Milk is not enough 

The Indy 500 lacks a dish to call its own

Terry Kirts
The Indy 500 lacks a dish to call its own Terry Kirts Another near-Westside epic has to be Long's Donuts, so beloved that Krispy Kreme was hardly necessary in this city. Wimbledon has its strawberries and cream and the Kentucky Derby wouldn’t quite be the same without its sugary mint juleps and Derby pies. Ballpark food has gone gourmet. San Francisco Giants fans can snack on sushi and edamame; crab cakes and potato knishes rank among the most popular eats at Baltimore’s Camden Yards. Soccer has inspired charred white cheese on a stick in Brazil, chips (and often banana peels from rowdy fans) in England and a minor controversy when Korea co-hosted the 2002 World Cup over the serving of dog meat to international fans. Aside from milk — though it was buttermilk in 1936, when Louis Meyer first gulped it down — our own Indy 500 has surprisingly little to say about food. Visiting fans can expect no regional delicacies: no Hoosier corn cakes or tomato sandwiches, no ice cream bars shaped like Roadsters or veggies fried in Florence Henderson’s onetime beloved Wesson oil. This is strange, indeed, in one of America’s 20 heftiest cities and at what, despite NASCAR’s popularity, still ranks as the largest single-day sporting event in the world. Sure, the box lunch returns every May, and beer, a meal in its own right, gets plenty of attention this time of year. But in terms of legitimate gustatory traditions that inspire heartwarming memories, high-spirited cook-offs and long lines at local restaurants, the Indy 500 adds little to the pantheon of festival foods. Thus it was that I set out with a hungry friend for a spin around Speedway to see if we could spy any signs of Brickyard culinary iconography we’d been missing. Would a sign on a neighborhood watering hole beckon us to some uniquely provincial dishes? Had we been missing a menu item that adequately captured the spirit of the fast lane? Of course, there’s Mug ’n’ Bun, the legendary drive-in, which has served some of Indy’s best outdoor food for over 40 years. Are you a Hoosier if you haven’t quaffed one of their creamy, lightly fizzy root beers from a frozen mug? Chuckwagon burgers, tenderloins, big battered onion rings and crinkle-cut fries — it’s no wonder this place picks up around race time, but is this family-friendly spot really in pole position to suggest “the” Indy 500 dish? Angry mobs would surely drive me out of town if I tried to turn a root beer float into an emblem of racing cuisine. Another near-Westside epic has to be Long’s Donuts, so beloved that Krispy Kreme was hardly necessary in this city. Donuts do have that tire shape in their favor, and a glazed Long’s donut is so airy and luscious it would do any sporting event proud. Here, again, I just don’t see thrill-seeking fans sneaking bags of donuts into the infield to keep them going through all 200 laps. Driving around this gritty district, it’s clear the more adult establishments aren’t innovating much with food either. Most corners are dotted with straightforward, drinking-man’s bars, places like The AVG Pub, just a couple of blocks from the track. True to its name, this storefront tavern is a barebones watering hole offering a jukebox (or CD station, rather), a big screen TV and little else but beer, the kindly staff and the camaraderie of the regulars. Its menu is on a chalkboard at the far wall, and you have to squint to order. Mozzarella sticks and onion rings are respectable, and the Philly cheesesteak and pork tenderloin won’t disappoint. Hardly a beer bottle’s toss from the track itself is Mike’s Speedway Lounge, whose sign says it’s famous for Spanish burgers and hot stew. It’s the province of Harley riders and hard-working folks clad in union T-shirts. Locals joyride by, waving or whooping hello. One can easily imagine this place come race weekend, with fans hanging over the railing on 16th Street, hardly able to talk over the roar of the engines. Its stew has little actual meat, and while its hearty veggies would probably be smart after a night of drinking, would anyone even remember it in the morning? The Spanish burger is indeed meaty — yet with a consistency a bit too much like meatloaf. Hot peppers and a broth much like the stew’s add some kick but sop up the bun so much it almost becomes mush. Thank goodness for the crispy fries on the side. Clearly, it’s time for a clever chef or a crafty home cook to create a dish that race fans can call their own. I, for one, would be glad to champion it. E-mail me if you’re up to the challenge. For now, I’ll think of donuts and root beer floats this time of year. But I’ll wait until the State Fair comes in August to roll up my sleeves for some truly venerable Hoosier eats. The AVG Pub 3520 W. 16th St. 317-916-2814 Long’s Bakery 1453 N. Tremont 317-632-3741 Mike’s Speedway Lounge 3701 W. 16th St. 317-631-8807 Mug ’n’ Bun 5211 W. 10th St. 317-244-5669

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