December 14, 2011

Guest Blogger - Great Lakes Prep: Indy City

Nick from Great Lakes Prep has generously offered to switch blogs with me for the day (how cool is that?!). Below is his entry regarding his exploration of his home town and his recommendations to future visitors. Enjoy!

I’ve always found the best way to explore a city is from the local’s perspective.  They live there and are the most knowledgeable about which restaurants, attractions and other locations are actually worth visiting and which are simply overhyped tourist traps.  Even with the advent of the internet and the ease of anyone with a computer getting their opinion heard, I feel that there is still an overall lack of information from a local’s perspective when it comes to travelling.  It’s frustrating being in a new town where you know nobody and are trying to determine where you should eat or what bar you should go to.  Luckily, I have good news for you.  You no longer have to worry about this when you are in Indianapolis thanks to this handy local’s guide to the city.

Indianapolis is one of the most accessible cities in the country.  Nicknamed the “Crossroads of America,” there are interstates and major highways leading into the city from all directions.  Unfortunately, what makes Indianapolis so easy to get to also makes it very easy to pass on through.  The next time you are cutting across the state en route to your final destination, I suggest you at least consider making a pit stop to see what this great city is all about.

I’ve always felt the best way to describe Indianapolis is that it is a really large small town.  You’ll probably be shocked to know that Indianapolis is the 12th largest city in the nation and the second largest in the Midwest.  The reason behind this is that the city itself is very spread out.  What other cities consider suburbs are actually still within the city limits of Indianapolis and are known as neighborhoods.  The downtown itself is very compact and is roughly one square mile.  This makes it very easy to get around, decreases traffic and eliminates the need to find parking in various areas or rely on public transportation.  For this guide I will focus mainly on the areas of downtown, Broad Ripple and Castleton.  These are the areas you are most likely to visit when you are in the city.

Where to Eat

St. Elmo’s Steak House
Possibly the most well-known and definitely the best restaurant in the city, the iconic downtown steakhouse is a must visit.  It may be pricey but you get what you pay for and most of the steaks are large enough that you can easily split them amongst two people if you are looking to be more economical.  St. Elmo’s has ruined steaks for me at any other place.  If this is your first time, you must also try the signature shrimp cocktail, an appetizer featured on the Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”

Cajun and creole food is not something normally associated with the Midwest so I won’t blame you if you somehow believe you were magically transported to New Orleans once you lay foot in Yat’s.  From the eclectic décor to the hearty etoufees, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another Cajun/creole restaurant this good north of the Mason-Dixon line.  The food isn’t flashy or gourmet but damn it is some good classic comfort food that will hardly even put a dent in your wallet.

Brugge Brasserie
Situated next to the Monon Trail in Broad Ripple, Brugge Brasserie serves up steaming pots of moules (mussels) accompanied by crisp frites (french fries).  Simply choose your style of moules, everything from classic Provencal with white wine, garlic, butter and shallots to more exotic options like the lime juice, cilantro, onion and jalapeno filled Citron.  Brugge Brasserie brews its own beers as well, highlighted by the Tripel de Ripple.  The only downside is there’s a two Tripel limit, but that’s probably for the best since it clocks in at over 10% ABV.  Any more than two and you might wake up the next day not remembering exactly how good it or the rest of the food tasted.

Café Patachou
Café Patachou and its sister restaurant Petite Chou are the premier breakfast spots in Indianapolis.  The omelettes are imaginative and made with free-range Indiana eggs.  The french toast is loaded with pecans, powdered sugar and maple syrup and the coffee is made with the best beans from sustainable farms engaging in free trade.  There are several locations of each restaurant throughout the city so you should never be too far from one.

Boogie Burger
Recently relocated from its quaint, cramped Broad Ripple strip location to a larger spot a little down the road on the outskirts of Broad Ripple (and conveniently less than a quarter mile from my house), Boogie Burger grills up taste-laden burgers with all sorts of toppings.  The best-selling Wild Wild West comes topped with cheddar cheese, hickory smoked bacon, onion rings and barbecue sauce.  The New York, New York tops the burger off with swiss cheese and pastrami.  The Disco Inferno raises the temperature with serrano peppers and pepper jack cheese.  Complement your burger with the garlic and parsley topped fries or the gigantic portions of bacon, cheese and sour cream covered fries.

Relatively new to the Broad Ripple restaurant scene, 10/01 takes classic comfort food dishes and adds a gourmet twist.  The mashed potatoes are finished with bourbon gravy.  The pork tenderloin comes with a mustard aioli.  The sweet potato fries, more of a dessert than a side, are the best I’ve ever had.  I have yet to find something on the menu that I didn’t like.  They have a great selection of local beers on tap, an excellent porch for summer dining and large picture windows that give you a view up and down the Broad Ripple strip during the winter. 

Edward’s Drive-In
If you really want to eat like the locals, then you must try a pork tenderloin sandwich and if you’re going to try one, you might as well try the best in the city.  The deep-fried breaded tenderloin is practically the size of a small Frisbee on your plate.  Accompany it with onion rings, the large, traditional kind that you just know are probably adding a couple of pounds just by looking at them, and their signature root beer in a frosted mug.

Where to Drink

Howl at the Moon
A Thursday night favorite of the college crowd due to no cover with a student ID and $1 Coors Light, Howl at the Moon is well worth it on any night.  Indianapolis doesn’t have much live music at the bars so the dueling pianos a welcome change of pace.

Broad Ripple
Broad Ripple itself is a great place to spend an evening.  On the strip that runs through it are a variety of bars that cater to all types of crowds.  Chumleys is excellent if you are looking for a bar with a huge selection of beers.  Rock Lobster and the Vogue are good if the dance floor is your calling.  Covers are few and far between so it’s easy to start the night at one bar and move on with the party as the night progresses.

Slippery Noodle Inn
The oldest continuously operating bar in Indiana, the Slippery Noodle Inn is the place to catch live blues in the city.  The Inn has been around in various forms since 1850 and attracts both local and nationally recognized blues acts.

The Rathskeller should be located under both the where to eat and where to drink sections.  During the colder months it’s a great rustic place to grab a beer and excellent German food.  Once the temperature starts to climb, the Biergarten opens up and becomes a go to spot for gigantic beers and large music.

What to Do

Attend a sporting event
Indianapolis is considered by many to be the sporting capital of the United States.  The NCAA and National Federation of State High School Associations are headquartered here.  The city has played host to the Final Four multiple times, the Big Ten Men’s and Women’s Basketball tournaments and the Big Ten Football Championship and will host the 2012 Super Bowl. 

Although suffering through a dismal year without Peyton Manning, the Colts are usually one of the top teams in the NFL and Lucas Oil Stadium is a much improved upgrade over the former RCA Dome.  The Pacers have been much improved as of late and tickets are relatively inexpensive.  The Fever went to the WNBA Finals this year.  The Indians play at the AAA level of minor league baseball and Victory Field is consistently rated as one of the top minor league ballparks.  The Ice are the local minor league hockey team.

If amateur sports are more your thing, Indianapolis has two Division I institutions, IUPUI and Butler.  Catching a basketball game at Hinkle Fieldhouse should be a must stop if you are in town during the season.  Several powerhouse high school football and basketball teams located within and around the city are consistently nationally ranked.  Catch the high school basketball state championships at Conseco Fieldhouse if you can.  Indiana high school basketball is what football is to Texas high school sports.

Indianapolis also has a rich racing heritage.  MotoGP holds the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix and NASCAR runs the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard every year.  Of course, one of the greatest spectacles in sports takes place every Memorial Day weekend, the Indianapolis 500.

Indianapolis Zoo
The Indianapolis Zoo, located in White River State Park, is actually more than just a zoo.  It is also accredited as an aquarium and botanical garden and was the first to be accredited as all three.  Exhibits are split into Forests, Oceans, Deserts and Plains and feature interactive exhibits such as the Race a Cheetah and the dogshark touch pool.  The dolphin show is also a can’t miss.

Children’s Museum
Indianapolis is home to the largest children’s museum in the world and a must stop if you have children accompanying you.  I haven’t been since I was much younger but am anticipating we will be taking me nephew in a few years.  The exhibits range from an indoor carousel to the Dinosphere, a sound and light experience recreating a day in the time of the dinosaurs, to a planetarium.

Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument
Located in the heart of downtown, the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument is a 284 foot tall monument honoring Hoosier veterans of the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and the Spanish American War.  Inside the monument is the Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum, which details Indiana history during the Civil War.  You can also reach the top of the monument by stairs for free or by elevator for a small fee.  Come during the Christmas season to see the monument decorated like an enormous Christmas tree.

Conner Prairie
Take a step back in time to the pioneer days of Indiana at Conner Prairie, a living history museum located northeast of the city in Fishers.  You can tour a 19th century village and speak with characters in period costume or visit a Native American fur trade camp.  You might even be able to take a few swings as part of the 19th century baseball demonstration.

White River State Park
Located in the heart of downtown Indianapolis, White River State Park offers green space for picnics, museums for exploring and riverfront pathways for walking.  You can learn about various NCAA sports at the NCAA Hall of Champions, view Native American artwork at the Eiteljorg and learn about the history of Indiana at the Indiana State Museum.  During the summer the lawn is used for hosting concerts by nationally-renowned musicians.

Indianapolis Museum of Art
Free admission (donations are accepted) make the IMA a great place for a cheap date.  The collection encompasses a wide range of styles and cultures and there is a rotating special exhibit you can visit for an additional fee.  Perhaps the best part of the museum is the surrounding 100 Acre Woods, a scenic park filled with artistic installations.  It’s wooded trails surrounding the small lake are perfect for long walks on brisk fall days.

Butler University
I’m an alumnus so I may be biased but I believe no visit to Indianapolis is complete without a stop at Butler.  The campus is picturesque with many scenic hideaways and Hinkle Fieldhouse is one of those arenas all college basketball fans must see at least once in their lifetimes.  Catch a game on a Saturday afternoon to witness the awe-inspiring beauty of the court basking in the rays of the midday sun.

Fashion Mall at Keystone
If you’re looking to do some shopping while you are in town this is the mall to check out.  Located on the north side of the city you’ll find Nordstrom, J. Crew, Brooks Brothers and The North Face among other options. 

For more tips on visiting Indianapolis, as well as insight on food, travel and preppy fashion in the Midwest, be sure to check out my blog at  If you have any questions regarding any of the above topics or just want to chat, you can get in touch via the Great Lakes Prep Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr pages.

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