From June 10 to 23, thirty restaurants are offering discounted package deals as part of Chow Down Midtown, serving up appetizer, entree and dessert courses at a range of price points (say, two people for $30 or $40). Some restaurants use Chow Down Midtown as an opportunity to offer dishes unavailable on their daily menu; others may put a twist on regular items by changing up ingredients or sizing down portions. It's also an opportunity for owners to talk up locally sourced ingredients (say, bacon from Smoking Goose, cheese from Traders Point Creamery).
Select restaurants offer the promotion during lunch; a few offer beer and wine pairings that may be included in the menu or listed for a separate charge. Midtown is defined by these boundaries: 65th Street to the north, Fall Creek Parkway to the south, Illinois Street to the west and Keystone Avenue to the east.
You may find your new hangout spot during Chow Down. Last year I took a chance on Sahm's Place at 65th Street and Keystone Avenue, and now you can find me at the bar or in the dining room once a week. Owner Eddie Sahm constructs courses that highlight their regular menu (the iceberg wedge salad is a must when you pick a side dish for an entree), but he also works with their chef to design items that sum up what Sahm's is about in one bite. Imagine dinner at your grandma's house if she were hip and made beer-infused soups and risotto with scallops.
New to the promotion in 2013 is the tapas restaurant and bar Sabbatical, which took over a coveted Broad Ripple Avenue patio spot last year. Their 2 for $30 menu starts with soft french bread and butter on the house while you mull over the appetizers and small plate entree choices.
Try the portabella mushrooms stuffed with vegetables and a cajun roulade, all hidden under a blanket of melted cheese. Dried berries, kale, bacon and pepitas are mixed with pieces of juicy chicken and tossed with a pesto mayo to make up the salad for Garden Chicken Crostini. Heartier options include the Spicy Tequila Pulled Pork, served as sliders and topped with crispy fried onions, and the S'Mocha Pepper Brisket, slow cooked and rubbed with coffee, Mexican chocolate and topped with a sweet and smokey portabella cream sauce. Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options are noted on each menu item.
Other new restaurants this year include Aristocrat, Bazbeaux, Delicia, Egyptian Cafe, Fat Dan's Deli, Good Morning Mama's, SoBro Cafe, Usual Suspects and Za. Regulars such as The Jazz Kitchen, Mama Carolla's and Ambrosia remain on the program. Rooftop dining is available at Bazbeaux's; one might try a hookah with hummus and falafel at Egyptian Cafe. JT's Grille and Bar, Mediterra and Meridian all have outdoor dining, among others.
New menus are added daily to ChowDownMidtown.com. Chow Down Downtown is one of three restaurant promotions coordinated by the Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association (the others being Devour Downtown, Northside Nights and Savor the Southside).
Here are a few good bets from among the 30 restaurants participating in Chow Down Midtown.
Ambrosia Fronted by large, vertical windows affording a stately view of Broad Ripple's Morrison Opera building, Ambrosia Centro's front room is warmed and given a welcome dash of intimacy by a fireplace that is both elegant and unpretentious. The staff is congenial and the food is consistently fine. Thoughtfully prepared and smartly presented for a reasonable price, Ravioli della Mamma is composed of large squares of fresh spinach and cheese ravioli served with a pesto cream sauce. Rich yet delicate, creamy but never cloying, it is certainly one of the top vegetarian entrees in the city. 915 E. Westfield Blvd., 255-3096, ambrosiaitalian.com
Binkley's Kitchen and Bar A dependable, convenient Broad Ripple spot that carries menus for just about any time of the day. Dinner offerings include a healthy selection of salads, steaks, sandwiches, and pizzas, most available on the lunch menu as well. The brunch menu features hearty favorites, including three egg omelets in vegetarian, Tex Mex and Binkley's-style biscuits and gravy, and the interesting Crab Cake Benedict. 5902 College Ave., 722-8888, binkleyskitchenandbar.com
Corner Wine Bar This is as close as you're going to come in Indianapolis to pretending you're in Paris. And believe us, we should know. Thankfully, the imaginary journey is made easier with this Broad Ripple establishment. From the sidewalk seating to the extensive and excellent selection of wines, Corner Wine Bar is tres magnifique. Some of the wines can be pricey, even by the glass. Luckily the house selections are both affordable and usually delicious. Small, but delicious and imaginative, food menu. Perfect for an outdoor summer evening, or a cozy winter one indoors. 6331 Guilford Ave., 255-5159, cornerwinebar.com
Delicia "New Latin" - a mish-mash of Latin American, Caribbean and Spanish cuisines - is the name of the game at Delicia, which finally opened earlier this year in its College Avenue space after a couple years' worth of legal wrangling over parking and other niceties. Top dishes include the Chile en Nogada, a roasted poblano pepper stuffed with beef, walnuts, apricots, and seasoned with cinnamon, with a goat cheese sauce and pomegranate reduction. Try the Pisco Sour, a popular South American cocktail made with a type of South American brandy, lime juice, bitters, simple syrup, and optional egg white. 5212 N. College Ave., 925-0677
The Jazz Kitchen A quintessential jazz supper club in the heart of Meridian-Kessler. The cuisine has a distinctly New Orleans emphasis with an focus on fresh ingredients; the crab cakes are terrific and the cocktails are sincere. Check out the Eggplant Tower, a specialty that's unique to the city. It's a super-rich vegetarian broadside that stacks slices of eggplant with mushrooms, goat cheese, caramelized onions, shards of red bell pepper, asparagus, baby spinach, basil pesto and, over the top and round the sides, melted parmesan cheese. 5377 N. College Ave., 253-4900, thejazzkitchen.com
Meridian Located in a grove of trees immediately south of the historic Central Canal and alongside its namesake street, Meridian has the look and feel of an elegant country inn, with a spacious wood-beamed dining room and a cozy bar. This setting is a handsome complement to Meridian's food which emphasizes fresh ingredients and elegant presentation. If you're on a budget, try a salad with a delicious seasonal soup. The Lobster Pot Pie is especially recommended. And the cocktails are profound. 200 S. Meridian St., 466-1111, meridianonmeridian.com
The Northside Social The Northside Social has a very particular allure: comfort-chic. The place goes beyond yesterday's craft beer flights and gourmet burgers to new terrain like aromatherapeutic aperitifs. Social sources locally made infusions - scents like Thai basil, lemon and cucumber - to impart strong smells and a hint of flavor to some of their more choice cocktails. Everything on the beer list is priced around $5, which helps to counteract the sticker shock of the $10-plus martinis. 6525 N. College Ave., 253-0111, northsidesocial.com
Recess Recess proves that our local chefs are committed to making Indianapolis a real dining destination. With Greg Hardesty, Gabe Jordan and Eli Anderson on top billing, this Midtown eatery is a who's who of Indianapolis culinary superstars. For about $40−$60 per person (sans alcohol), executive chef and owner Hardesty takes you on a food tour through his mental playground with a singular prix fixe menu that changes nightly. Supplemental courses are sometimes offered, along with choice of entrée. Along with the outstanding food, an impressive and carefully chosen assortment of beer and wine rounds out the experience. 4907 N. College Ave., 925-7529, recessindy.com
SoBro Cafe Suitably distant from the madding crowd that is Broad Ripple, but not so far away as to be inconvenient, SoBro Café offers a relaxing oasis in which to cool the jets and enjoy some made-to-order sustenance at almost any time of the day. Pleasantly devoid of attitude or pretense, this smartly appointed eatery caters to a wide range of tastes, from vegan to carnivore, with a strong emphasis on freshness. The house specialty is the pannekoek, or Dutch pancake, which comes in a dozen or so preparations, some sweet and some savory. Try the chai, a spicy, subtly creamy brew that's absolutely worth the wait. 653 E. 52nd St., 920-8121, sobrocafe.com
Zest! Zest!'s menu runs to 12 pages and includes everything from an Asian slaw salad made with a spicy peanut dressing to baja tacos, mixing corn meal-crusted basa with white cheddar on white corn tortillas with cilantro-lime rice, black beans and lime sour cream. Serving breakfast all day, it also offers a rustic scrambled omelet, a stuffed tortilla, and crème brûlée french toast. Zest! expanded earlier this year by opening the neighboring Twist Lounge, a slightly goofy (Mona Lisa with mustache as wallpaper) and laid-back nightclub spot with serious cocktails, now open Thursday through Saturday. 1134 E. 54th St., 466-1853, zestexcitingfood.com