Surprise! Indianapolis has a great food scene — just like another ‘apolis’ we know
So many of us travel for food now. Whether it’s Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris and Tokyo or Noma’s seven-week Tulum pop-up. But great food doesn’t have to be so elusive or expensive. Instead of New York, San Francisco, or even Chicago (and this is coming from a Chicago girl) consider Indianapolis for your next gourmet adventure.
No other city in America has such a dynamic, democratic and still largely unheralded culinary scene right now. Venture outside the downtown core to Fountain Square, Fletcher Place, Broad Ripple or Mass Ave and you’ll find consistently great meals from humble, hard-working chefs that don’t always even realize how incredible their food is.
Plus, this autumn brings a slew of hotly anticipated openings from established chefs and up-and-coming talent. There’s never been a more exciting time to dine out in Indianapolis. Bring your stretchy pants.
Indianapolis’ current culinary renaissance traces its roots back to a few chefs, food artisans and restaurateurs who weren’t afraid to experiment and push the city’s appetite for creative, quality food beyond steakhouses and corporate chains. Two culinary stalwarts, Chef Regina Mehallick and Chef Greg Hardesty, recently closed their restaurants after strong runs of more than a decade. Their legacy lives on in the chefs they’ve mentored who continue to innovate and cook for hungry locals and visitors.
Milktooth’s Jonathan Brooks and Bluebeard’s Abbi Merriss were both James Beard semifinalists this year and both worked as sous chefs under Hardesty at Recess, where an adventurous daily-changing four-course prix-fixe menu introduced Indianapolis to a new chef-driven style of dining. Another one of Hardesty’s proteges, Neal Brown, is fast becoming one of Indianapolis’ most successful restaurateurs. He’s taking over the Recess space with a Japanese concept, Ukiyo, opening early November. “We want to keep it approachable,” he says. “But we’ll also serve a 15-course bar omakase that will be the first of its kind in town.” Brown will personally cook for guests at the bar, while the dining room will serve kappo-style food that includes simmered, steamed and grilled plates along with the requisite sushi.
Brown’s other new concept, Stella, opened in June and is a dining oasis along the drinking corridor of Mass Ave. Mediterranean small plates here are incredibly affordable and perfect for sharing, including crudo dressed lightly with olive oil and sea salt and roasted vegetables accented with pickled chilis, spices and black garlic rouille.
As for food artisans, Chris and Mollie Eley were a pioneering couple. They founded specialty grocery store Goose the Market in 2007 to serve responsibly raised meat and local produce. Four years later they opened Indiana’s only USDA-certified smokehouse and butchershop, Smoking Goose. Now, their sausage, bacon and charcuterie is served at countless restaurants across town including St. Elmo’s Steak House, Pizzology and Gallery Pastry.
They just opened a sausage shop inside Sun King Brewery too, serving massive sandwiches and an Alsatian choucroute garnie platter with smoked loin chops, thick-cut applewood bacon, knackwurst, Strasbourg and Nuremberg sausages. “This plate truly will feature what Indiana pork is all about in its many forms,” Eley says. “It’s the perfect food to eat with beer.”
Today, a new generation of young talent with a passion for food and drink are returning home to Indianapolis after spending time in other major cities and abroad, finding opportunities to bring creative, cosmopolitan dining concepts to the city.
Twenty-seven-year-old David Hoover is a first-time executive chef at Bar One Fourteen, a luxe microbar and the most recent endeavor for Patachou restaurant group. He went to cooking school in Paris before working in Paris and Copenhagen. Back home, he enjoys collaborating with his mother, Martha Hoover, a legendary restaurateur who is equally known for her array of great restaurants and for her dedication to feeding Indy’s school children in food deserts across the city through Patachou Foundation.
Bar One Fourteen has just 16 seats and is only open Thursday through Saturday, but the high fidelity listening room and cocktail bar has a well-curated food menu too. Start with a refreshing stack of heirloom tomatoes and peaches draped in creamy walnut milk followed by a decadent soft scrambled egg topped with sturgeon caviar or juicy cheeseburger on buttery brioche to pair with the potent drinks.
Down the street at Open Society, 28-year old Brian Baker helms his first restaurant after spending years learning to cook and manage restaurants in New York. Baker and his partner, Conrad Riser, both grew up in the neighborhood. They’re open all day, serving coffee and brunch every morning and dinner each night, including precisely seared Hokkaido scallops with napa cabbage and sesame vinaigrette. Strong family ties and his father’s promise to invest brought Baker home to open a convivial, casual gathering place for the community.