Visitors to town looking for something other than the standard chains and steak houses might want to check out one or two of these excellent establishments. These restaurants are all independently owned and operated, and most make use of local ingredients whenever possible. Space precludes the inclusion of all of our favorite independents on this page, so please be sure to check out Short Order for additional reviews of Indy’s originals.
Asaka features some of the freshest and elegant sushi in town.
R-Bistro 888 Massachusetts Ave. 423-0312 Located in the up-and-coming northeast end of Mass. Ave., R-Bistro almost feels more like an art gallery than a restaurant. In another context, this might be a cue to write about the artfully-presented food and the cutting-edge nature of the flavor combinations, but fortunately there’s nothing pretentious or presumptuous about this place. Chef Regina Mehallick does a sterling job of supporting local producers: A typical weekly menu might include Campbell Family Canadian bacon, Phelps Farm free-range eggs, Indiana Corn or Jeff Dunaway’s pig. With most dinner entrees in the $14 to $20 range, and the spectacular housemade desserts (the sticky toffee pudding is to murder for) running $5 to $7, a visit to R-Bistro is unlikely to break the bank. The wine list is fairly priced and well-chosen. Elements 415 N. Alabama 634-8888 With its clear-cut lines, sharp angles and muted tones, Elements is right at home on Massachusetts Avenue, now home to several fine independent restaurants. Chef Greg Hardesty has dispensed with the traditional notions of first course, salad and main course, and has introduced an enticing 10-item menu, with prices ranging from $6 to $20. A typical menu might start with an exceptional salad of fresh local tomatoes with a green olive and fennel dressing, or a pile of fresh French beans served with a bacon vinaigrette. Next you could choose the veal sweetbread on a mound of roasted heirloom zucchini, with a tangy sauce of lemon and capers; or perhaps the roasted loup de mer complete with its own wonderful brandade, mixed with fresh local sweet corn. Hardesty is especially at home with fish (you might want to try his popular H2O Sushi in Broad Ripple). Desserts are not to be missed. Dunaway’s Palazzo Ossigeno 351 S. East St. 638-7663 www.dunaways.com Whether you’re seated on the roof, with its splendid views of a rapidly growing downtown, or in the beautifully appointed bar area or in the sumptuously paneled main floor dining room, Dunaway’s is all about elegance. The main theme is Art Deco, into which the more modern accents weave their way quite seamlessly. The menu here is deceptively simple-looking, but there are many delights hidden within. The emphasis is on the freshest of ingredients, with house-made pasta, bread and gelati being major attractions. The Adriatic crab cakes are without doubt the best in town, chock full of chunks of two different kinds of crab, seasoned with herbs, seared and served over baby greens. There’s also a sensational lobster martini. The mainstay of Dunaway’s menu is a short and hearty selection of chops, steaks and lamb. The signature hangar steak, served with a sauce of peppercorns and gorgonzola, is a firm favorite with many diners. Desserts are fresh and consistently good. The wine list is far and away the best in town, with gems you just won’t find anywhere else in these parts.
Tavola di Tosa, Tosa Euro Café 6523 Ferguson 202-0240 Now in its fourth year, Tavola di Tosa has established itself as one of the top restaurants in town. Chef Tony Hanslits is a master in almost any culinary medium, and here he makes his mark with authentic dishes drawn from all around Italy. (Chef Tony, along with two of his favorite recipes, has been chosen as a finalist in the 2003 Recipe Contest presented by Italian Cooking and Living Magazine.) Food, atmosphere and service are all top-notch. Pasta and breads are made fresh daily, as are mozzarella cheese and a stunning array of desserts. The elegant wine bar offers smaller dishes, and there’s an excellent tapas-style lunch available during the week. Reservations are a must at weekends. Tosa Euro Café offers breakfast and lunch, as well as a fine selection of meats, cheeses and salads to go. This is the place in town to purchase your Grand Prix picnic lunch. Asaka Japanese Restaurant 6414 E. 82nd St. 576-0556 Indianapolis, perhaps surprisingly to some, is home to a number of good to excellent Japanese restaurants, all of which offer sushi of a consistently high quality. With modern chilling technology and Federal Express, there’s really no reason for fish not to be fresh these days. The sushi at Asaka is quite simply some of the most elegant and attractively presented in town, as well as some of the freshest. It’s also reasonably priced. The pieces are perfectly bite-sized, which might not please the gourmand, but certainly should appeal to the purist. Asaka also offers a broad selection of entrees, including a wide array of noodle, tempura and teriyaki dishes. The prices are all moderate. The best way to approach a meal here is to sit at the bar and let one of the expert chefs take care of you. You won’t be disappointed.
The Pidge 60 S. Elm St., Zionsville 733-1425 www.thepidge.com For diners looking to get away from it all for a leisurely lunch or a discreet dinner, I can think of few, if any, better places in town. Tucked away on a side street, well away from the only slightly bustling town center, this quaint little restaurant can be hard to find at first. Although a strong Southern influence still lingers in the pecan-crusted tilapia, the cornmeal crèpes and the smoked oysters with veal, the menu has now taken a strong and idiosyncratic direction of its own, relying heavily on fresh ingredients and Chef Casey’s intuitive cooking. In spite of the obvious quality of the food here, entrees are still mostly under $20, the exceptions being the steak and veal dishes. The housemade desserts are well worth saving room for, and there’s a short but well-considered wine list. Bijou 111 W. Main St., Lebanon (765) 482-7090 www.bijourestaurant.net A few years ago, Chef Candace Winter and Kerry Even purchased an old building in downtown Lebanon, then set about remodeling with a vengeance, creating a lovely space with first-rate decor which would surely not be out of place in a small European town. High tin ceilings and excellent cabinetry, large, spacious booths and well-spaced tables combine to create the atmosphere of a warm and inviting country house restaurant. The menu, while not long, is well-thought-out and caters to a variety of tastes. Obviously, there is some concession to local preferences — two steak dishes and a roasted pork tenderloin, for instance — but don’t let that fool you. At the heart of the menu lies a good selection of fresh fish and fowl, augmented by daily specials. Bijou offers a selection of well-kept after-dinner cheeses and a range of truly excellent desserts. The wine list is well-chosen and sensibly priced, with some less obvious offerings from the southern Rhône valley. Oakley’s Bistro 1464 W. 86th St. 824-1231 www.oakleysbistro.com One of the hottest tickets in town, Oakley’s Bistro serves high-concept, startlingly ambitious food to a loyal and adoring clientele. Chef Steven Oakley sets his sights high, delivering plates of an elegance and beauty seldom seen in these parts. A typical menu might include crab risotto cake, with smoked tomato, tropical fruit relish and vanilla macadamia nut vinaigrette; or maybe sole with artichoke lentils, golden raisins, smoked almonds and lemon parsley sauce. With its sharp, contemporary decor, exemplary service and bustling atmosphere, there’s a big city feel to this upscale eatery, but, luckily for us, without the prices to match. With all entrees below $20 and starters under $10, it’s possible to eat very well here without breaking the bank. A well-chosen wine list offers something for just about everybody.
Smokey Joe’s BBQ 1259 N. State Road 135, Greenwood 884-487 Smokey Joe’s, the new restaurant from the talented Joseph Heidenreich (Agio), has finally put Greenwood on the culinary map. Located in a rather plain strip center north of Smith Valley Road, Smokey Joe’s serves up the best barbecue in town, hands down. Main courses here are served with a garlic cheddar biscuit, buttery corn on the cob and a choice of two sides. Try the smoked combo platter with its excellent beef brisket, moist turkey breast and the juiciest pulled pork. A fillet of salmon, hot smoked and served with Joe’s potato casserole, is a revelation. Also excellent (and great value) are the baby back ribs and the prime rib (when available.) With six house-made sauces to choose from, including the slightly sweet house preparation, you can dress your meat however you like. Desserts are worth saving room for, and there’s a short but well-thought-out wine and beer list. Neil Charles is a wine industry professional with over 20 years’ experience.