Travel

Indianapolis Is a Culinary Force to Be Reckoned With

This midsize city takes advantage of its location in America's heartland
Best Restaurants in Indianapolis 2018
The food at Crispy Bird | Photo:Christina Slaton

Chicago and Detroit are what most people think when they hear "Midwest food city." But their neighbor to the south—Indianapolis, or Indy as the locals affectionately call it—is a culinary powerhouse just waiting to be discovered.

Local restaurateur Martha Hoover, who owns 13 restaurants in the city, has seen her fair share of changes since 1989 when she opened her first restaurant, Café Patachou. After a visit to France showed her that cooking with ingredients directly from farmers made the food not only healthier but tastier, she set out to open Indianapolis's first farm-to-table restaurant—and it was an uphill battle. But now, things have changed.

 

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"It's wonderful to see the community and customers buy into the notion of farm-to-table, something we believe we pioneered and embraced back when it wasn't hip to do so," Hoover says.

Her latest venture, with her son at the kitchen's helm, is Crispy Bird. It opened in January 2018 and serves heritage-breed birds alongside locally sourced vegetables and greens, homemade cultured butter, and from-scratch biscuits and breads. Just across the street is her semi-secret jewel box, Bar One Fourteen, which, aside from pouring craft cocktails amid the city's best sound system, also manages to offer the city's best burger—aptly named Fancy AF Burger. (Regarding the option to add truffles: Don't think; do.)

But it's not a one-woman show in this town anymore. Most notably, Hoover's been joined by Jonathan Brooks and his acclaimed ode to brunch, Milktooth. This cheeky restaurant located in a former garage is open only until 3 p.m. and serves a meal so good it'll make you rethink dinner. But if you can make room, try Brooks's highly anticipated new spot, Beholder, which opens this month. If it's any indication, three recent preview dinners sold out instantly.

Another big newcomer is Ukiyo, which opened last month inside the beloved but now closed Recess. Restaurateur Neal Brown (who also owns Pizzology, The Libertine and Stella) created a sushi restaurant that relies on sustainable ingredients (instead of freshwater eel, he serves catfish) and a lunch-only micro-restaurant-within-a-restaurant called Moon Rabbit Ramen.

 

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These newcomers join tried-and-true favorites like the California-inspired Garden Table; Asian street food-hawking Rook; and Bluebeard, one of the city's first locavore spots.

We are in the Midwest, though, and meat is still king. One would be remiss to discuss Indy's food scene without mentioning the iconic St. Elmo Steak House, open since 1902, where the shrimp cocktail is legendary; the newly relocated Love Handle, known for its biscuits and gravy and mountains of juicy pork; and the beloved Goose the Market, a full-service butcher shop that makes its own charcuterie under the name Smoking Goose

And still to come is Kimbal Musk's (yes, Elon's brother) Hedge Row, which will focus on wood-fire-cooked meats and veggies. Musk also plans to open an Indy outpost of his fast-casual, eco-friendly concept, Next Door, which also has locations in Colorado and Tennessee.

Hoover, for one, is relieved to see it all happening with a backdrop of dedication to the community and the environment. (Her charity, The Patachou Foundation, serves 1,000 meals a week to food-insecure children, and she works directly with farmers to ensure sustainability.)

"There is a generation of people coming of age in Indianapolis who truly care about sustainability, conscious food sourcing and commitment to the community, and are looking for a restaurant with the same social consciousness," Hoover says. "It has taken a while, but it is extremely rewarding to see."

Devorah Lev-Tov is a contributing writer for Tasting Table who travels the globe—and traverses NYC block by block—in search of her next amazing meal. See her latest adventures on her Instagram at @devoltv.

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