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Eating, drinking and cycling in Indianapolis: The Cultural Trail

The perfect Cultural Trail stops for most any meal of the day

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This list was nearly impossible to narrow down. Indianapolis culture is quickly becoming food- and drink-centric and therefore, this path literally runs by dozens of great restaurants and bars. I was able to narrow it down to two for each category, but this is by no means everywhere you should be stopping during this ride.

• Coffee – Calvin Fletcher's: It was rated Best of Indy by you, our readers, and for good reason; not only is the coffee perfect (especially their Dirty Chai), they also give all of their tips to a local charity each month. It’s the perfect place to take a break from the ol’ dusty trail and relax with a book, or to simply people watch.

Pearings: One of the few places in the city certified to serve the famous Intelligentsia coffee, this modern café is located just off the trail and is one of the few coffee shops that stays open late, which is always helpful when you’re a night owl. They also have froyo, so don’t forget to indulge a bit. 

• Breakfast – Milktooth: The chef has been nominated for multiple James Beard awards for a reason; Jon Brooks and his team are continuously pushing out some of the most inventive plays on classic breakfast foods. If that isn’t enough, they serve one of the tastiest lattés in the city and their sour cream biscuits are unbelievable (and my grandma’s from the South).

Peppy Grill: If you are looking for a more straightforward breakfast, have no fear, Peppy Grill is the hole-in-the-wall breakfast diner you’re looking for. Peppy has been slinging hash browns, gigantic pancakes, bacon and eggs 24 hours a day for decades now, so it’s about time for you to stop in.

• Picnic – American Legion Mall: Bring a lunch or have Clustertruck deliver a meal straight to you; it’s across the street so it will take no time at all and be hot and ready and way better than Little Caesar’s. In the heart of the city, there is no green area that is more beautiful and solemn than this expanse. Once you’re done enjoying your meal, take some time to visit and think about the history behind the many monuments honoring our country’s heroes. 

• Lunch – Wildwood Market: Their offering of a new sandwich every day is one of the greatest things that has happened to lunch in Indianapolis since, well, ever. You won’t find more creative and original sandwiches around the city, plus they have two Circle City Soups every day.

Subito: If you’re looking for a less adventurous but equally delicious lunch stop, this is the perfect place. Classic lunch sandwich offerings like Cubans and chicken Caesar wraps are on the menu, but if you’re doing it right, you’ll get that famous lobster bisque. One thing to keep in mind is they have no tables inside, so you’ll be eating outside, which isn’t a bad spot this time of year.

• Snacks – Natural Born Juicers: Sure eating all of this great food and drinking alcohol sounds good in theory, but maybe you just need a healthy juice to help you power through that bike ride. Natural Born Juicers is at the very end (or beginning, depending where you start) of the trail and some greens and fruit will help energize or re-energize your body.

Café Nonna: If juice doesn’t cut it for you, well, then Cafe Nonna is pretty much the exact opposite. The little Italian cafe specializes in gelato, which is like ice cream, but way, way better. If you’re going to make the most out of it, get the affogato; espresso and gelato were made for each other. 

• Beer – Chilly Water Brewing Co.: If you’re not careful you could easily crash your bike into the Chilly Water building from the Cultural Trail. Pop in for a pint and to chat with the eclectic crowd.

Fountain Square Brewery: If you want a beer, why would you go anywhere else in this city other than a local brewery? Especially when you can pull your bike right up to the door, walk in, order a beer, and sit down to rest your weary legs on a big comfy couch.

• New – Rook: In an out-of-the-ordinary move, this Fletcher Place establishment closed down its original location, expanded its menu, and became hands down one of the best restaurants in the city. Since its re-opening, Carlos Salazar’s menu has taken Asian cuisine to new heights for Indianapolis and it gets better every time I return. The fact that they have possibly the best gin cocktail list in the city doesn’t hurt either.

Marrow: It’s hard to define exactly what Marrow’s menu is going for; it claims comfort food, and in a way it is, but it’s not the comfort food you’re imagining and I promise that’s a good thing. The food here is comfort food from around the world, and with their eye on locally-sourced ingredients the team at Marrow is pushing out dishes we haven’t necessarily seen before, but it’s easy to feel comfortable while noshing here.  

• Dinner – Black Market: When Black Market first opened, they were doing foods that Indianapolis had never seen; dishes that specialized in offal and the generally unused cuts of meat adorned the menu. They are still serving this style and so are a ton of other popular restaurants around town, but they were the first and are still at the top of their game. Also, they have one of the best patios in the city and their rum selection is far and away the best in Indy.

Bluebeard: Another spot that does intriguing dishes and does them well is Bluebeard. The menu at this Fletcher Place establishment changes daily, but it never disappoints in its use of out-of-the-box farm-to-table ingredients. If you’ve never had their cauliflower, get a bowl, the usually bland veggie has never tasted so good.

• Cocktails – Thunderbird: The bartender and owner of this popular Fountain Square gastropub was recently ranked in the top 15 bartenders in America. He and his staff are whipping up some of the craftiest and most intriguing cocktails in the city. Don’t miss out on the live local music on Thursday nights.

Hotel Tango: Drink straight from the source; this is one of the only distilleries in Indianapolis, the only veteran owned and operated distillery in the country and they happen to make some quality cocktails. Sit by the picturesque, hand-crafted fireplace and enjoy a drink and say hello to the house Pixiebob cat, Fletcher Pickles; he’s always happy to make new friends. 

This is Part 2 of a series highlighting many trails around the city, keep watching for Part 3, and checkout Part 1 on the Monon Trail.

I travel. I eat. I drink. I meet. I record. I'm the Food & Drink Editor for NUVO and the co-creator and director of Indy's Table. I also host a weekly comedy podcast, Film Forecast and occasionally write about movies and television for NUVO.