Mini-Review: Dining secrets of Indiana

A Guide to Unique Eateries Throughout Indiana

Fifth Edition, Poole Publishing, 2005, 88 pp., $9.95

What constitutes a dining "secret"? Does it have to be something that few people know about or something that just flies under the radar in a state filled with corporate chain eateries? While the blue-collar lunch favorites Ice House and Cella's Choice at City Market could definitely be candidates for "secrets," no one could ever say that Bazbeaux Pizza, Dunaway's or Midtown Grill are exactly hidden from the eyes of most Indianapolis diners.

The Fifth Edition of this slim, blue book "guide" to Hoosier dining features 218 restaurants from all parts of the state, including the Front Porch Steak House in Worthington, Bistro 157 in Valparaiso and Ivanhoe's in Upland. Strangely absent are such roadside institutions as the Curly Dog in Edinburgh and Zaharako's in Columbus, as well as dozens and dozens of other candidates from around the state. Also bizarre is the fact that 19 of the restaurants come from Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky, with Illinois the lone omission among contiguous states. But with so many fine restaurants in this state, why would the author, unnamed, need to cross state lines to fill what is already a quite modest tome? No preface or introduction gives a sense of what went into the selection of restaurants.

While Machu Picchu and Jasmine Thai are recent entries from the international ranks in Indianapolis, the abundance of Asian and Latin eateries in Indianapolis are nowhere to be found in this book. Still, there are some gems here, and for the Indiana gastronome this is a great stocking stuffer at under $10. It will certainly inspire thoughts of summer road trips to Welliver's buffet in Hagerstown or the Key West Shrimp House in Madison.

Book ahead for New Year's Eve

As Ella Fitzgerald croons in her famous holiday standard, "What're You Doing New Year's Eve?" It's already time to start thinking about making reservations. Here is a quick sampling of some of the places offering specials. Be sure to call each restaurant for details and updated menus and pricing.

* Bella Vita, four dinner specials, dessert and champagne, $200/couple, 598-9011.

* Fionn MacCool's, four-course dinner with wine, live music, 863-2100.

* Mousetrap Bar & Grill, live music with Acoustic Flyer, no cover, 255-3189.

* The Oceanaire, four-course meal with amuse bouche, $75 plus tax/tip, 955-2277.

* R Bistro, three-course meal with sparkling wine, $50, 423-0312.

* Richard's Bar & Grill, Fortville, Kings of Denial, classic rock to blues, 485-5757.

* Vapour Lounge, champagne and hors d'oeuvres, $25 or $200/VIP table, 577-9570.

Reader's Recipe of the Week

Wondering what to serve to stave off the recent winter cold? Need a good recipe that you can throw together in one pot while you're decorating the house or trimming the tree? Here's an easy riff on classic Osso Buco, compliments of Pauline Moffat, director of the IndyFringe Festival and a foodie in her own right with eight years of experience with food and beverage promotion for a five-star hotel in Melbourne, Australia. Moffat says that this is just as good with rice or risotto, and it can be fortified with peas, beans, additional herbs or canned tomatoes.

Pauline Moffat's "Osso Buco"

(Serves four)

5 cloves garlic, sliced

l/2 bunch chopped oregano

2 bay leaves

10 onions, thickly sliced

salt and freshly cracked black pepper

6 large beef shanks (use veal for true Osso Buco)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

4 ounces pancetta, cut into strips

4 celery stalks, sliced

4 carrots, sliced in rounds

2 pinches saffron (optional, but makes the color amazing)

2 tablespoons tomato paste

3 sprigs thyme

2-1/3 cups white wine

6 cups good quality beef stock

2 handfuls fusilli of bowtie pasta per person

2 handfuls flat leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped or torn

Juice and zest of one lemon

3-4 tablespoons butter

4 ounces parmesan, freshly grated

Make a paste from garlic, oregano, bay leaves. Add salt and rub paste over the meat. Heat olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Cook pancetta for a couple of minutes, add meat and cook on both sides until evenly browned. Season with salt and pepper. Remove meat and set aside. Add onions, celery, carrot and stir. Add saffron and cook until vegetables are soft. Return meat to pan, turn over a few times, then stir in tomato paste and thyme. Add wine and simmer for a few minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil for three minutes. Reduce heat and simmer for one hour or until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.

Cook pasta according to packet instructions and drain. Remove meat from the pan and remove bone and excess fat. Add pasta, parsley, lemon zest and juice, and butter to the sauce. Season and return meat to the pan. Serve with parmesan and a green salad. And don't forget the red wine.

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