When I boarded the plane for Indianapolis, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect when it came to my first post-flight meal. Would I be faced with a lard-fest of epic proportions? Or sugar-coated goodies guaranteed to send the tooth fairy fluttering my way? As a pescetarian heading to a meat-loving country, I was a little daunted. I was going to be staying with an English expat family, but given that testing out the local cuisine is one of my favourite things to do while on holiday, I hoped there would be enough for me to enjoy over a ten-day stay.
Turns out I needn't have worried. Indy might be in the heart of corn country, but it turns out Midwestern cuisine is heavily influenced by central and northern European cooking. Just as in the UK, meat plus carb-of-choice (veg optional) dishes are standard fare, but thankfully for my pescetarian palate, there's far more on Indy's menu than home-style cooking. From seafood to stonebaked pizza to tapas to hearty American breakfasts, I tried it all in the name of research.
Its tagline claims that it serves 'the best breakfast food in the world'. A bold statement maybe, but there's no denying that Le Peep is an Indy institution, as the weekend queues stretching into the street at its downtown branch attest. With 6 locations in and around the city, you're never too far from Le Peep's perfectly prepared dishes to start your day. Open until 2pm, they focus primarily on that so-called most important meal of the day. Even those who claim not to 'do breakfast' would find something to tempt them here, as the menu offers everything from the light (granola) to the indulgent (pancakes or French toast). Egg dishes feature strongly: there's a wide choice of omelettes (egg-white and normal), plus 'pampered egg' dishes (scrambled eggs combined with a variety of ingredients as opposed to spoiled hard-boileds) and Le Peep's panhandled skillet dishes, which consist of their peasant potatoes mixed with various combinations of meat, cheese and veggies, topped with two basted eggs.
|Egg white omelettes are healthy, right?|
On my first visit, I opted for the Blizzard: an egg-white omelette with Monterey jack and cheddar cheeses plus mixed vegetables topped with baked cheese, tomato and chives. Throw in Le Peep's peasant potatoes and a round of toast, and watch a dieter's dream turn into a hearty meal: light wasn't quite the word for this egg-white number. Delicious and filling were more accurate descriptions, and on visit number 2 I chose another vegetarian variation on Le Peep's egg-white omelettes, this time with avocado and sun-dried tomatoes. Visit number 3 (their 'best breakfast' claim was looking more accurate than bold at this point) saw me polish off two blueberry pancakes, which were huge yet so good they managed to be moreish.
A sophisticated pizza parlour with multiple branches around the city, Bazbeaux is another must-visit in Indy. We opted for a take-away, and between 4 of us demolished two large thin-crust pizzas, a Garden (with the Bazbeaux mix of provolone, mozzarella and pecorino plus artichoke hearts, spinach, green pepper, red onion, olives and ricotta) and a Greek (with spinach, red onion, olives and feta). With a lengthy menu of both meat and vegetarian choices and the option to create your own recipe from an extensive list of ingredients, Bazbeaux has something for all tastes.
Rick's Cafe Boatyard
Sitting on the deck of Rick's, savouring a glass of wine as the sun sets over the beautiful Eagle Creek: it doesn't get much better than this. Throw in some delicious seafood dishes and good service, and you can understand why I had to return. Rick's was a touch pricier than many Indy restaurants I visited, with most mains on the dinner menu priced $20 or more, but like elsewhere the portions were huge, and the quality of the cooking and presentation definitely warranted the extra outlay.
On our first visit, I tried the Rainforest Tilapia & Shrimp, a white fish in lemon and parmesan bread crumbs and lightly pan-fried. It was served with a few tempura shrimp, plus sun-dried tomato rice and vegetables with a mango and jalapeno glaze. Despite the portion being almost double what I'd expect at home, I devoured the lot. Next time, I tried the Cedar Planked Whitefish (the name deriving from the plank of wood the dish is served on), another light-yet-huge number, this time with a pistachio crust and tomato butter and accompanied by creamy mashed potato and vegetables. The desserts were also delicious, although the presentation of our 'death by chocolate' gave us a bit of a surprise. A declaration of love through dessert is certainly different, but I must confess we were more taken with the pudding itself.
|Apparently the chef had a crush on the waitress... not us.|
If you don't fancy an extravagant dinner, Rick's also serves pizzas all day and sandwiches at lunch time. Despite the high-end dishes on offer (steak also features heavily on the menu), the atmosphere is fairly casual, with waitresses sporting T-shirts declaring 'Cougar in Training' and waiters advertising themselves as 'Cougar Bait'. Odd given the classy setting, but it's easy to overlook given the friendliness of the staff. If you're in the mood for a drink, there's also an outdoor bar area serving cocktails in addition to beer and wine.
Despite its downtown location, the setting of Creation Cafe still managed to be scenic. Perched above Indy's tree-lined canal with a vista of the city's few skyscrapers in the distance, this vegetarian haven's terrace is perfect for lunch on a summer's day. Its menu is packed with options both meat-eaters and veggies will love; from creative sandwiches on a variety of breads to hearty salads to burgers. Vicki opted for a sandwich and salad combo, while I went for a black bean burger. Amazing value for $9.50, it was no real surprise to be faced with a massive portion. No complaints from me: the avocado and cheese topped burger was delicious.
It was at Creation Cafe that I finally grasped the concept of free refills. Until my visit there, I hadn't really understood the look of puzzlement that crossed a waitress's face every time I declined another drink. Fair enough: why would I turn down something that I had effectively paid for? Once I'd worked this out, it's fair to say my liquid consumption went up. It's just a shame the refill concept doesn't extend to glasses of wine...
These are just four of the best places I dined at during ten days in Indy. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a real variety of different cuisines on offer, all at reasonable prices. Although I embraced the availability of free refills, I never really got used to the idea of taking food home with you: I'd see plenty of people leave restaurants with 'to go' boxes, and even used one myself when a waitress insisted, so overfaced were we by the lard-fest in front of us (this particular restaurant didn't make it into my top ten!). The food ultimately ended up in the bin, however. Fried fish was not going to reheat well. Personally, I'd rather have a smaller portion that didn't take a gargantuan effort to finish, so that I wasn't faced with a choice between stuffing myself to the point where an elasticated waistband becomes a dining essential, or taking half my dinner home with me. Portion concerns aside though, I enjoyed my experience of dining in Indy. Even if I did have to wear elasticated waistbands for the following week.