mid-Indiana restaurant suggestions for $125
Recently, I've been offered by my work a $125 reimbursement for restaurant dining. Dinner would be for 2 people. My fiance and I tend to be picky with the places we eat. We do not like to go to the local/touristy destinations, but prefer to find food at hole-in-the-wall diners or authentic ethnic restaurants. Needless to say, we are not a big fan of chains. Since we are food cheapies, we are having a hard time deciding where to go. ;-)
Would someone have a suggestion of places to go with our budget in mind? We would prefer not going to someplace such as St. Elmo's or the Melting Pot. (I've heard of a restaurant someplace close to the Lapel area that is known for their fine dining. They do not take reservations, and the locals know to line up outside before the restaurant opens. No idea the name of the place, or the town it is located....)
Maybe I should add a bit to my answer above. Bonge's is a fun and funky place -- 100% Indiana. The food on the other hand is on the upscale side and very, very good. Fish is all fresh and beautifully done, the beer-braised brisket is great, the harger duck is eccentric but delicious, in a heart attack kind of way. And the peach cobbler and the sugar cream cake -- oh my! Chef Tony Huelster has been around a long time and knows what he is doing. From what you write above, this sounds like the kind of place you and your fiance would love, and the amount you want to spend is about right.
With regard to some of these other suggestions, you mentioned that you weren't wild about chains. The Oceannaire is a chain (small chain, but chain nonetheless) with a gaudy cruise ship sort of theme. Opinions differ, of course, but I find it overpriced and just not very good, unless you just go for the oysters.
Maybe I should add a bit to my answer above. The food at 14 West is absolutely superb. The panned veal sweatbreads are absolutely "to die for", the best single dish I ate in my recent "tour de Indy". The salads are excellent and huge. The meat and seafood dishes are excellent, too; I had an entree of sea scallops that was simply wonderful. Everything is not only delicious, but very creatively prepared.
I've eaten at the Oceanaire about five times, and every time, the selection of fresh seafood is excellent, the food has been outstanding, and the value is reasonable. For even more value, they have a three-course special in the late afternoon (before 5 pm on weekdays, I believe). And even their regular prices are reasonable for absolutely fresh seafood well-prepared, flown in from all over and not limited to local sources. I've been to a lot of seafood restaurants all over the Midwest, in Chicago and Columbus and Detroit and Indy and other cities, and the Oceanaire is one of the very best. If you enjoy fresh seafood, you'll love the Oceanaire.
Both are classy places, with elegant surroundings while casual in style. From what you write above, either one sounds like the kind of place you and your fiance would love, and the amount you want to spend is about right. Enjoy!
$125 for two puts you within range of most of the better places in Indianapolis, which are discussed in this topic:
As reported in that topic, I recently ate at three of them there (L'Explorateur, 14 West, and Tallent). I spent $65-85 per person at each, total including moderate alcohol and tax/tip.
If I were given $125 for dinner for two, I would go to 14 West or Oceanaire, both in downtown Indy, around the corner from each other on the block that has the Circle Center. Oceanaire specializes in seafood, 14 West is contemporary American, and both are excellent. 14 West has an additional dining area outdoors if the weather's nice. If you don't go crazy with alcohol, you can get by for $125, or you might have to throw in a few bucks on top of that. You can park underground in the Circle Center garage for up to three hours for $1.50, entrance on the left on Maryland.
This sounds like an excellent chance to explore a little and try a place that you might not otherwise try. There are many suggestions on prior Indianapolis threads on this board, and all of them are worth a try. Plus, it will certainly be easier to spend the alloted $125 at one of those usual suspects than it would be to hit the centry mark at any of the hole-in-the-wall joints I've been in.
One of our favorite "off-the-beaten-path" places is Bijou in Lebanon, but it may not be the best choice if you really want a midwestern diner experience.
Good luck, and I hope you have a great time.