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May 12, 2010 10:38 PM

The Quintessential Indianapolis

What is the essence of Indy? The one "Classic Indy" place that one should see, old school maybe, food so so but at least go in? Been there forever? Standard Indy? I don't know what we are asking for because I don't know what is there. We are in the city for one night, staying downtown, have a car. Boards seem to have plenty of discussion of the best, seems to be good places on Massachusetts Avenue, so we can find good food, but what is truly Indy food and ambiance? (Any tips on a good glass of wine downtown and coffee are deeply appreciated too.)

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  1. The question you're asking has been discussed recently in this topic:

    Recommended eating spots in Indy that showcase the city and region - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/700727

    You'll also find a lot of recommendations in this topic, which continues to get updated:

    INDIANAPOLIS - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/334868

    So does this one, for finer dining recommendations:

    Special occasion restaurant in or near Indianapolis - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/348586

    10 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Thanks, but I looked through those before I posted. I guess there isn't any "real Indy" place. Wasn't looking for the best food places, nor upscale, but a real Indy-only food experience. In Cleveland there are old school Hungarian joints with live polka, in Minneapolis Scandanavian bars sitting alongside Ole and Lena, but I don't find anything inherently Indianapolis. A look at restaurants near the Sheraton via Google Maps shows chain, chain, chain with a franchise or two thrown in. Just wanted something unusual. Thank you for trying. I might try some in the post below. Thanks again.

      1. re: ejohn

        I have only been to Indianapolis twice in my life but, by coincidence, I am here now and was quite interested in this thread as I typically look for the same type of restaurant you are seeking. The last time I was here (20 years ago) I went to a place called Hollyhock Hill and had the best fried chicken I have ever tasted, before or since. I went again tonight and nothing has changed, I can report.

        Based on my limited travels around the city, Indianapolis doesn't seen to have the ethnic neighborhoods you find in other midwest cities but, in Hollyhock Hill, it has something that is rather unique. Everything is served family style, with the first course being a cold buffet of homemade pickled beets, apple butter, cottage cheese, iceberg lettuce salad with a sweet/sour dressing and a carrot/celery/radish platter.

        For the main course, most folks order fried chicken, though there are some other selections. Along with the chicken comes a trio of vegetables (tonight it was mashed potatoes, corn and green beans cooked with bacon). On my first visit, years ago, I asked the server what made the chicken so good and was told that they pan fry it in lard. In this brave new world of health police in which we now live, I wondered whether that tradition had been preserved. I thought so, from the taste of the chicken but asked my server whether it was still cooked in lard. She gave me a guilty smile and said, "We still do, but it has become rather controversial."

        For dessert, you get a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream and a selection of toppings (butterscotch, mint and chocolate sauces). As full as I was I topped my ice cream with a splash of mint and a splash of chocolate. Divine!

        So what Indianapolis has that is unique is as white bread as it comes but they really do it well and in an old school way.

        Hollyhock Hill
        8110 N College Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46240

        1. re: ejohn

          >> A look at restaurants near the Sheraton via Google Maps shows chain, chain, chain with a franchise or two thrown in. Just wanted something unusual.

          If you are at the Sheraton on Ohio Street in downtown Indianapolis, you have a lot of places to choose from. 14 West, the Oceanaire, and Palomino are within a block or two of the hotel. Within a long walk, you've got Euphoria and Zing to the northwest and all of Mass Ave to the northeast, including R Bistro at the far end before the expressway.

          If you are at the Four Points Sheraton or the Sheraton on Keystone Crossing on the north side, you are not far from Oakley's Bistro (my favorite restaurant in Indy) as well as Z's Oyster Bar and Sawasdee, a Thai restaurant. The Broad Ripple neighborhood is about halfway between those two hotels and downtown; there you'll find Meridian, Recess, Zest, Northside Social, and Rene's Bakery.

          1. re: nsxtasy

            I think ejohn is looking for something that is specific to Indy, that evokes Indy and no other place, if any. The places suggested in the immediately preceding post are places which more-or-less serve good food but are not specific to Indy, you can find the equivalent in ejohn's hometown I imagine.

          2. re: ejohn

            I am an Indianapolis native living in Minnesota for some 40 years. If you think you are going to sit next to Ole and Lena in Minneapolis you are sadly mistaken. Minneapolis' signature would be Southeast Asian today than Scandinavian.

            Anyway, the signature for all of Indiana would be the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich and there are dozens of rightfully good places to where you can't go wrong. But if you want the ambiance of Indianapolis then why not try one at the Flag Room Brickyard Crossing at the Indy 500 track or Plump's Last Shot in Broadripple and get with Hoosier pride, THE race and basketball? They are both very good. I've had a few around the country.


            I go to the Indy 500 every year and make a quest for something new every year. I've thought about and made a goal this year to try John's Famous Stew on Kentucky Avenue. It is a Macedonian stew my dad brought home in a carton numerous times back in the 50s. I hadn't thought about it until recently trying to replicate the stew my dad used to make that he was probably trying to copy from John's.


            That would be my quintessential Indianapolis.

            Plump's Last Shot
            6416 Cornell Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46220

            John's Famous Stew
            1146 Kentucky Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46221

            1. re: Davydd

              Davydd has an excellent point. The venue can make a place as unique to its city just as easily as the food can. By that criterion, sitting out on the deck eating al fresco at Euphoria, looking out at the Indianapolis skyline, is a quintessentially Indianapolis experience, even though you can find contemporary American food in other cities as well. (The same way eating at North Pond in Chicago, with its location in the middle of Lincoln Park and its view of its namesake pond with the skyline looming over the opposite shore, is a quintessentially Chicago experience.)

              1. re: huiray

                Try a broader view. Many people look at the entire restaurant experience. In addition to the food, that experience may include other factors, such as the service as well as the decor. For some restaurants, the latter includes a view of the city where the restaurant is located. A restaurant with a view of the Indianapolis skyline can easily be considered a "quintessential Indianapolis" restaurant and a "quintessential Indianapolis" experience. It doesn't have to be only about the food.

                1. re: nsxtasy

                  I thought I was looking at the entire experience/ broader view.. I simply am positing that a food with a view need not be specific to that city where you are eating, such an experience may be had with or without the food. I myself DO indeed look at much more than the food. It has seemed that some people, perhaps even you, have tended to look at the food without looking beyond it, but I may be mistaken.

                  1. re: huiray

                    It sounds like you're suddenly saying the same thing as I am. "Food with a view need not be specific to that city" - because the view may be specific, the food need not be, and the overall experience can still be specific to the city. As for looking at the food without looking beyond it, that's quite the opposite of what I have been advocating: looking at the overall experience, including the view and service etc.

                    1. re: nsxtasy

                      Perhaps my earlier post about the Slippery Noodle Inn was not noticed by you? I also talked about tenderloins earlier but which appear further down in this thread.

                      It seemed to me that when earlier recommendations to the original poster for places in Indy to eat were heavy on places where one had good food but were places which were not particularly specific to Indy it suggested that considerations for an Indy experience was not being factored in.

        2. St Elmo's is probably one of our oldest (1902) and well known restaurants - steak, shrimp cocktail with a wicked hot cocktail sauce and it's pretty old school. It's on S Illinois, right next to the Canterbury Hotel - you could have a cocktail at the bar and check it out.

          The Rathskellar is in the lower level of the Athenaeum and the Biergarten is out back - German food and ... it's okay... but the place itself is amazing and the former Murat Temple is across the street. If nothing else - you should check it out and have a beer and a brat out back, and if there's a band that night, enjoy.

          The Elbow Room is a bar/pub with, you guessed it, bar food. Sometimes there's live music and it really has been there forever - 1893!

          The Conrad had a wine bar in it, I think it's called Tastings. I haven't been though and so can't really say much. Some of the restaurants have decent wine lists (some - this is a sore subject with me), your best bet might be to just try some of the good restaurants and just sit at the bar. We don't have corkage (rant) and so we're stuck with whatever the powers that be allow us to have (I'll shut up now).

          nsxtasy has already provided the links to the most recent posts/threads about Indy. If you have time I'd really recommend Recess. It's excellent, but call now for reservations - they're hard to get.

          8 Replies
          1. re: Cookiefiend

            Thanks, these look interesting, we'll definitely check them out whether we eat there or not -- like to see old time places. The corkage thing is a real shame, and you'll never change it with the power of the restaurant associations. Your idea for a good restaurant for a glass of wine is probably best. I was in Indianapolis only once, twenty years ago.

            1. re: ejohn

              ejohn - the only other thing I can think of that would be 'inherently' Indianapolis or Indiana would be the pork tenderloin sandwich. If you check some of the Super Bowl threads you will see those recs.

              I really don't know of any place downtown that you would find a good one. My favorite example is at the Friendly Tavern, all the way up in Zionsville - which would be a major haul from downtown.

              Have a great time in Indy. Please let us know where you go and how you liked it!

              1. re: Cookiefiend

                The best tenderloin I've had downtown is at the Lockerbie Pub.

                Lockerbie Pub
                631 E Michigan St, Indianapolis, IN 46202

                1. re: Condimentality

                  Pork Tenderloin is indeed supposed to be an "Indy food item"... Other places (with both bad and good reviews) include Ike and Jonesy's, Moe and Johnny's, Marco's, Pawn Shop Pub...

                  1. re: huiray

                    huiray - which ones had the good reviews?
                    I haven't had a pork tenderloin sandwich in a while…

                    1. re: Cookiefiend

                      Rick Garrett's blog is a great source for tenderloin reviews. He hasn't been everywhere, but he definitely knows a good one when he sees one.


                      1. re: Cookiefiend

                        Cookie, Condi's link probably provides your answer. (ejohn, you may want to take a look too) The places I mentioned have all had both good and not-so-good reviews, depending on who was doing the eating and what day the eating was done.

              2. re: Cookiefiend

                "If you have time I'd really recommend Recess. It's excellent, but call now for reservations - they're hard to get."

                I haven't had problems getting reservations at Recess even when I call at 7 or 8 pm - but then it is usually just for myself, and I am willing to take whatever time slot they can fit me into. Don't know if Recess would be "specific" to Indy, but it is certainly a great place to eat - just eat, don't worry about choosing stuff, just let go and eat.

              3. Everyone should be required to drink a beer at the Slippery Noodle Inn. Then, make a visit to Shapiro's Deli for a corned beef sandwich.

                9 Replies
                1. re: sitehound

                  Shame on me!
                  I completely forgot about Shapiro's!

                  1. re: Cookiefiend

                    On my last morning in Indy, I went to Shapiro's for breakfast. The place was virtually deserted and, while my omelette was good, the food in the cafeteria line was frightful. I hope it is better at lunch.

                    1. re: brentk

                      While I've never had breakfast at Shapiro's, and I wouldn't say the food is the best ever - it is cafeteria style - I do think lunch is pretty good. We frequently get it delivered for lunch on Friday's and the entire office is thrilled.

                      Sometimes the corned beef is too fatty for me (I like to get a pound to go though because it's leaner) but the peppered beef is very good, the rye bread is my favorite (a half a loaf to go please) and the cheese cake causes a mini riot at the office.

                      Hopefully, in the 20 years since you were here last, things have improved.

                      1. re: Cookiefiend

                        Sorry for the confusion. I was actually there for breakfast yesterday.

                        1. re: brentk

                          My apologies brentk!
                          I didn't realize you were here now - is the above write up about Hollyhock Hill recent too?
                          They do still fry the chicken in lard?

                          Hollyhock Hill
                          8110 N College Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46240

                          1. re: Cookiefiend

                            Yes, I just had dinner there Thursday night. They are still frying in lard - may be the last place in the country to do that! Sure gives a unique flavor to the chicken and however they do it, the chicken is incredibly moist but not greasy.

                  2. re: sitehound

                    Actually, Slippery Noodle Inn may not be a bad recommendation. It has a lot of Indy history embedded in it etc, a lot of Indy-bred Jazz history behind it, the place represents a chunk of specific Indy history. So what if the food is just-passable pub food.

                    1. re: huiray

                      Quintessential Indy.....Hmmm..... Shapiro's though its been years. Slippery Noodle is "old school" Indy but its more of a bar or Pub. So, I'd probably go with St. Elmo's.


                      1. re: HoosierFoodie

                        St. Elmo's definitely gets all the hype but I would agree with Davydd about John's Famous Stew as far as the style of food one would expect to find here. I would tie our heritage here to more 'Workman's' fare or 'State Fair' fare. Let's see, I think of Mr. Dan's, Mug & Bun, Working Man's Friend or old Taverns that serve up a great Tenderloin...oh most of those are gone...unfortunately!!

                        Working Man's Friend
                        234 N Belmont Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46222

                        John's Famous Stew
                        1146 Kentucky Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46221

                  3. Brentk's suggestion of chicken dinner at Hollyhock Hill might just be the best answer to this question. It's on the northside and has been around since the neighborhood was actually out-of-town countryside. A good near-downtown option for a tenderloin sandwich would be Barringer's Tavern, a really cozy and beautiful old bar (the absolute best neon in the city) at 2535 S Meridian. Good burger, better than good tenderloin.

                    Hollyhock Hill
                    8110 N College Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46240

                    Barringer's Tavern
                    2535 S Meridian St, Indianapolis, IN 46225

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Boatman

                      Totally agree Hollyhock Hill as Indy's essence. I do enjoy the bar and food at Barringer's also.

                      Hollyhock Hill
                      8110 N College Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46240

                    2. Thank you all so much, great stuff, never get to them all but exactly what I wanted. Thank you again.