The legendary Hoosier broadcaster Fred Heckman, who spent decades as news director at WIBC-AM, used to do a segment called "My Town, Indy." He'd talk for a few minutes about someone or something that made Indianapolis a richer and more enjoyable place in which to live.
Harrison Ullmann once told me that every public relations person in the city lobbied to get their clients on "My Town, Indy" and that it was considered a major coup to have done so. Mr. Heckman was such an astute observer of the town and such a paragon of integrity that if he conferred his approval on something, people paid attention.
While I can only dream of attaining the status that Heckman once held, I do like to celebrate the great places of Indianapolis, the institutions that bring my wife and me happiness and make it, well, "My town, Indy."
El Sol de Tala restaurant. For more than 30 years, El Sol has been known for some of the best and most authentic Mexican cuisine in the Midwest. For most of those years, it didn't have much competition on the "most authentic" front, but the influx of Spanish-speaking people over the last 15 years to Indianapolis has brought us a great variety of Mexican and Central American restaurants, from L.A.-style taco trucks to mom-and-pop comensales.
But El Sol still serves as the standard against which all others must be judged. The other night, Katie and I had the best and freshest guacamole dip we've ever had: tangy, spicy and so rich that we never wanted to ever eat anything else ever again.
The rest of their menu is the same -- fresh, lovingly prepared and unique to this city. It is one of the city's great treasures. (www.elsoldetala.com)
ComedySportz. For years I've heard people rave about the weekly improv shows at ComedySportz but I've always resisted. A few weeks ago, we were invited to take in a show at their Massachusetts Avenue theater. We left a few hours later with the kind of joy that comes from laughing non-stop for an extended period of time. It takes discipline, quick wits and nerves of steel to pull off improv -- and the performers we saw all had those skills.
If you've never seen ComedySportz, it's a competition-based exchange of improv games that, on the night we attended, never hit a sour note. The weekly lineup is ever-changing, but all the comedians have the same mission: putting on a fast-paced, family-friendly show that delivers great value for your entertainment dollar. I can't wait to check out another show there soon. (www.indycomedysportz.com)
Taj of India in Castleton. We are blessed with great Indian restaurants in Indianapolis: India Garden, Shalimar and many others. But Taj of India, located in a nondescript strip mall across from Castleton Square, holds a special place in our hearts. Whenever we go there, we're treated like family by the staff, most of whom hail from the Punjab region of India. But what keeps us coming back is the food: Heaps and heaps of fresh naan bread, tasty vegetable samosa and, most of all, what has to be the best lamb boti kebab in North America.
Lamb is a difficult meat to prepare properly. It's either under- or overcooked or drowned in spices. But the clay tandoori chefs at Taj always seem to cook it with special attention, with spices accentuating but never overpowering the lamb. We've eaten at Indian joints across the country, but if we could only pick one, it'd be Taj of India.(www.tajofindia.org)
Mass Ave Toys. The people who operate Mass Ave Toys must love children, because their store is so perfectly designed to please them. Most toy stores are full of modernistic, electronic, computerized crap. But Mass Ave Toys sticks to the tried-and-true, classic toys of my childhood, my father's childhood and his father's childhood. If you want a tin robot, science kit, erector set or an old-fashioned doll, this is the place to come. I've never failed to find the perfect gift there, whether the recipient was an adult or child. Everything is first-rate and the staff obviously loves the toys they sell. This place never fails to make us smile. (www.massavetoys.com)
My list could go on for days: RadioRadio, Big Car Gallery, the IMA and many, many others. But I'm neither as powerful or as influential as Mr. Heckman was and my space is up.But the above are just a few of the places I love about my town, Indy.