BY ROBERT GLAZE
I have been to Indianapolis many times for business since 1985 but had not been back in over 10 years. On my recent trip, I was totally amazed by the many positive changes that have occurred in the past decade.
The Warehouse District downtown is bustling, the Cultural Trail and The Canal Walk are welcome additions, and the growing corridors of Mass Avenue and Virginia Avenue/Fletcher Place down to Fountain Square are filled with some of the best new restaurants in the country (along with many craft breweries and distilleries).
I was equally excited about visiting some outstanding museums, seeing the Monon Trail, and exploring Broad Ripple Village for the first time on a beautiful Sunday afternoon with a friend that happens to be a local. I am excited for you to experience all that I found during my weekend visit.
Where to Eat
Featuring locally sourced, Midwest-inspired food, Cerulean (339 South Delaware Street) is an upscale restaurant in the hip boutique Alexander Hotel (see Where to Stay, below). The white gazpacho made with green strawberries, almonds, onions, cucumbers, and mint was really excellent. Equally good was the walleye with rye gnocchi, English peas, shiitake mushrooms, and chervil. Chef Alan Sternberg was a semifinalist for the James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year 2016, for those under the age of 30.
After dinner, you might check out the hotel’s sleek bar on the second floor, Plat 99.
Not to be missed is Indy’s historic steakhouse from 1902, St. Elmo’s (127 South Illinois Street). This classic restaurant with white tablecloths, wood paneled walls, tall ceilings, and great service is an experience not to be missed. The menu features their famous navy bean soup, traditional steak cuts of filet mignon and porterhouse, and shrimp cocktail. I really enjoyed the yellowfin tuna entree. They have a bar upstairs, the 1933 Lounge, if you want a classic cocktail before or after dinner.
I experienced a lovely meal at Bluebeard, the popular Indy spot at 653 Virginia Avenue. It is located in a converted factory warehouse from 1924 and has a focus on contemporary American cuisine using local produce and meat. I opted for the halibut with vegetables and an amazing dessert of roasted peaches, toasted pecans, and a bourbon ice cream. I can see why chef Abbi Merriss was a past James Beard Foundation nominee/semi-finalist (Best New Restaurant 2014).
Open for breakfast and lunch, Milktooth (534 Virginia Avenue) was created by chef/owner Jonathan Brooks and wife, Ashley, “from a passionate commitment to great local ingredients.” According to them, “Mom always told us that breakfast was the most important meal of the day—we hope to make it your most fun and delicious, as well!”
It is known for its waffles, pancakes, and burgers. I enjoyed lunch in this former auto garage, now a perfect dining space. The restaurant was on Bon Appetit’s 2015 list of 50 Best New Restaurants. Jonathan Brooks was a James Beard semi-finalist for Best Chef: Great Lakes in 2016 and Food & Wine put him on the national magazine’s cover as one of America’s 10 Best New Chefs in spring 2015.
Hotel Tango Artisan Distillery (702 Virginia Avenue) is one of my favorite new finds in Indianapolis. A small-batch distillery, their spirits distilled onsite include Golf Gin, Romeo Rum, Victor Vodka, Mike Moonshine, Lima Charlie Limoncello, Oscar Charlie Orangecello, and Bravo Bourbon and Whiskey. You can choose to taste their spirits as is or try one of their creative cocktails.
Located in a former 19th-century carriage house, I loved the comfortable, warm atmosphere with a fireplace and their great Old Fashioned, made with their Bravo Bourbon. Founded in 2014, their goal was to make it a “one-of-a kind-destination place in Indy.” They definitely succeeded. Don’t miss it when you are in town.
Repeal, named for the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, is a restaurant located in the former Virginia Avenue State Bank Building, from 1924, at 630 Virginia Avenue. They feature a menu of tacos, sandwiches, and some southern specialties. They offer chef’s dinners on Wednesdays with a paired craft cocktail and prix fixe menu. Repeal is attached to the 12.05 Distillery and features their spirits in the bar. I really enjoyed tasting their Four Finger Rye Whiskey after a great dinner at Bluebeard across the street.
Located in the Fountain Square neighborhood at 1102 Shelby Street, Thunderbird is a fun spot, featuring a large number of cocktails as well as a Southern-inspired food menu.
Located in the heart of Broad Ripple Village is Petite Chou Bistro & Champagne Bar (823 Westfield), the neighborhood French bistro by Patachou, Inc., a group of restaurants by Martha Hoover. For lunch and brunch, they feature a number of sandwiches, crepes, tartines, salads, and omelets. For dinner, they offer large entrees and other French specialties. Recently, Travel + Leisure named Petite Chou as one of the Top 26 French Restaurants in the US.
Another Patachou, Inc. concept nearby, Public Greens Urban Kitchen, is an urban, farm-market cafeteria. Located along the Monon Trail at 902 East 64th Street, this is the spot to grab a salad, sandwich, or full plate—like the grilled cheese and tomato soup—or just a dessert and a Stumptown coffee. You can create your own meal by mixing and matching their menu items.
Public Greens has a community focus and “dedicates 100% of its profits to The Patachou Foundation, which feeds at-risk and food insecure children in the Indianapolis community.”
Brics (or the Broad Ripple Ice Cream Station) is worth the calories. Located along the Monon Trail at 901 East 64th Street, they feature a large number of flavors and toppings plus shakes and sundaes. The coconut almond fudge was perfect on a beautiful summer afternoon. The contemporary space is located in the historic Monon Railway Station, built over 100 years ago and originally known as the Broad Ripple Station.
Located in the Bavarian-styled Athenaeum Building, The Rathskeller (401 East Michigan Street) has been serving up German specialties since 1898. This popular restaurant and beer garden also offers seafood, poultry, beef, pork, vegetarian, and pasta entrees.
The building was designed by a team including Bernard Vonnegut, grandfather of author Kurt Vonnegut. It was designed “in the German Renaissance style as a gathering place for members of local German societies.”
Mesh (725 Massachusetts Avenue) is an upscale restaurant with very good food, offering a number of appetizers, cheese and meat boards, sandwiches, salads, and entrees from the land and sea. They also offer a lunch and brunch menu. I really enjoyed the chicken salad with grilled chicken, spring greens, dried cranberries, spiced pecans, bleu cheese, and a cranberry-poppy seed dressing.
What to Do
On my first trip back to Indy in so many years, I found and visited the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art for the first time (500 West Washington, across from the JW Marriott). It was founded by local businessman Harrison Eiteljorg to inspire an appreciation and understanding of the art, history, and cultures of the American West and indigenous people of North America. The museum has a wonderful collection including the works of N.C. Wyeth, Andy Warhol, and Georgia O’Keeffe, and sculptures by Charles Russell and Frederic Remington.
The Indianapolis Museum of Art (4000 Michigan Road) is a wonderful museum that should not be missed when you are in town. It has a large collection to enjoy in addition to the beautiful gardens on the museum grounds. The museum was founded in 1883 and is among the 10 largest and 10 oldest art museums in the country, with an encyclopedic collection of more than 54,000 works.
The IMA has major holdings of African, American, Asian, European, and contemporary art, plus textiles, fashion, and a collection of design arts. I gravitated toward the works of Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frederic Remington, Thomas Hart Benton, Renoir, Cezanne, Monet, and Seurat. The contemporary design galleries were also impressive. They also feature special exhibitions throughout the year as well as films, classes, talks, and special events.
Make sure to leave time to explore the extensive gardens and grounds. Located on 100 acres adjacent to the museum is the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, which includes woods, wetlands, meadows, and a 35-acre lake. The Oldfields – Lilly House & Gardens, home of J.K. Lilly, Jr., the late Indianapolis businessman, collector, and philanthropist, is a restored historic 22-room mansion that can be toured during your visit. I also recommend visiting the Greenhouse nearby, which also includes an attractive beer garden—a great spot for a break after your tour.
The eight-mile, bike-friendly Indianapolis Cultural Trail connects five downtown neighborhoods including Fountain Square, the Indiana State Capitol, City Market, White River State Park, and the Indianapolis Zoo. You can rent a bike or just walk this great addition to the city.
With the Indiana Pacers Bikeshare, it is easy to purchase a day pass and use one of their bikes. I particularly liked the portion of the trail along The Canal Walk, which is along the Indiana Central Canal, dug in the early 1800s. Today, the refurbished Canal Walk is a wonderful waterside promenade stretching north through White River State Park to 11th Street that serves the downtown community as a waterside promenade for walkers, runners, bikers, and sightseers. You will see murals, street art, and sculptures along the way.
Monon Trail is an eighteen mile walking and biking trail that was a once the Monon Railroad, connecting Chicago and Indianapolis. Today, the trail connects the suburb of Westfield to the north to the Cultural Trail in downtown Indianapolis. I recommend heading to Broad Ripple Village where you can find bars, restaurants, great ice cream, shops, and even a hotel along the trail.
I am not normally a big fan of children’s museums, but the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (3000 North Meridian Street) is different. It is the world’s largest children’s museum and includes a 43-foot blown glass tower by Dale Chihuly. I was impressed with its educational component as I walked throughout the exhibitions. Some of the highlights include Beyond Spaceship Earth, where one gets a real feel for being on the International Space Station, and ScienceWorks, where children learn about the scientific process and how they use the five senses plus chemistry, math, and technology.
The Dinosphere displays rare fossils and full-size skeletons in a dramatic setting, while Take Me There China exposes children to other cultures by showing displays of the people and how they live.
Very moving was seeing a young black girl experience The Power of Children, which tell the stories of Anne Frank; Ruby Bridges, who was one of the first black students to integrate the white school system in the South, made famous by the Norman Rockwell painting; and Ryan White, the young teen who fought AIDS in the early 1980s.
The Indy Brew Bus is a great way to tour some of the best craft breweries in town. The tour covers four breweries, and you have the chance to spend 35 minutes at each location. A new addition is the Cider & Craft Beer Tour, held downtown on Fridays. My favorites include:
At 135 North College, Sun King Brewery is a large brewery and taproom featuring their brews. It has grown to be the second largest brewer in Indiana and has received many awards for the quality of its beer. I enjoyed the experience—and tasting their smooth Sunlight Cream Ale and rich Wee-Mac Scottish Style Ale.
New Day Craft Mead & Hard Cider (1102 Prospect Street) has been producing craft mead and ciders since 2006. Their tasting room in the heart of Fountain Square is a fun experience as they feature a selection of both their ciders and meads. I enjoyed tasting the Gold Rush Cider, a bright, dry hard cider, and the Washington’s Folly mead, which is fermented honey made with tart cherries. They also feature cocktails and some food and dessert items. I highly recommend the experience.
Where to Stay
At 333 South Indiana, The Alexander is a stylish and contemporary boutique property with 157 guest rooms and 52 extended stay units. It is decorated with contemporary works of art commissioned by the hotel. In addition to the sleek rooms, on the second floor you will find their Market Table Restaurant and attractive Plat 99: Mixology Lounge, which offers small plates and creative cocktails. On the first floor is the Cerulean Indianapolis, which is considered one of the best restaurants in town and highlights local ingredients.
Hotel Broad Ripple is a small, charming inn at 6520 East Westfield Boulevard, in the heart of Broad Ripple Village right on the Monon Trail. It offers 9 rooms in the lodge and 4 rooms in the cottage next door that are being added. The hotel also offers the on-site Bunkhouse Lounge. You can easily walk to the many bars, restaurants, and shops in the Village. Breakfast is provided in-house on weekends, and a coupon is given during the week for a restaurant nearby. I can’t wait to stay there on my next trip.
Located at 123 South Illinois Street, in the heart of downtown, Starwood has totally transformed the historic Canterbury Hotel, where I stayed many years ago, into the contemporary Le Meridien Indianapolis. The $10 million renovation included guestrooms, public spaces, and a new restaurant. It is next to the Indianapolis Convention Center and The Circle Centre Mall.
For more travel destinations and recommendations, visit globalphile.com.