Eating my way through Indy

I had the good fortune to visit Indianapolis recently – yes, you heard that correctly, Indianapolis. This is a city that must be seen and explored to be appreciated. Forget whatever you think you know about it, which is likely limited to corn and Colts, and see what the city is really all about. Need a starting point? Try the food.

I found two favorite restaurants on completely different ends of the spectrum: Loughmiller’s Pub and St. Elmo Steak House. Loughmiller’s (@LoughmillersPub) is on West Washington Street, right across from the capitol complex. It’s locally owned and permeates with familiarity.

I ordered a sidecar off their specialty-cocktail menu and then quickly ordered another because it was THAT GOOD. It was a bourbon concoction with fresh-squeezed lemon juice, sugar and a splash of soda, I think. Refreshing, stiff and so tasty with my avocado/jerk chicken salad. Chat up the bartender and you just might learn some fun, new bar tricks too!

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Photo courtesy of St. Elmo Steak House

St. Elmo (@stelmo) takes some more time to explain because there is so much history packed into the downtown eatery that pulses with a contemporary vibe not easily achieved in 110-year-old establishment.

I’ll make a bold statement: St. Elmo is THE restaurant. Every town has its own version of THE restaurant, and St. Elmo is Indy’s. It’s the place where locals impress their visiting relatives and where celebrities enter through a back entrance but must be seen at a table nibbling on the mouth-igniting shrimp cocktail. (The shrimp cocktail is the sole appetizer on the menu, and it’s a must-order. But beware the horseradish cocktail sauce… it’s a burner!)

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Shrimp cocktail
Photo courtesy of St. Elmo Steak House

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“The Tomahawk” t-bone steak.
Photo courtesy of St. Elmo Steak House

St. Elmo was impossible to get into during the SuperBowl last year, and for good reason. The steaks are to die for (it will be a long time before I forget the aged t-bone!), so much so that Eli Manning and Tom Brady reportedly dined there at the same time during SuperBowl week, but at opposite ends of the restaurant. (I wonder if Eli took brother Peyton with him? Check out this tribute to St. Elmo and Indy’s favorite QB.)

The owners have taken great care to preserve the history and traditions of the century-old restaurant while ensuring it never grows stale or obsolete. The food is delicious, the decor is dark and homey and the drinks are inventive. Oh, and the wine list! The wine list borrows heavily from California appellations while serving up a well-rounded selection of styles, varietals, vintages and price points.

Situated very near the capitol, one can imagine lawmakers retiring to the upstairs lounge to hash out deals over hefty doses of scotch and platitudes while college kids home on break dance to the live music and work their way through the house cocktails. (I recommend the Moscow mule… not a signature drink but served with a flair I’ve never seen before.)

Yes, restaurants are a great way to get a feel for Indy – a surprisingly cosmopolitan city in the heart of the Midwest.

Lest you think I only ate and drank my way through the Heartland (and what’s wrong with that?), I worked off the calories with visits to Turkey Run and Shades state parks. Indiana State Parks founding father Col. Richard Lieber wanted a state park within 50 miles of every Hoosier, and that’s exactly what they have today.

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Shades State Park

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Turkey Run State Park

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Turkey Run State Park

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Turkey Run State Park

 Note: I visited Indy for the Society of American Travel Writers annual convention, so most activities and meals were included in the registration cost.

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