When Super Bowl XLVI kicked off in Indianapolis on Feb. 5, 2012, the New York Giants outscored the New England Patriots 21-17. Watched by an estimated 166.8 million, Super Bowl also showed some of what Indianapolis has to offer – a fantastic playbook of restaurants, hotels, bars, attractions and Hoosier hospitality.
In Indianapolis, sports are much more than a tradition – they are a passion. A sea of blue and white swarms over downtown Indianapolis when Colts play at Lucas Oil Stadium. Opened in 2008, the multi-purpose stadium has a prime location – smack dab downtown.
One of the best ways to enjoy a game is to get a downtown hotel room, walk to the stadium and drop in one of the numerous bars and restaurants to celebrate. Indianapolis has more than 200 downtown restaurants so there is sure to be something that satisfies taste buds.
A legendary pleaser is St. Elmo Steak House, an Indianapolis tradition since 1902. Local lore says the famous St. Elmo shrimp cocktail helped Indianapolis win its bid to host Super Bowl 2012.
St. Elmo was where media camped out and fans craned their necks to glimpse gridiron stars and celebrities. Three blocks from the stadium, St. Elmo hosted all three Mannings – beloved former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, Giants quarterback Eli Manning and their father Archie Manning – before the game. And Super Bowl winning quarterback Eli dined at St. Elmo leading up to the game – at the same time as losing quarterback Tom Brady. Sports stories sure abound!
St. Elmo Steak House
An Indy tradition since 1902, St. Elmo Steak House was named for the patron saint of sailors.
The turn-of-the-20th-century Chicago saloon décor has changed little and you know it must be doing something very right to be around this long.
Located in the heart of downtown, St. Elmo is famed for its shrimp cocktail, steak, impeccable service and wine list with the largest cellar in Indiana – about 20,000 bottles of wine.
If walls could talk, St. Elmo could tell some mighty interesting tales about the well-known people who have dined here.
St. Elmo's also has some divine Indiana pork chops and Amish chicken. In fact, St. Elmo's prides itself on using more than a dozen local food producers.
St. Elmo was honored in 2012 by the James Beard Foundation as one of America's Classics and by Forbes as one of the world's "10 Great Classic Restaurants Well Worth Visiting." (317-635-0636)
Oceanaire Seafood Room
The sleek décor of Oceanaire Seafood Room takes its inspiration from 1930s ocean liners. But the fresh seafood flown in daily from around the world is the real star here.
Landlocked Indianapolis has been enjoying Oceanaire's quality seafood since the downtown restaurant opened in September of 2003. The menu changes daily based on fresh catches of the day. Seafood is prepared in a multitude of ways. Servings are huge and side dishes are served for the table to share.
It's listed under "Cold Appetizers" but the chilled shellfish platter is a mighty towering sampler from includes shrimp, King Crab legs, lobster and fresh oysters.
Start off with champagne cocktail or special Oceanaire (Absolut Vodka, Blue Curacao and white cranberry juice) in the open bar, enjoy the delicious oyster bar or slide into a horseshoe booth to leisurely dine on a seafood dinner. Oceanaire also offers steak, pork chops and chicken. (317-955-2277)
Indianapolis Colts Grille
How can a Colts fan resist? Cheer on the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium then stop by the Indianapolis Colts Grille to celebrate. Or without game tickets, this is about as close as you can get to the NFL action.
A state-of-the-art sports restaurant, the Colts Grille has walls adorned with Colts photos, memorabilia and autographed notes from players. Even the ketchup has a Colts label on it.
With 66 high-definition flat screen TVs, it's easy to catch all the action including sitting outside where TVs also are located. There is even a unique glass window over urinals in the men's room so guys can see bar TVs. The one-way dark glass allows gents to see out but no one can see in.
The menu has some good choices, from burgers and "the ultimate" cheese and mac (with crispy bread crumb crust, bacon, three cheeses, tomato) to seafood and steaks. ((317) 631-2007)
Even longtime foodies can surprise their palates at Cerulean where presentation and taste are both an art. Opened in November of 2012 in the new CityWay development, Cerulean is the in-house treasure of the beautifully artistic Alexander Hotel.
Chef and owner Caleb France presents fine dining with an emphasis on Midwest ingredients, including products from local farms. The fearless chef has said that his menus "will highlight the rediscovery of heirloom ingredients while exploring creative cooking and preservation techniques."
The result is divine. For a heavenly choice, try the squash risotto with wild mushrooms, local squash, quail egg, tomato and edible flower. For dessert, savor the Sweet Bento Box of sugary nibbles.
For lunch, menu offerings are served in modern bento boxes with one main and three sides.
The menus themselves are a work of art - a neat combination of vellum paper, walnut, felt and black screwposts. ((317) 870-1320)
Iaria's Italian Restaurant
Family owned since 1933, Iaria's Italian Restaurant serves southern Italy-style food featuring homemade sauce and pizza. Now in its fourth generation of family members, Iaria's still cooks spaghetti sauce with Mama Antonia's recipe.
Plenty of pasta dinners are offered along with traditional pizza pies. Standards like spaghetti and meatballs are popular as well as a hearty array of meat-filled sandwiches and the signature chicken piccata. Servings are often so large that diners take home leftovers.
A full bar and a selection of traditional Italian desserts like spumoni and tiramisu are icing on the cake.
Loyal locals who came to the restaurant with their parents decades ago are now bringing their children and grandchildren. It's that kind of place. Décor a bit outdated. Noise sometimes a bit much. Servers can be rushed. But for some it's a family tradition. A restaurant can't stay in business this long without doing something right to draw folks back time after time. (317-638-7706)
The Capital Grille
There's mac and cheese. Then there's The Capital Grille mac and cheese. With lobster. Rich, creamy and cheesy, it's served as a side dish but almost enough for an entrée.
No boxed stuff here. It is baked campanelle pasta and fresh lobster meat tossed in a mascarpone, Havarti and Grana Padano cream sauce topped with panko crumbs and grated white cheddar.
Or there's the signature appetizer of calamari with hot cherry peppers pan fried crisp and golden with a fiery flavor. For an interesting thirst quencher, try the housemade grapefruit soda.
Since The Capital Grille is located in the Conrad Indianapolis hotel, you know it's something special. It is a fine dining restaurant that is both comfy and elegant. Rich African mahogany paneling and soft lighting from art deco chandeliers create a warm setting.
Dining is also available in the lounge or outdoor patio. An award-winning wine list offers more than 350 wines. (317-423-8790)
Shula's Steak House Indianapolis
Seems appropriate on NFL game day to dine at a popular steakhouse named after legendary Dolphin's coach Don Shula. Of course, it takes more than name power to be dubbed "One of America's Best Steak Houses."
Located in Westin Indianapolis Hotel, the restaurant is themed after the 1972 Miami Dolphin's "Perfect Season" – the only team in NFL history to finish a season undefeated. Shula currently holds the NFL record for most career wins with 347.
The dining room is surrounded by windows overlooking Indiana State Capital. Steak menus are hand painted on official NFL game footballs. The restaurant serves Premium Black Angus Beef as well as fresh seafood including a four-pound Maine lobster, plus lamb and poultry.
One of the featured entrees is a 48-ounce porterhouse. Those who finish it join Shula's 48-Ounce Club, which currently has more than 26,000 members. Wonder how many of those are football players? (317-231-3900)
The big blue JW Marriott in downtown Indy has another great reason to draw guests. The hotel's Italian restaurant, Osteria Pronto, offers some delicious cuisine.
The restaurant's Tuscany-inspired décor is elegantly comfortable without being stuffy.
Osteria in Italian means tavern or neighborhood gathering spot. Pronto means ready.
The man in the kitchen has some mighty impressive credentials. Chef Rino Baglio was born in Italy, studied at the prestigious Cordon Bleu in Paris and at 23 became the youngest chef to be given the title Master Chef by the Federation of Italian Chefs. He later became the personal chef to Princess Caroline of Monaco.
The menu is a joy to read. No bad choices here. Entrees such as salmon, sea bass, chicken, lamb chops, veal and beef tenderloin are all tasty. Finish off with classic tiramisu and a full-flavored grappa. Osteria Pronto has a full bar and extensive wine list. (3178605777)
The Libertine had been open less than two years when it was named in May 2013 by Esquire magazine as one of its Best Bars in America. The bar's many devoted fans sure agree with that honor. Creative cocktails? Most certainly. Delicious food? Absolutely. Unique atmosphere? Hard to describe – classy, hipster, chic, cool.
Those adjectives all fit the downtown place with the long narrow bar, twinkling lights and whitewashed tree sprouting from a wall. The name itself lets you know this is not a typical neighborhood bar. Owned by talented chef Neal Brown, The Libertine notes that it "celebrates the untamed, pioneering American Spirit with a focus on classic cocktails, craft distillers, boutique wines and an ever-evolving menu to best accompany them."
Save time to savor the menus. The changing cuisine choices might include such delights as the Bacon Flight – three varieties of bacon from Indy's own meatery the Smoking Goose. Or the fresh chorizo with polenta.
For some scrumptious sampling, visit with friends and share several small plates. Hard to pick a favorite.
Cocktails are made with craft liquors and the menu identifies the drink creator as well as the year and the place, such as the Screw & Bolt created by Neal Brown in Indy in 2011. It contains Small's Gin, grapefruit, neroli, tonka and violet. Or the Aviation made by Hugo Ensslin in New York in 1916 with Death's Door Gin, maraschino, Rothman & Winter Crème De Violette and lemon. (317-631-3333)
Harry and Izzy's
The popular offspring of legendary St. Elmo Steakhouse, Harry and Izzy's is named in honor of St. Elmo's fathers – Harry Roth and Isadore Rosen. Although it does feature the famous St. Elmo's shrimp cocktail with its spicy fresh horseradish, Harry and Izzy's doesn't try to be just like daddy. The newer place has a menu of its own and more casual decor.
An airy classy restaurant, Harry and Izzy's offers fare from burgers and pizza to lamb chops and a huge 14-ounce Izzy Style New York strip steak, rolled in cracked peppercorn, pan-seared and served with orange brandy butter sauce. Garbage Salad is a meal in itself with shrimp, Italian meats, cheese and garden vegetables.
The lively circular bar with dark wood paneling and old-timey speakeasy vibe is the center of action. Dining rooms are a bit more subdued. The restaurant is co-owned by beloved former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. (317-635-9594)
About Jackie Sheckler Finch
When Jackie Sheckler Finch moved to Indiana from Massachusetts more than two decades ago, she was asked to say hello to Larry Bird. The famous “Hick from French Lick” and former Boston Celtic now works with the Indianapolis Pacers. But Jackie has yet to meet the hoops star in person.
A proud Hoosier, Jackie has written about 20 travel guidebooks, including The Insider’s Guide to Indianapolis (Globe Pequot) and the app Indianapolis Insider (Sutro Media).
A member of the Society of American Travel Writers, Jackie has been named Travel Writer of the Year by Midwest Travel Writers a record five times.
Read more about Jackie Sheckler Finch here.
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