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Culinary and other attractions in Indy

By Jay Kitterman, culinary and special events consultant, Lincoln Land Community College

“Bifocals are God’s way of saying, ‘Keep Your Chin Up’” is one of the many signs on the wall at Ruth’s Café in Indianapolis. More on Ruth’s later.

Our son Josh lives in Indy, and we visit a few times a year. Trader Joes (they have two) is always pleased to see us as we fill up his shopping cart (sometimes also a bottle of their olive oil and chianti for Carol & Jay.) Josh was an art major in college and now applies his knowledge as a volunteer at Newfield’s, previously called the Indiana Art Museum.  

Indianapolis is an easy (but boring) 200-mile drive and is home to a plethora of excellent restaurants, a famous racetrack, museums, sports facilities and unique attractions. The cuisine found in Indianapolis is extremely diverse with something to suit most people's palates.

Featured at Newfield’s Indianapolis Museum of Art for a second year is its latest multi-sensory digital technology experience called “THE LUME” featuring Monet and Friends. The galleries are surrounded by gardens, water features, over a hundred acres of woodland filled with surprise and beauty. Over 235,000 guests visited the Van Gogh immersive exhibit last year. The exhibit transforms the museum’s entire fourth floor into a three-dimensional masterpiece with nearly 30,000 square and 150 floor-to-ceiling, high-definition projectors. It highlights the works of famed French Impressionist Oscar-Claude Monet, known as the father of Impressionism.

I learned about the concept “en plein air,” the act of painting outdoors and made possible with the development of paint in a tube. The exhibit is set to music by Debussy, Tchaikovsky, Ravel and Offenbach. On permanent exhibit is the famous sculpture “LOVE” by American pop artist and Indiana native Robert Indiana (1928–2018). It was created in 1970 as the first sculptural form of the artist's 1965 LOVE painting. If you visit on a Saturday, be sure to ask for Josh. 

If visiting with family (or not), The Children’s Museum is a must see. The 800,000 square foot facility includes 13 galleries. “Fireworks of Glass” is one of the largest permanent installations by renowned artist Dale Chihuly. It comprises a 43-foot tower and floating glass ceiling constructed of 4800 pieces of blown glass. Popular with the kids is the Dinosphere exhibit where you are immersed with sights, sounds and even smells of the Cretaceous Period, 77 to 66 million years ago  when dinosaurs roamed the earth.         

Since 1905, four generations of Shapiro’s have been making quality meals. Owned and operated by one family for more than 115 years, Shapiro’s kosher-style delicatessen is an Indianapolis institution. Famous for their piled-high sandwiches, their meats (corned beef, pastrami, brisket) are still slow-cooked in-store. Shapiro’s incredible cheesecakes, delicious rye bread, NY-style bagels and delectable desserts keep Indianapolis residents and visitors coming back for more. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served daily. This is true Jewish “soul food,” and their corned beef sandwich is served steamy hot, sliced thin and piled high between slices of excellent rye bread. With a couple of latkes (potato pancakes) on the side, you've got a great lunch. Shapiro’s is located in downtown Indy.  

St. Elmo Steak House has been a landmark in downtown Indianapolis since 1902. It is the oldest Indianapolis steakhouse in its original location and has earned a national reputation for its excellent steaks, seafood, chops and professional service. A dinner at St. Elmo Steak House traditionally begins with their famous St. Elmo shrimp cocktail, served since 1902.  Their shrimp sauce is available locally; be warned it is fiery!  

For breakfast I recommend two contrasting spots to dine. Both are located near the Fashion Mall on 86th. Café Patachou  is an award-winning café. Expect a world-class breakfast and lunch experience that includes dishes prepared with premium ingredients from scratch and to-order. They are committed to sourcing local and often organic products, providing personal yet professional service by a well-trained team. They have multiple locations and have garnered local, regional and national accolades, including having been named one of the "Top Ten Places for Breakfast in the Country" by Bon Appetit Magazine. 

Ruth’s Café is our favorite and located across 86th Street in a strip mall. Eclectic is the first adjective that comes to mind. Nothing (including the China and furniture) matches and is part of the allure of eating here. Ruth’s is open for breakfast and lunch and offers outdoor seating. The menu is extensive featuring omelets with a choice of over 30 ingredients. Ruth’s is locally owned, features local products and has a colorful, quirky and bright décor. Be sure to read the walls with their multiple whimsical signs. Ask for server Nurse Ratched.  

We have not been there yet but are planning to visit the Bottleworks District. What once was the world’s largest Coca Cola bottling plant is now the Bottleworks District. The Garage Food Hall at Bottleworks District is a 30,000 square-foot, community-focused food and market hall that occupies two of the historic bottling plant’s original garage buildings. The food hall features 1930s Art Deco terracotta facades, industrial architecture and large roll-up doors for a seamless indoor-outdoor experience.

Milktooth is a fine diner in Fletcher Place, a historic neighborhood in downtown Indianapolis. Chef Jonathan Brooks offers a rotating menu of seasonal fare. His style reflects his excitement for world cuisine, refined cooking techniques and knack for quirk and playfulness. Milktooth's commitment to sustainability, organic practices and local product is unwavering. In 2015, Jonathan was awarded one of 11 Best New Chefs by Food and Wine, while Milktooth was chosen as one of 10 best new restaurants in the United States by Bon Appetit.

We look forward to our Indy visits and spending time with Josh. I end with another one of the messages on a sign at Ruth’s  

“Alcohol: Because no great story starts with someone eating a salad.” 


Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management and Baking/Pastry, and non-credit cooking and food classes through LLCC Community Education.

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