Books, burgers, and beer 

A literary guide to Indiana's food and drink.

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From the great mead hall of King Hrothgar in Beowulf (the first known story of the English language), to the alcohol-laden writings of Hemingway and the Lost Generation, and continuing into the Lambert's family history in Jonathan Franzen's critically-acclaimed novel, The Corrections; food and drink have been tied to literature since time immemorial.

In this city, home to a flurry of great essayists, poets, and storytellers, we are more than happy to lionize the lives of the Hoosiers that have immortalized themselves through their literary prowess. March 3rd was World Book Day and whether you simply love the writings of Vonnegut, Wakefield, Riley, and Tarkington, or if you are looking for a place that inspires you in your own dreams of joining their ranks, here are Indy's best culinary establishments dedicated to literature.

click to enlarge JESS PARROTTE
  • Jess Parrotte

Bluebeard

Taking its name from Kurt Vonnegut's homonymous novel about an abstract expressionist painter, this Holy Rosary eatery pays homage to the Indiana author and to the literary craft.


From their menus, adorned with quotes from Vonnegut's writings, such as “Write to please just one person,” (solid advice for any aspiring writer), to cocktails like the Kilgore Trout — named after one of his recurring characters — the restaurant is packed full of literary allusions and decorations. Lining the shelves behind the bar you will find hard-backed novels, and don't be surprised when your check is presented to you inside a book.

To top it all off, Abbi Merriss and her team conceive of and dish out some of the most creative and flavorful meals in the city. The menu is continually changing, but my personal favorite mainstay is the cauliflower; order it as a starter and then move onto a bowl of pork belly ramen, quail, or whatever delicious meat they're making at the moment. In the words of Vonnegut, “Oh happy meat. Oh happy soul.”
653 Virginia Ave., 317-686-1580, bluebeardindy,com

Penn and Palate

This is a restaurant that celebrates the craft of writing and the Hoosiers that have mastered the art. The walls are adorned with portraits of former poet-laureate Karen Kovacik, novelists Booth Tarkington and Jesssamyn West, and many more. The art deco setting of the Piccadilly building, where the restaurant is housed, lends to the literary aura of the place.

Owned and operated by the same family that runs the beloved Legend in Irvington, chef Bill Julian doles out creative twists on classic comfort foods, like pumpkin potpies and pork chops with sweet potato gnocchi and apricot chutney. Sit in the cozy room and share a delicious meal with the writers on the wall.
28 E.16th St., 317-602-6975

click to enlarge The perfect place for Thirsty Scholar.
  • The perfect place for Thirsty Scholar.
Thirsty Scholar
Feeling inspired to put your own pen to the test after a meal at Penn and Palate? Walk across the street to this hip writer's haven. There are few places in the city where you will see more people tapping away on their laptops while sipping on lattés. The ambiance of this place, from the books lining the wall behind the bar and the idle chatter, to the large windows opened to the passing cars and pedestrians, works as a sort of muse, to lull you into writing mode.

While some writers prefer to hole themselves up in a room, there are few places more suited for writing than a good coffeeshop or bar, and this is the perfect blend of both. Chat with the patrons, listen to their stories, bounce ideas off of one another, buy a round of beers or cappuccinos, and get to writing or reading. Starting March 7, they'll be open seven days a week, which makes it hard to find an atmosphere more conducive to creativity than the Thirsty Scholar.
111 E. 16th St. #101, 317-602-3357, thirstyscholar.net

Books and Brews
It doesn't get much more perfect for me than a brewery and bookstore blended into one. Serving house-made brews with names like Hophikers Guide to the Galaxy, Cream and Punishment (same genre as 50 Shades of Grey?), and Charlie and the Chocolate Stout, and housing a large number of used books to peruse and purchase, this is a lager loving readers dream. Not only do they have books and brews, they also have a book themed menu of sandwiches. Choose from options like the classic Cuban, aptly named The Hemingway, or the cheesy, bacony (that's a word) The Pig in the Iron Mask. If that's not enough to entice you well-palated bibliophiles, all of their books range from $1-$5, and that's a price no wallet will argue with.
9402 Uptown Dr. Ste. 1400, 317-288-5136, booksnbrews.com

click to enlarge ADAM BURKE
  • Adam Burke

The Red Key Tavern

This Indianapolis landmark was put on the map when it was a set piece in Dan Wakefield's “Going All the Way.” But, for locals it already had legendary status due to Russ' Rules, a throwback to a simpler, more etiquette-minded time. It's a neighborhood watering hole in the best sense and though we sadly lost Russ in 2010, the Red Key is still the same as it was when Mr. Wakefield included it in his 1970 novel.

Grab a seat at one of the many tables, if you have a coat hang it up on the coat rack (the way Russ would have wanted), order a simple libation (a bottle of beer, or mixed drink where all the ingredients are in the name), have Nora cook you a cheeseburger, and take a moment to look around at the landscape paintings, model airplanes, and maybe pick a 1950s song on the jukebox.

If this doesn't make you feel like you're a part of a novel, a part of Indiana's literary culture, then I don't know what will.
5170 N. College Ave., 317-283-4601, redkeytavern.com

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About The Author

Cavan McGinsie

Cavan McGinsie

Bio:
I travel. I eat. I drink. I meet. I record. I'm the Food & Drink Editor here at NUVO and I'm always happy to chat with people about anything over a coffee, beer, or meal. Let me know your thoughts on Indianapolis.

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