Indianapolis is just about a three-hour drive from Chicago, which means you can hit the road after work on Friday and easily get there in time for drinks at the Slippery Noodle Inn. I've made a few visits to the Indiana capital over the past couple of years, and each time I've found new favorites that I can't wait to return to. Plus, there's the annual Dig IN food festival, which brings together local farmers, chefs, brewers and others from the culinary world for tastings, cooking demos and more. From breakfast joints to craft beer to cocktail bars, here's where to go on your next trip to Indy.
RECOMMENDED: Weekend getaways from Chicago
The breakfast and brunch-only restaurant, located in Fletcher Place, serves some of the most creative breakfast dishes I've ever had—think lox and cream cheese danish with pickled onions (left), a ham and gruyere Dutch baby pancake, and the notorious F.I.G., cold brew coffee with fig-amaro simple syrup. Jonathan Brooks' restaurant gets packed on the weekends, but ease the wait by getting coffee, brunch cocktails and pastries from the counter right inside the door.
You’ll find a few locations of Café Patachou around Indy—including one at the Indianapolis International Airport—and the breakfast and lunch spot is a good place to start the day. The menu focuses on local ingredients, and there are omelettes, breakfast breads and a house coffee blend, but I’m partial to the broken yolk sandwiches, with two fried eggs, cheese, and other ingredients like bacon and avocado, piled between buttery slices of bread. The yolk will stream down your hands, but the mess is worth it.
Goose the Market
You may have seen Smoking Goose charcuterie around Chicago (it’s on the menu at Balena, Bang Bang Pie Shop, Farmhouse and many other places), but a visit to Indy wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the market (2503 N Delaware St). Stop for a lunch break and then load up on charcuterie, cheeses and other locally made products to take home. There’s seating downstairs, so order a cheese and charcuterie plate or a sandwich (I’m partial to the Batali, layered with spicy meats, provolone, tomato preserves, hot giardiniera and other toppings), plus a local beer or glass of wine.
Neal Brown is one of the best-known chefs in Indy (he also owns the Libertine Liquor Bar and is a co-founder of Dig IN), and his Neapolitan pizza spot is worth a visit. There are two locations, one in a strip mall in Carmel, and the other on Mass. Ave. Start with a very good grilled romaine salad, studded with shallots and fresh mozzarella, then decide between red- or white-sauce pizza, both cooked in the wood oven. Can’t decide between all the pies, topped with local meats, cheeses and vegetables? Just start with the housemade fennel sausage pie, or build your own.
Chef Micah Frank’s gastropub (922 Massachusetts Ave), located along a strip of restaurants, bars and galleries, offers flights of spirits, vintage beers and an excellent cocktail list (like gin, doctored up with habanero shrub and rhubarb liqueur), along with the kind of food you want to devour while drinking. At lunch, there’s an unconventional peanut butter sandwich, house peanut butter with bread and butter pickles, and ham dumplings. For dinner, the menu is a little heartier, but no less inventive. There’s a beef tongue cocktail, oxtail with leek pierogi and ham and asparagus toast.
Libertine Liquor Bar
Neal Brown's cocktail bar recently relocated to underneath one of his Pizzology outposts (608 Massachusetts Ave), and the result is a bar that's even better than before. The space is more intimate, which makes it a cozy spot for creative, well-made drinks. There's a separate snack menu, as well as a regularly changing offering of booze infusions.
One of the newest drinking spots in Indy is Plat 99, located in the Alexander Hotel (333 S Delaware St). Helming the bar, decorated with colorful lanterns and floor to ceiling windows, is William Mohring, whose cocktail menu is listed in chronological order from the year the drink was invented. Start with the 1850s abinthe preparation, L’Heure Vert, and drink your way up to barrel-aged cocktails.
The Ball & Biscuit
The Ball & Biscuit (331 Massachusetts Ave), a cocktail bar decorated with vintage music equipment, has a copper bar, brick walls and a new patio. The menu is mostly perfectly executed classics (especially the sazerac), but there are also more unexpected drinks, like a gin cocktail with pickled ginger juice. Even better than the cocktails is the lack of pretension, and Ball & Biscuit is the kind of place where you could easily while away an evening.
Sun King Brewery
Just like you’ll see Smoking Goose products everywhere you go, the same is true of Sun King Brewery’s beer. If you want to go straight to the source, though, Sun King (135 N College Ave) offers tours Thursdays at 6pm and Saturdays from 2–4pm, plus you can just swing by the tasting room to try a few. Sunlight Cream Ale is one of the most popular, but I gravitate toward the seasonal and specialty beers, like Fistful of Hops, a quarterly series of IPAs.
Slippery Noodle Inn
The oldest bar in Indiana, the Slippery Noodle (372 S Meridian St) has been around since 1850, and has been a brothel, a distillery during Prohibition and a stop on the Underground Railroad. Now, there’s live blues every day, a solid selection of local beers on tap (Sun King, Upland, Cutters and more), and it’s open till 3am, so you can always pop in for a nightcap.
The cool new Fountain Square bar dishes up Southern food, while the cocktails are perfectly balanced, such as the Good Year for Roses, with gin, Cocchi Rosa and Dimmi, an herbal Italian liqueur. Decked out with an old piano and edison bulbs, it's dark, noisy and a hell of a lot of fun.