You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food. —Paul Prudhomme
[Update: This article went largely unnoticed until late evening, May 24. Apparently, someone posted a link on Facebook. Suddenly, our hit count exploded and currently, May 25, we’re having our highest visitor/hit count ever! Hooray! Apparently, Erin and her dear friends are offended. They (mistakenly) think we’re against good and diverse dining. One person was so incensed, she wants to punch me in the throat. Wow, who knew foodies could be so violent . While we do not apologize for the content, our intent was not to insult or in any way disparage any of the fine establishments mentioned. Condé Nast Traveler didn’t single them out with no reason. One restaurant owner even reached out and invited us to drop by his establishment, an invitation we will do our best to accept. Still, no matter how wonderful all these restaurants are, we are never going to eat out that often and when we do we’re more likely to choose something closer to home, a bit more child appropriate, and less likely to upset my overly-sensitive stomach. If you want to try them, please do. I’m sure you’ll have a pleasant experience. Be sure to leave them a nice review on Yelp! Thank you for visiting!]
One could almost hear the squeals of glee when Condé Nast Traveler updated its 2015 list of Best Places To Visit This Summer and decided to include Indianapolis in the #28 spot, right between Maui, Hawaii, and Camden, Maine. Indy is full of people who love eating out so much that their own kitchens feel neglected as they’re hardly even used for making coffee anymore. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me too much to see at least one of the new sets of condos going up downtown to eliminate stoves and ovens entirely, leaving only a refrigerator for storing doggie bags and a microwave for heating them up. That’s just how fanatical Indy’s food people are.
Food fanatics have cropped up everywhere in the past ten years. When I first moved here, the top-rated restaurant in town was St. Elmo’s. Everyone told me I need to eat there. Then, I saw their menu. No, thank you. I can cook my own steak for considerably less, get it exactly the way I like it, and not have to take out a small loan in the process. I do have a bottle of their cocktail sauce in the ‘fridge. We bought it at Costco. If premiere dining means overspending on everything, then I’ll have no part of it, thank you.
Over the ensuing years, though, a number of chefs have inexplicably chosen Indianapolis as the place to try out their new and innovative menus and, much to my surprise, people in Indy have actually responded favorably. Condé Nast specifically mentions Milktooth, Black Market, Rook, and Marrow but there are at least a dozen other places around town that are every bit as good and just as difficult to get a seat between 6-8 PM. Every one of them stays busy and on the rare occasion one goes out of business it is usually something other than the food that was at fault.
But guess what: I’ve not been to any of them. Not a one. Never mind the fact that the Black Market literally share’s a driveway with Kat’s dad and we’re down there all the time smelling the delicious aromas pouring out their back door. I’m not one to eat out that often and when I do it’s almost certainly to be an old favorite or, at least, someplace where I know that I’m likely to find something I like even if I find the majority of choices detestable.
Not that I never try new places, mind you. Just last week I stepped into Punch for lunch and had a wonderful time. The food was fantastic, the price was reasonable, the service friendly, and the portion on the waffle fries was huge. Punch was a pretty safe bet, though. It is the top-rated downtown burger joint on Yelp, and, obviously, it’s a burger joint. You can do a lot with burgers, but it’s pretty hard to fuck one up to the point it’s inedible. Stopping by Punch was about as adventurous from a food perspective as taking an alternate path home: you know where you’re going, you just go a different direction getting there.
Could I have just as easily eaten at one of those fancy places everyone talks about? Probably. But I am not a food fanatic. I have issues with trying some place new. Serious issues. As much as I enjoy eating, a food fanatic is not something I could ever be. Here’s why:
- Nothing’s close. Almost all the hottest places to eat are downtown, Broad Ripple, or Fountain Square, none of which are anywhere close to our home. If I want to grab a nice lunch while everyone else is at school, I have to get on a bus, whose schedule and route isn’t always convenient to where I want to eat. If we’re talking about dinner, we’re talking about where to park as free parking isn’t exactly booming in this or any other city. Most days, that’s just too much trouble. I’ll stay home.
- Children. All the cool places on the food lovers’ lists are less than appropriate for the two energetic and sometimes picky six- and seven-year-olds we have. The problem is not that children are forbidden in any of these places, but the menus simply aren’t appropriate. We have difficulty getting them to eat anything other than mac and cheese. Do you really think we’re going to convince them that “smoked tofu, miso eggplant, bok choy, coco rice, hoisin, slow poached egg (Marrow)” is a good thing to try? As much as it costs to eat out, the last thing you want is the kids sitting there picking at expensive food they won’t eat.
- Menus that make no sense. One of the things I really dislike is not having some general sense of what I’m eating. If I have to sit at the table and Google items on the menu to see what they are, we have a problem. Consider this description of an “Okonomiyaki Burger” at Rook: duck egg / leeks / caramelized onions / Tulip Tree Foxglove / shoestring potato / foie mayo. I’m still trying to figure out where the hell the burger is in all that. Is it beef? Mixed meat? Vegan? And I’m Googling “Tulip Tree Foxglove” and “foie mayo.” At $17, I kinda want to know what to expect before I put my order in.
- Indigestion. I’m old. Stomach problems run in our family. A number of popular restaurants make their name on dishes that are spicy. As much as I may want to try those delightful looking dishes, I don’t dare. I won’t sleep for three days if I do. My stomach simply cannot handle anything too terribly spicy. This condition only gets worse over time, and no, popping an antacid doesn’t help. Who wants to spend money on moderately bland food?
- Cost. I’ll admit that a lot of the trendy restaurants are not nearly as expensive as the more traditional steak houses such as St. Elmo’s or Ruth Chris’. Depending on one’s menu and drink choices, one can reasonably eat for less than $20 a person, plus tip. Not bad, really. Unfortunately, the realistic penny-pinching side of me looks at the $50 I might drop on dinner for Kat and me and know that I could buy a week’s worth of groceries for the same amount, and have leftovers (yeah, I’m that good), and manage to get the kids to eat everything on their plates at least five of the seven nights. It’s difficult to enjoy good food when you’re racked with guilt.
I’ve not lived in rural Oklahoma for a very long time, but at the end of the day, I’m still a country boy whose best friend in the kitchen is my cast iron skillet. I don’t need exotic ingredients when I can just pick fresh veggies from the garden. I don’t need a cheese whose name is longer than mine and I damn sure don’t need my asparagus shaved. While I enjoy trying new foods, especially those related to a specific culture, I still want food that doesn’t require a degree in food science to appreciate.
Unless someone else is picking up me and the bill, I’m not likely to ever dine at any of those super cool places Condé Nast Traveler thinks I shouldn’t miss. That’s rather sad. I want to be part of the cool crowd; I just don’t want to take leave of my senses to do so. Not being a food fanatic in a city that is crazy about food rather sucks at times, but hey, I know a great place where the chicken is pan fried, the gravy is from scratch, and the greens have just the right amount of kick; it’s called my kitchen. Just give me a yell before you stop by.