If Grand Rapids was the gentle small town reminder of my Midwestern roots and why this part of the country is just so darn livable, Indianapolis was that pause and a “huh” you drop when you step into a city in “fly over country” and are taken back by a sprawling, diverse urban landscape. Gentrification ain’t just a real estate buzz word in Brooklyn, San Francisco or Silver Lake(LA), it is happening wherever it can. Case in point: Goose The Market. Like so many places we featured in Season Two of Cheap Eats, this beaut of an artisanal butcher shop and deli was fueled by a dream, funded with modest means and holds a zip code that might drive your car insurance rates up. Or at least it did; the neighborhood that Goose calls nest(or home) is Fall Creek Place, and like the Indy food scene, its an up and comer. Being in a Midwest city, we knew there would be some iconic Meat and Potato fare to be had. But there were a few “pause and a huh” moments to be had in the form of some Asian eats that would be a stand out in San Fran, along with with some chef driven, farm to table Midwest fare that you knew was going play a lead role in your Indy diet. Speaking of diets, it’s time to put yours on pause and peep the Cheap Eats in Indianapolis.

The Vitals:
the spot: Milktooth 534 Virgina Ave Indianapolis IN 46203
the eats:  Sourdough Pearl Sugar Waffle
the bucks: $10
the full nelson: Bon Appetit hailed Milktooth as one of the best of 2015. And you can afford it. So go.

A quick glance at Milktooth’s brunch offerings will bring back memories of your last three or four disappointing dinners, as you realize all that chef driven creativity and mouth watering farm to table ingredient ended up on the menu at Milktooth. It is one thing to stumble upon a trendy new restaurant in a trendy new neighborhood. It is wholly another to find a place that takes food as seriously as the millennials seated next to you take Sunday Funday. And speaking of Fundays on a Sunday, you will surely have one if you indulge in one of their craft cocktails. Some of us may now have to choose whether we want to stay in on Saturday night, so we can go out all day on Sunday, but for those with more stamina, you can keep the convo on craft bitters going from Saturday night into Sunday morning at Milktooth because their bar program is right up there with the best of the bar scene today. Beyond the booze, the Sourdough Pearl Sugar Waffle we featured was an upscale departure from any classic diner version you have ever had. Those large lumps of sugar that caramelize in the Belgian shaped iron are indeed worthy of its top menu billing. Being such a savory guy, it should come as no surprise that my favorite part of brunch is lunch. So I had to snap a shot of a burger special Milktooth was featuring that day; their version of a Big Mac. I wrote about a fascinating take on a Big Mac back in 2015, but at just under $4, the noticeable upgrades were modest. Expect this Big Mac to be anything but. On it’s own, Milktooth would have been a big find. Luckily for us, it was only breakfast and our day was just getting started.

The Vitals:
the spot: Goose the Market 2503 North Delaware Street Indianapolis IN 46205
the eats:  the Batali
the bucks: $10
the full nelson: A stunner of a salumeria and butcher. Oh and probably the best Italian Hoagie in America. 

Straight up, if lived in Indy, I would hit up Goose the Market on the weekly. Now, $10 for a lunch isn’t the best example of Cheap Eats livin’ BUT if you factor in a stop at the butcher’s for some premium cuts at relatively reasonable prices, add the gas/mileage/time saved – you know, the two birds with one stone thing, and you got the Cheap Eats lifestyle dialed in. Fact is, you owe it to yourself to enjoy the fleshy fruits of Goose the Market. I have been to many a butcher in my day and believe me when I say Goose the Market is a special one. They source excellent local meat, get adventurous with exotic cuts like bavette and picahna, go bananas with sausage, honestly I could go on and on, Chris Eley, the man behind it all, certainly does. Now let’s talk charcuterie. You know, the coarse ground cased meat you probably first encountered at Subway, or if you were relatively more lucky, at the supermarket with the Boar’s Head Marquee looming above you. Well this stuff is just beyond all that. Snooty cured meat fanatics may think the best is only the imported stuff. To them, I say open your eyes and mouths to Olli, La Quercia, Creminelli and Goose the Market. There is indeed find cured meat making happening right here in the good Ole US ‘o A. No need to make salami great again in America folks, it is full on happening. But even with the best cured meats in the world, a brilliant sandwich is built by thoughtful design as much as quality ingredient. Good bread is becoming more common, so tipping the cap to the roll at Goose isn’t nearly as earth shattering as how Chris Eley solved the riddle of how tomatoes can kill a sandwich. I have found that an out of season tomato can absolutely wreck the carefully aged nuanced flavors of prosciutto. Chris’s solution is to make a reserve from tomatoes, thereby preserving the sugar and tart flavor profiles, good to go at any time of year. And he uses an in house giardiniera: the pickled vegetable condiment that famously graces the sammies in Chicago. He of course makes all the meats but the key here is what he chooses in the Batali: coppa, capicolla and sopressatta. All of these meats are strong from a flavor and texture standpoint. As much as I love prosciutto, it gets lost in a sandwich that showcases other meats and certainly gets drowned out when dressed with giardiniera. The result of all this thoughtful sandwich thinking is a standout Italian hoagie that will inevitably raise your bar for what is possible with lunch. Oh and you also just picked up a few steaks for tomorrow’s BBQ. That’s Cheap Eats for #winning.

The Vitals:
the spot: Ezra’s Enlightened Cafe 6516 Ferguson Street Indianapolis IN 46220
the eats:  Key Lime “Cheesecake”
the bucks: $7
the full nelson: Raw and Vegan can actually be indulgent. 

I eat a lot of meat. Probably too much. In my normal life I practice restraint in order to maintain a healthy balance, but I would like to do with my daily diet is to incorporate more diversity. For me, raw and vegan means going without; like having a banana for breakfast. But raw and vegan can be an exercise in indulgence and this Key Lime Cheesecake is exactly that. To be honest, I really don’t like Key Lime Cheesecake and with this being raw and vegan, well let’s just say I had the bar set low. To my surprise, exactly what made this vegan, was exactly why I enjoyed it so much: the flavor pairing of lime with coconut. Being a vegan dish, cream cheese is out of the picture, coconut milk becomes the substitute and being a major Thai food fan, the pairing with lime was blissful. It is also amazing what you can do with a Vitamix, the high powered blender that is a favorite among smoothie operations and places like Ezra’s. That blender and some almonds will yield a perfect Key Lime Cheesecake crust. Honestly people, unless your palate is tuned to the 9s, you might never have noticed that this Key Lime Cheesecake was raw and vegan. Whether this is your everyday lifestyle or if you are looking to turn over a new leaf(get it?), Ezra’s is a Cheap Eats that your body will surely thank you for.

The Vitals:
the spot: The Tie Dye Grill 1311 North Shadeland Ave Suite B Indianapolis IN 46219
the eats:  Breaded Pork Tenderloin
the bucks: $7.95
the full nelson: An Indy/Midwest sandwich ICON

The breaded pork tenderloin sandwich is a Midwest food icon. Indy has mad love for it and they aren’t alone: the sandwich is revered in KC, Iowa and Central Illinois. It would be a safe bet to assume the Breaded Pork Tenderloin sandwich is some distant cousin to Weiner Schnitzel thanks to 19th century German immigrants. However, when you pick one up, you literally feel the weight of America’s abundance of food. Tie Dye Grill was my first BRP adventure and a first timer couldn’t have asked for a better tour guide than Chad Stearns. Chad is exactly the kinda chef Cheap Eats looks for: exuberant and happy to show off the quality and value going on at his restaurant. The happy crowds of regulars, tables of families indulging on a weeknight dinner tells you that this joint serves up serious bang for your food buck. The only hard part about getting a Breaded Pork Tenderloin at Tie Dye Grill is whether you dress it traditionally with mustard, onion and pickle or go with lettuce, tomato and mayo. The former serves for better flavor contrast, the latter makes for an unadulterated comfort food experience. I supposed you could call these types of issues first world problems; Cheap Eats calls it dinner for $8.

The Vitals:
the spot: Rook 501 Virgina Ave Suite 101 Indianapolis IN 46203
the eats:  Lumpia, Steamed Buns, Thai Sour Sausage Dumplings, Bulgogi Bi Bim Bap
the bucks: $6, $4-5, $6, mkt
the full nelson: Asian street food in Indy that would make a foodie on either coast jealous

Rook is one of those restaurants that screams loudly about how adventurous we have become as eaters in this current food revolution of ours. With a menu that drifts from one Asian country into another, small plates for around $5 and larger plates in the mid teens, Rook is indeed a find: exotic, cheap, and its in freaking Indianapolis. Maybe it’s the 20 years in LA that made me think that the Midwest had not kept up with the coasts, but there sure weren’t places like this in St. Louis, crica the mid 90s. There will be some that might cry foul because Rook may not be “authentic”, a critique I don’t have the authority to give. But “authenticity” in this case plays second fiddle to signs that food scenes are becoming more diverse than ever, and that is something that should welcomed with open arms.

The Vitals:
the spot: Public Greens 900 E. 64th Street Indianapolis IN 46220
the eats:  Fried Chicken, open face fried pork tenderloin sandwich
the bucks: $12 respectively
the full nelson: Indiana Farm to Table served fast

Years of working at offices with catered lunches(and before you think I was that spoiled, yours truly did the ordering) allow me to identify those kinds of lunch spots that have recognized a need for quality dining done quickly and on a reasonable budget. In LA, Mendocino Farms serves as a perfect example: a balance of healthy, quality ingredients and a menu that starts at salads and indulgently ends with a chef driven cheesesteak, that can be ordered en masse and served quickly. Such a place would be deemed a lunch salvation for someone(me) who has to feed the bellies of grumpy executives. Public Greens is one of those places and it is a nice place to dine in as well. Looking at their menu makes you realize what a perfect storm Farm to Table becomes in the heart of American Farmland. Their take on a Breaded Pork Tenderloin was tempting but what stole the show was the Fried Chicken or rather the rice and beans that I got with the fried chicken. In many great Fried Chicken joints, sides remain sides, a little extra filler. But the rice and beans at Public Greens were truly on point: rice al dente and just tender beans means EVERYTHING is cooked with care. Not the cheapest place in the world nor the place you might choose for an anniversary dinner, Public Greens is a middle ground where quality food can be had at a relatively more affordable price point. And it just might keep a few grumpy executives off your back, for the rest of the day anyways.

 

Like Grand Rapids, I had no real expectations for Indianapolis. The Phish show I strolled into back in 1996 that came with a meal at Johnny Rockets, was the full extent of my Indy experience prior to this visit. And of course I reflect far wiser about a city that is the second most populated in the Midwest(after Chicago). Indy is very much the American city you would expect it to be. They love their food and yes, it is hearty with a soft spot for meat and potatoes. But it is also a changing city in 2017(then 2016) and plenty of delicious trends are simmering here. Still, with all the changes that are happening in the food world, Indy’s food scene has this inescapable feeling of hoosier pride. And while my next visit might highlight a South East Asian food truck or a Nigerian Mom and Pop restaurant, I know a Breaded Pork Tenderloin sandwich will be in there as well. Indianapolis is an exciting food city these days and it will also stay forever Indy.

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