With nearly two million people in the metropolitan area, Indianapolis is the second-most populous city in the Midwest after Chicago, though it’s sometimes hard to convince outsiders of its status as a foodie destination.
However, Naptowners enjoy an unpretentious and varied food and drink scene that offers great prices and even better hospitality. Start your day at Milktooth or Love Handle, two of the most inventive and lovable brunch places in the country, and go from there.
Where To Eat in Indianapolis
Martha Hoover has been at forefront of Indy’s local food movement since she opened Cafe Patachou in 1989. She now has 11 restaurants and has formed The Patachou Foundation, a charity that feeds thousands of children impacted by homelessness and hunger every year. Public Greens offers creative salads and main courses inspired by the bounty from an onsite mini-farm. An “Urban Kitchen With a Mission,” Public Greens donates all profits and extra crops to The Patachou Foundation, which runs after-school meal programs aimed at promoting good nutrition among students.
An influx of Mexican immigrants to Indianapolis has resulted in a bevy of quality mercados and taquerías. At Festiva, Chef Rachel Hoover, a New England Culinary Institute graduate who was taught the finer points of Mexican cuisine by her mother-in-law, focuses on freshness and local ingredients. You’ll find veggie sopes with almond mole and tacos with Indiana goat on the menu, along with an extensive mezcal and Tequila list.
Since it opened last year, Vida has become one of the hottest wine and food destinations in town. Layton Roberts works with local farmers year-round to create his menus. Seasonality reigns in dishes like scallops with fava beans and asparagus, or orecchiette with ramps and English peas. There’s also a hydroponic wall of edible greens that’s the basis for Vida’s “wall greens” salad. The global wine list is one of Indy’s deepest, with several bottles in the $30 range, and it peaks with a 2013 Hundred Acre “Kayli Morgan” priced close to retail at $675. Two in-house sommeliers, Roddy Kirschenman and Michael Miller, guide diners with infectious enthusiasm.
Where to Drink in Indianapolis
Mallow Run Winery
Though the mid-1800s heyday of Indiana wine has been forgotten by many, many local bottlings can be found that feature interesting, lesser-known hybrid grapes and other fruits from the region. Mallow Run Winery, 20 minutes south of downtown Indy, offers a beautiful landscape in which to taste its range of dry wines. It utilizes grapes like Traminette (a Gewürztraminer offspring), Chambourcin (a teinturier, or red-fleshed grape that’s used here to make a crisp varietal rosé), Catawba (the most widely planted variety in the U.S. in the early 1800s), and Cayuga, which has some of the aromatic and acidic qualities of Riesling. Don’t miss the hard ciders, either.
Rebar Indy’s not yet one year old, but it has established itself as an instant favorite. There’s a pour-your-own wall of 20 rotating beer taps and a staggering whiskey menu with 100 bottles to choose from, available in ½-ounce tastes as well as full-sized pours. A stellar bar menu includes the half-pound “signature burger” with whipped goat cheese, bacon jam, grilled onion and pickled yellow tomato.
Bar at St. Elmo Steak House
There’s no better place to enjoy a first bottle of wine in Indianapolis than the bar of this historic steakhouse, which dates to 1902. It’s a terrific pick for dinner, and the speakeasy-styled 1933 Lounge upstairs is a great place for a cocktail. The downstairs bar, however, shouldn’t be overlooked. Bartenders are keen to give insider’s tips for your time in the city and St. Elmo has one of the best wine lists in town, with a number of back-vintage bargains.