Best Indianapolis Eats for Super Bowl XLVI
The same street that has Ball & Biscuit is also home to downtown Indianapolis’ two most innovative restaurants. When Regina Mehallick opened R Bistro in 2001, it was pretty much the only place in town doing “new American” cooking. The restaurant’s straightforward presentation of seasonal, local ingredients focused through an unpretentious, weekly-changing menu was barely noticed during a boom in flashy chain concepts throughout the affluent suburbs. Eleven years later, R Bistro is better than ever, while many of the chains died within months. Massachusetts Avenue is where you go in downtown Indianapolis if you want to eat somewhere with personality, perspective, and real taste.
The newest member of this scene on Mass Ave. is Black Market, helmed by Micah Frank, a former sous chef at R Bistro. When it opened last summer, the gastro-pub was quickly praised by the local media as a candidate for best restaurant in the city. Micah’s menu is beyond eclectic. You feel like roasted marrow bones or fried mozzarella sticks to start? And for mains, would you prefer sausage and cabbage or Korean chapchae noodles? They are unusual combinations, to be sure. However, it is the execution of these dishes and the clarity of flavors found within them that makes this place worthy of all its early praise. The atmosphere is even a new treat for Indianapolis. Sure, you’ve probably seen a long communal table like that in Chicago, or you might say the clean, linear design of the back bar is no different than any bar in the West Village. But there is not here. This is Indianapolis. And we are pretty excited to call Black Market our own.
Truth be told, Indiana has very few food traditions to call its own, and you’ve probably never heard of any of them anyway, because they are pretty boring. Hoosier pie? Persimmon pudding? Corn casserole? (Crickets...) They are all basically bland remnants of the sort of Laura Ingalls Wilder-type cookery of the mid-19th century. There is one sandwich, however, that we hold dear to our Hoosier hearts: the breaded pork tenderloin. It’s not much more than a schnitzel on a bun, but damnit, it's ours! (Actually, where the Austrian counterpart is pan-fried, this pounded-out piece of pork is breaded and dropped in a deep fryer.) But when cooking is complete, the golden brown disk should be laughably too large for a hamburger bun. (Bonus points if it hangs over the plate as well.) And accompaniments should be limited to mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce, and pickle.
My favorite is at Bourbon Street Distillery, a cozy bar in a quaint flatiron building a five-minute walk from the circle. Purists debate that the pork is too thick and the breading is not a traditional mix, but no one argues over the fact that it is one of the best sandwiches in the city.
But, it’s not kosher, and Indianapolis is synonymous with two things: auto racing and Judaism. Well,
one of the best Jewish delis in the country anyway. Seriously. Shapiro’s Delicatessen has been a fixture since 1905. It functions more as a cafeteria than a deli, but no one complains. You can’t say much about Shapiro’s that hasn’t been said already, and you’ll hear plenty about it once your plane lands anyway. However, it definitely bears a mention because in all honesty, I will tell you that Katz’s, Langer’s, and Zingerman’s combined can’t hold a Shabbat candle to the Reuben sandwich at Shapiro’s. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/The West End)
I could go on, about the titular Macedonian mélange at John’s Famous Stew, the red sauce at Iaria’s, breakfast at Maxine’s Chicken & Waffles, deep-fried pickles at English Ivy’s, the Scotch whisky selection at MacNiven’s, and I didn’t even mention the historic City Market. There is actually too much good food here. I’ll save all that for the next time you come back. Now go have fun at the game. And please whatever you do, don’t waste your time at the chains. Eat our food.
Drink our beer.
Enjoy our city.
Oh! And you can’t buy beer on Sunday. Might be useful to know….