad that we can't even get Italian right in Indy?

      2. Try the Capri on Keystone or Amalfi on 86th, I think both are operated by the same (genuine Italian) family. "authentic" is a difficult metric but both of these are very good and change their menus often.

        3 Replies
        1. re: gargantua

          Be careful of Capri. I had a private party there recently and though the food was excellent there were literally roaches falling off the walls into the food. When confronted, the owner initially refused to give any discount for the day, but eventually relented after a call to the health dept. and calls from a few regualrs.

          1. re: Hoosierland

            I have been enjoying the Capri proprietor's food and service for almost 25 years . I and my friends have never had an experience even close to what you are describing. Arturo always goes out of his way to make our dining experience the best it can be including service, atmosphere, and quality. I have travelled and dined in San Francisco, NYC, Firenze, Milano, Roma, Paris, and etc..... and the Capri is every bit as fine a restaurant you will find. There must be some untold circumstances that have caused this problem. I would say that Arturo does have a difficult time with verbal communication but that only makes for a better dining experience.(atmosphere).

            1. re: flemco

              I have also eaten there many times over the years and always thought highly of the place. We were shocked at the reaction from Arturo, and have unfortunately vowed never to return.

        2. Anyone tried Iaria's on College lately? It used to be the place to go for authentic Italian (southern Italian I believe) and it's been there since the 30s - at least. I remember Meatballs as big as your head, but they've changed hands (still the same family, but I've not heard much about it lately)
          The Indianapoils Southside used to be a little Italy back in the early 1900s - how in the world did just one restaurant survive?

          6 Replies
          1. re: Spoonula

            I second the recommendation for R Bistro. It was my favorite place when I lived in Indy. I also happened upon Georgio's Pizza, just off the circle shortly before I moved - they have the most "authentic" pizza - or as close as you're going to get in Indy. At the least, it is a good NY-style slice.

            1. re: brieonwheat

              Giorgio's Pizza off the circle is by far the best New York style pizza, and one of the best overall, in Indy.

              1. re: napolean

                do you remember how good pizza tasted when you were a kid? ok, a kid from the 60s.... before Dominos, Papa John's - when there were independent pizza places that made their own sauce and tossed their own dough? There is a place off of Troy and Shelby on the southside called Maria's. It's a hole in the wall but don't be put off by it. I don't think Maria still owns it - but the pizza still tastes fabulous. It is by far the best pizza I ever ate. They make their own sausage, hand tossed dough (not that pre-made stuff) and they used Muenster cheese and mozzerella - browned and gooey from the oven.
                hmmm... I might have to pick one up on the way home.

                sorry knielson2 for getting off the subject....but I had to share that one

                1. re: napolean

                  Try Stefano's the pizza place that took the place of Cio's in Fisher's (116th off 69-next to the target plaza). The best pizza in Indy and I have high standards having lived in Boston and near NYC. Cio's was good but the service wasn't Stefano has changed that and offers the same great food and decent service. Worth the drive.

                  1. re: knielson2

                    Def the best in Indy, Giorgio's was OK- too heavy and greasy though. Stefano's is fantastic- I ask for my pie a little more crispy on the bottom. I'm originally from NJ, this is the only place for real pie IMO in Indy.

                    1. re: JRN

                      Glad to hear you made it there. I hope he gets a good following and stays in business. Unfortunately I moved to lafayette so my real pizza days will be limited to road trips! :(

            2. Amalfi and Matteos are great. They're the only places we go for Italian. If you go to Matteos, ask to sit in a booth - the chairs are monstrously uncomfortable.
              If we want pizza, we go to Dom diCarlos (in Noblesville). Wonderful thin crisp crust, sauce and sausage!

              1. Try Amici's. It's located on New York steet, in the Lockerbie area. I think it's between New Jersey and College. It's been here forever. It's not much for looks - it sits in an old home and has an ecclectic atmosphere. Howerer, the food is really very good. I'm not Italian, but it is the only place that a 2nd generation Italian friend will eat in Indianapolis. I belive that it is Sicilian style. Try the puttanesca.

                1 Reply
                1. re: HMK

                  I agree with Amici's. Great little place. I sway between the Puttanesca as well and the cheese lasagna. Of course I love their sausage so I get the lasagna with BOTH meatballs (huge) and the sausage. Their marinara is a little different, it has a cinnamon aftertaste to it.

                2. I love Italian food, however I am not from Italy nor have I been there so I cannpt vouch for the authenticity. When I go for Italian we LOVE Mama Carolla's, Iaria's, and Giorgio's. Giorgio's is directly across from where I work and I love the chaos of that place at lunch. They have GREAT pizza. The sauce is perfect. Iaria's still has massive meatballs, and they they're great, although the last time we were in there the tiramisu tasted off. Like they used ingradients that had gone sour. I'll still go back. That was the first time anything like that had happened. Their Minestrone soup is great.

                  1. Having lived in Italy and actually cooked in a small restaurant there, I can tell you there is nothing remotely authentic in this city in the way of Italian. I ate at Iarias once, the same at Mama Corollas, both places were utter travesties on every level. I would even go so far as to call the food foul. Iaria's is not even a good example of Italian American ingenuity in the kitchen. The sauce poured over the thick and poor quality ravioli was nothing more than Contadina sauce with an immense sugary overload. The wedding soup, which so many people love at Mama's had a broth like dishwater. The setting and the charm are what I find bring many people to that locale -- not the food. I agree, I miss Tavola di Tosa. It came the closest to bringing an authentic spirit of Italian preparation to the food they served. The funny thing about Italians and the food they want to eat -- is that they really do only want the food their mothers prepared. Even their wives never accomplish what their mothers did, so I agree with the post -- watch Mario Batali -- Lidia Bastianich and read Marcella Hazan from cover to cover to achieve what you will never find in a restaurant in this city.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: squashblossom

                      So what do we have to do to lure Tony Hanslits back into another Italian restaurant? :)

                    2. The idea of "authenticity" here is so ridiculous and the idea that a person's having been to Italy allows him/her to make such horrible proclamations about the Italian food scene in an American city is such snobbery that this hardly deserves comment. I mean, just read a bit of Macella Hazan, and she'll tell you that what's "authentic" to one kitchen in Italy is completely different in another. The idea that ALL Italian food is the same and that any variations make it awful is just dispicable. Furthermore, I had some of Tony's food at Tavola di Tosa, and you people are confusing the fact that it wasn't "typical American" Italian food with the fact that it was "the only edible Italian food ever to come through Indianapolis." His gnocchi were so mushy that they became potato soup in the bowl. Another dish of pasta with sausage had a sauce almost entirely of reconstituted tomato paste--and I found the recipe that he said was his own house recipe on the web. Furthermore, most of the stuff in the blessed culinary meccas of the coast is messed with and isn't "authentic" either. The menu at Babbo has sweet potatoes, a New World ingredient, on it. Guess Batali guess an F for authenticity too. Maybe he should come cook in Indianapolis.

                      There is a lot of good "Italian" food in Indianapolis; you just have to look for certain dishes at certain restaurants, not to walk into a place and say, "Oh, my this isn't what a restaurant looks like in Italy. This city is AWFUL" (And the the person who said that there were choice few foodies in Indianapolis, he/she is simply wrong.) I'm sure that the original poster here would take issue with the amount of cheese on the chicken Botticelli at Amici's. Who cares--it's delicious! What about the pesto mac & cheese at Oakley's? Isn't it "Italian"? Tastes great. As does the lobster mac & cheese at Capitol Grille. How about the duck ravioli at Dunaway's? The veal chop is quite good at Ambrosia. I'll bet the risotto with diver scallops at Peterson's would be disqualified by knielson2 because it's got an apple relish on it and the scallops are from (gasp) Maine. I'll be glad to eat what knielson doesn't eat! The grilled and marinated eggplant antipasto at Amalfi is excellent. A pretty good pasta can be had at Agio, in fact, though I wouldn't ever order veal or seafood there. Neal Brown has two Italian-inspired dishes on his menu at L'Explorateur: Pan-roasted duck with pancetta and porcini and butternut squash ravioli with sage and wilted kale. Oakleys Bistro also now has chicken meatballs with preserved lemon, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, garlic chips, and a bleu-cheese fondue. Sure, it's not "authentic," but I'll bet it's good too. I had a great pizza at Gusto! in Fountain Square the other day that, while not maybe as good as the one I had in Florence, sure hit the spot and wan't just smothered in toppings. And I could eat the balsamic vinegar ice cream at H2O Sushi every night of the week.

                      Okay, I could go on like this for a long time, but I think my point has been made. It's just amazing how much Indianapolis gets bashed by the posters on this site. Most often it seems more to the point of making the poster look culturally superior than to the point of actually allowing that this city might have some edible food and that some people know where to find it.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: indypoetchef

                        I'll try to keep this short and simple, but there is a difference in stating a dish to be delicious versus that to be authentic. Much of the 'American Italian' food in Indy is delicious and comforting. But I'm sorry, I won't go around calling it what it's not. I appreciate good Italian food and if you can't accept it, then go jump into your bottomless bowl of spaghetti and meatballs with all of olive garden's iceburg lettuce!

                        All I can say is I would feel pretty pretentious bragging to all of my friends about the pasta dish, sprinkled with paprika (LITERALLY----oh, how cute!) and how it brought me back to the Meditteranean or the Amalfi Coast. Give me a break, we're in Indy and, if I were a chef, I too would be drowning boneless skinless chicken breasts in gloppy sauce over pasta. Sure it may be tasty enough to keep my business going. But once again, I do apologize---I feel no need to call it Italian or Med. I would rather call it what it is. Do you need a classification for your cuisine? How does American sound or Hoosier comfort food or better yet American Italian.

                        It's not bashing this town for being culturally deprived or producing less than mediocre food. It's about giving people (much of the blame could be placed on the chefs or restaurant owners who brainwash our public) the wrong idea of what food SHOULD be.

                        Let me guess what type of 'Mexican' you go out for. I'm tired of putting words in quotes to decribe everthing. Better yet, maybe you could think about it over your next ground beef burrito.

                      2. Indypoetchef is onto something. I guess I just don't understand the need for snobbery. If something wasn't to your liking, then talk about what you ate. I can't imagine eating one or two dishes then condemning the restaurant and later the city.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: sausagefinger

                          Just read Indy monthly and you'll understand why the Indy food scene is where it is. This magazine goes out of their way to brainwash the public about what good food is. Wow!! Another article about mediocre pizza and chicken sandwhiches. Nuvo is better but even Terry Kirks can't be totally honest with the STAR RATINGS?!?!? This town needs more food snobs to wake it up a bit! Fortunately there are independents like Taste Cafe, Yats, Bub's Burgers, and a # of ethnic eateries (to name a few) who provide some basic things done really well for a great price. Indy needs more of these to grow as a city before the higher ends can even think about making a significant mark in this town starving for something more!