Top Five of 2012: Local Dining 

This list offers a mixture of establishments that opened up in the past year, as well as restaurants that have been around a little longer, but were recently reviewed for the first time in NUVO. They all come highly recommended.

5. Jamaican Style Jerk (3355 N. Keystone Ave., 317-926-1100)
Situated next to a liquor store on the east side of Keystone Avenue, Jamaican Style Jerk serves a short menu of deliciously authentic island dishes in generous portions. There's only one table outside, so unless you're either a fan of traffic fumes, or have no other choice but to eat in the parking lot, grab your to-go bag and either head home or to the nearest park. You'll want to carry off the exceptional pork ribs, cooked low and slow to a dark, almost caramelized ochre, not quite falling off the bone. And come back for the slow-cooked jerk chicken, which is little short of perfect, and spicy, savory patties.

4. Bru Burger (410 Massachusetts Ave.,
Excellent burgers and a first-rate beer list from the folks who brought us Mesh. Everything at Bru is prepared in-house, including the bread, ketchup and mayonnaise. The burgers are all made to order from a proprietary blend of hormone-free sirloin, chuck and brisket. The chicken is Amish-raised. Certainly you pay a little more for meat of this quality ($8 to $11 for a burger), but it's worth every penny if you care about provenance. Appetizers are substantial, so count on sharing. Burgers are ideally proportioned, so that every ingredient can be tasted in a single bite.

3. DeeGusto's (1430 W. Washington St.,
Located a few blocks west of the Indianapolis Zoo, DeeGusto's offers a great deal of pleasure for not a lot of money, turning out lively, fresh dishes designed to bring a smile to your face and a grin to your wallet. The flavor doesn't come from the overdose of salt and sugar usually found in southern comfort, but from top notch ingredients and masterful application of seasoning. And the price is right - $10 gets you a generously portioned main course, cornbread and a choice of two sides, and for $3 you can savor the selection of house-made desserts.

2. Chef Joseph's at the Connoisseur Room (115 E. Ohio St.,
Unconstrained by the former limitations of a strictly Italian menu, Chef Joseph Heidenreich is now able to let his imagination run wild. Open for lunch and dinner, this sumptuously-appointed dining room offers a concise menu drawing upon wide-ranging global influences. Expect anything from a duck meatball sandwich to a perfectly roasted flounder, or Memphis-style pulled pork with Puerto Rican black beans. This is very high quality comfort food with nicely judged portions, harmonious and yet seemingly disparate ingredients: the kind of food you think might not work at first, but then turns out deliver an explosive punch of flavors and textures. It's also reasonably priced.

1. Matt the Miller's Tavern (1 W. Center Drive, Carmel;
The third iteration in a mini-chain (the other two being in Ohio), Matt the Miller's is a bustling and pleasantly noisy joint in the Carmel Arts and Design District that does an excellent job of skirting the obvious choices in favor of a more adventurous and refreshingly complicated menu. Standouts on the appetizer menu have to include the cheddar grits with sautéed shrimp in a spicy cream sauce and the sweetly spicy calamari in a crunchy peanut, chili and lime sauce. Save room for a really splendid, and quite enormous, banana bread pudding, fashioned from a mixture of brioche and croissant and served in a boozy whiskey sauce.


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Neil Charles

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