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2016 in review: Indianapolis food and drink scenes garner international attention

Annotating the food writing that we loved this year


Indiana chefs and bartenders are garnering national and international attention - AUDRA STERNBERG PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Audra Sternberg Photography
  • Indiana chefs and bartenders are garnering national and international attention
While 2016 has pretty much been a squishy, smelly piece of shit that we can't wait to scrape off the bottom of our shoe, we have to keep in mind it wasn't all bad — especially in the worlds of food and drink. While Vice-President-elect Mike Pence — the white hair that holds that dog turd together in D.C. these days — was busy eating at Chili's, our city was busy becoming one of the most recognized foodie destinations in the world.

We've been seen in numerous national and worldwide publications this year, and time and time again our food and drink have been mentioned as the top reason why. So, as we say goodbye to the worst year in recent memory, let's look fondly at just how lucky we are to have such high-caliber restaurants and bars lining our streets, with many more on the horizon.

The worldwide shoutouts started creeping up over the past few years, but 2016 has been filled to the brim, letting people know Indy has come into its own as a bona fide food city.

It started this year when Bon Appétit released the article "How Every City Became Brooklyn," and Indianapolis was front and center. The article came across as slightly controversial and at times derogatory with statements equating Indianapolis to Brooklyn and referencing our lack of honest culture (Sample passage: "It's my first time in this place. Maybe like you, though, I've been here before — anyone who's walked through Williamsburg or seen an episode of Girls has. It's a landscape of under-35s, bristling with locally brewed IPAs, restaurant pop-ups and new kinds of mustard. And everybody — literally everybody — is flaunting freestyle forearm ink."), but the Bon Appétit piece had an overall positive influence on our city's place in world culinary culture.

Jonathan Brooks' Milktooth has helped put Indianapolis' food in the national and international spotlights
  • Jonathan Brooks' Milktooth has helped put Indianapolis' food in the national and international spotlights

Milktooth's Jon Brooks, the central character of the piece, told Eater after the original article hit stands: "I get it, I understand why buzzwords and shit like that sell magazines and get people to read articles. But Brooklyn doesn't have anything to do with Indianapolis," and that was pretty fucking awesome. Plus, it highlighted one of the coolest joints in the city: Love Handle.

In April, we had five local bartenders from Libertine and Thunderbird make it into a competition which chose the world's best bartender for the year. Diageo's World Class competition took place at The Alexander and we saw one of Indy's finest bartenders, Josh Gonzales of Thunderbird, make it to the national competition, putting him in the top 15 bartenders in America.

Bon Appétit followed up the original article — maybe a bit of damage control? — with a second piece in June called "Ask a Local: An Insider's Guide to Indianapolis, Indiana." The author of the article, Elyssa Goldberg, had a local Indy barista from Bee Coffee Roasters give her the rundown on what to do in Indy. It was nice to see some less-written-about places pop up in the piece, like Broad Ripple's fusion taco spot La Chinita Poblana and Indy's vegan capital, Three Carrots.

That face on Michael Symon though... - CENTRAL STATE BREWING CO.
  • Central State Brewing Co.
  • That face on Michael Symon though...

July saw an Indiana brewery in the spotlight as Draft Magazine released its "Best Beer Bars Midwest" and featured Central State Brewing's taproom, The Koelschip. Central State is known for its wild and intriguing beers and the taproom highlights these styles from guest breweries all around the world. They later saw some national television time when chef Paul Kahan shared a pint of their beer with chef Michael Symon at The Publican on Burgers, Brew &'Que.

When September rolled around we had another huge publication, Condé Nast Traveler, feature the crown jewel of buzzy Indy restaurants in its list of "Where in the World to Eat." Writer Ashlea Halpern said of Milktooth: "This breakfast-, brunch-, and lunch-only restaurant in an airy converted garage wouldn't touch eggs Benedict with a 50-foot pole. And that's what makes it so genius. Chef Jonathan Brooks does wild things with Dutch baby pancakes; he puts egg salad and fried Lebanon bologna on toast. Because why not?"

When October rolled around, we had the opportunity to experience Indy's first-ever James Beard dinner at Cerulean. Chef Alan Sternberg hosted the dinner — and also happened to dream up the halibut dish heard 'round the world. That spicy, tasty corn green curry still shows up in my dreams.

This final month of the year has seen a huge uptick in these accolades, starting with a group of Indy chefs taking a trip to the James Beard House in New York City to keep our city in the minds of one of the groups that makes the culinary world tick. Alan Sternberg, Abbi Merriss, Craig Baker and Pat Niebling represented our state and prepared a world-class meal from all accounts. As Sternberg told me prior to the trip, "I don't think anyone is expecting to go to New York and show them something completely new. It's New York after all. If we can go, put on a great meal, share ourselves and our story a little bit, then that's enough. If we can make some friends and pick up some inspiration from eating or staging, that's tangible experiences that we can come home with and help grow our city more."

Indianapolis chefs preparing a meal at the James Beard House in NYC - AUDRA STERNBERG PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Audra Sternberg Photography
  • Indianapolis chefs preparing a meal at the James Beard House in NYC

Around that time, Eater wrote: "Jonathan Brooks is at the vanguard of those skilled chef-disruptors changing how America thinks about daytime eating. His dishes — like savory puffed Dutch baby pancakes with roasted broccoli, aged cheddar, beer mustard and pickled fennel — have the kind of punchy, finessed flavors you'd expect at dinnertime, but the restaurant only serves customers for breakfast and lunch," in their guide to "The Best Restaurants in America." Finding an Indianapolis restaurant on the same tier as places like Chicago's Alinea, Charleston's FIG and Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City feels good, man.

The next day Zagat, a name that has guided people to the best dining around the country for nearly 40 years, named Indianapolis in its "26 Hottest Food Cities in America."

Writer Kate Donnelly said of our fair city in Zagat, "While neighboring towns like Chicago and Louisville have long stolen the Heartland culinary spotlight, the Indy food scene has evolved with serious, elevated precision. Between the already established, wildly popular breakfast-lunch-brunch shrine Milktooth, with its ancient-grain porridge and sour-cream biscuits, and Bluebeard's sharable dinner plates, both of which appeared in Bon Appétit, it's safe to say that Indianapolis has entered a new gastronomic stratosphere."

She proceeded to give shoutouts to Fountain Square's Alpine gastronome paradise Pioneer, the delicious Marrow and the Cunningham Group's four-diamond restaurant Vida.

Now we look forward. Travel and Leisure announced Indianapolis as one of its "50 Best Places to Travel in 2017." And right at the center of the description as to why — food, drink and more food. "The city shattered expectations of Midwestern dining a couple of years ago with the opening of beloved brunch spot Milktooth, and the culinary scene has only gathered steam since then. In the fall, Indy hopped on the fried-chicken trend with Crispy Bird, a sustainability-focused joint from James Beard Award–nominated restaurateur Martha Hoover, while Milktooth's Jonathan Brooks lent his expertise to the gastropub menu at The Owner's Wife. This coming year, Sun King Brewery will open a 15,000-square-foot distillery in nearby Carmel. And with hotels in the works from 21c, Ironworks and home-goods brand West Elm, Indianapolis is poised to become America's next big destination."


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