"Reflections on Indy’s most exciting eats
There’s nothing like travel to make you appreciate what you have back home. Call me sentimental, call me a sucker for all things Hoosier, but as I approach the third week of a summer sojourn in Montreal, I’m longing for some comforting home nourishment. Sure, I’m up to my Anglophone tongue in “le smoked meat,” utterly legal and (mostly) guilt-free foie gras and three-course “table d’hote” meals at some pretty spiffy bistros. But what I wouldn’t give for some seriously spicy lamb vinadaloo from India Garden, a soothing summer roll from Saigon or a pork taco or two from Pancho’s or Taqueria El Maguey. How about a crisp wafer-thin burger from MacNivens or a plate of garlicky hummus from Santorini or the Bosphorus.
Say what you will about the palates of Indy diners, but compared to Quebecers, we’re a lot more daring with spice, we know that spring rolls don’t have to be fried and we don’t drink nearly as much of our iced tea from a can. With this cultural insight in mind, here are some thoughts about some of the best stuff happening back home in Indy’s gastronomic scene — with some nods to what the coming months promise to bring to the table.
Best chances for a revitalized culinary district: downtown’s east blocks
Since the closing of Market Square Arena in the late 1990s, even some years before, the downtown blocks east of Pennsylvania Street have been eerily quiet. But recently the area is bustling — and not just with panhandlers or sports fans. Perhaps thanks to the boom in nearby condo construction or maybe because so much available territory has already been colonized by savvy prospectors, the newer development is happening well past Delaware to East Street, bringing much-needed life back to the area.
The anchor is already well set at BARcelona Tapas, which, despite its delayed opening, packs stylish customers in nightly for mojitos, sangria, live music and some of the most interesting small plates in the city. King David Dog has been restoring a local favorite to the regiment of available snack options (and offering free ice cream every day the temperature soars above 90), and Cabo’s Mexican Grill at East and Ohio has added an independent alternative to fresh Mexican franchises around the city. If rumors can be believed, there’s much more to come. A sign is up next to BARcelona Tapas on Delaware announcing the relocation of India Garden, which lost its lease on Illinois Street this spring. On Washington Street, Taste of Argentina hopes to revitalize one of the most intriguing architectural facades, and some confident sources tell of the possibility of a second Adobo Grill. Finally, some great margaritas downtown!
Best reason to get out your world atlas: new international cuisines
Which brings us to the best news for lovers of ethnic food since the closing of Chi-Chi’s. A good number of the recently opened eateries both downtown and elsewhere have been offering food from countries not already represented in the pantheon of Indy’s international restaurants. No longer are we just a city of Italian, Mexican and Chinese places. Alongside risotto and taquitos, we now have bacalao, churrascaria and pupusas. Besides BARcelona Tapas, Brazilian Grill on West 86th Street has introduced an entirely new concept of dining with its succulent grilled meats served tableside from giant rodzios. Latin American eateries like Guatelinda have come out from under the Mexican shadow to offer authentic dishes such as plantains stuffed with black beans, pupusas and tamales wrapped in banana leaves. More common cuisines, such as Indian, are turning up in some unusual settings, such as Tadkaa, which offers plenty of Bollywood and Indian pop, as well as vodka cocktails and a full range of Indian beers. With a Somali coffeehouse just east of the airport, Filipino food available in Beech Grove and a new Cuban café called TaTa’s planned for West Market downtown, you’ll want to rush your application for a passport so you can get it stamped all around this increasingly diverse city. Need some help navigating your way? The best local Web site for checking up on restaurants, both ethnic and otherwise, is still www.indyethnicfood.com.
Best excuse to spoil your dinner: the elegant lunch
Now that the whole family is working harder to put dinner on the table, the idea of a sit-down lunch with martinis or ladies in gloves out for a day’s shopping is so retro as to be almost silly. But your mother always told you that you should eat your biggest meals early in the day, and there are lots of excuses to do so. With the recent relocation of the Barking Dog Café to its North Pennsylvania location, you can now get your clam chowder, elegant French-inspired salads and giant cookies in a more spacious location with longer hours. The growth of the Patachou dynasty means one of Indy’s most chic brunch destinations is at the Simon building downtown, as well as the cozy and très Parisian bistro Petit Chou in Broad Ripple, where you can get an honest-to-goodness croque monsieur and quite delicious crêpes. With the upcoming expansion of Taste Café and Marketplace, as well as delicious eats just off the Monon at Zest, there’s no reason not to take your most elegant and substantive meal at midday.