Locals Know Best: Indianapolis

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Rudi1976/Dreamstime

There's no better guide to a city than someone who lives there, so we asked Karen E. Laine and her daughter Mina Starsiak Hawk, stars of HGTV's "Good Bones," for their take on culture, food, and drink in the town they call home.

Indianapolis doesn’t like to beat its own chest, but the city has a lot to boast about. There are the varied cultural institutions, culinary traditions as well as progressive restaurants, green spaces, and its early 20th century status as a manufacturing hub that rivaled Detroit. However, Indy has long been known for just a few things: car racing, NFL powerhouses the Colts, and native sons David Letterman and Kurt Vonnegut. These days it’s increasingly known for Karen E. Laine and Mina Starsiak Hawk, the local mother/daughter team that hosts “Good Bones” on HGTV. In the show, they go around Indy fixing up dilapidated, neglected houses. You might even say they are on a beautification crusade to rehab the city they know and love, neighborhood by neighborhood. We met up with them when they were in New York City to get the lowdown on where to eat, drink, play, and hangout in Indy. 

HAPPY MEALS

Karen and Mina, whose show evolved from the fixer-upper business they started in 2007 called Two Chicks and a Hammer, play their mother/daughter roles with natural ease on the show, disagreements included. When you meet them in person, they’ll tell you that there are a lot of things they don’t agree on off-camera, too. Bluebeard, however, is a recommendation they agree on wholeheartedly. It’s one of the older restaurants in Fletcher Place, an historic residential neighborhood with a bustling commercial core. Among the many memorable dishes at this farmhouse-chic, locally minded restaurant is an indulgent grilled cheese breakfast sandwich with a sunnyside-up egg and truffle honey, which Mina describes with the giddiness of someone talking about a recent tropical vacation. It’s nearby sister restaurant is Milktooth, a bustling, airy breakfast and lunch eatery with a diner-style counter. Mina’s friend from high school’s father owns them both, and these kinds of connections are a dime a dozen in town.

“Indy has a small-town feel, even though it’s a big city,” Mina says. “Everyone know everyone.”

Kinda like what happens when Karen visits her favorite coffee shop, Calvin Fletcher’s, which is owned and run by a father and his son. “If you go there twice, they’ll know your order and your name.”

Or consider Rook, a popular spot for traditional Filipino food. The chef here is Carlos Salazar, and Mina worked with him when he was had a less glamorous role in the kitchen and she was waiting tables. And as far as his menus today, “I don’t even have words,” she says as a look of bliss washing over her face.

Any city worth its salt in food culture has locals that will hold one restaurant’s burger in higher esteem than all the rest. For Karen, that supreme burger is served at Ember, where longtime waitress Shelly knows what she wants before Karen even orders. That’s usually the cheese burger, served with lettuce that’s cold and crispy and fries that are always hot and crispy. Or wait—maybe it’s the burger at Kuma’s Corner, an outpost of a rock’n’roll Chicago restaurant known for its giant patties served on a big pretzel bun. “Their burgers are transcendent,” Karen declares. “You can get it with egg, cheese, onion, but the meat is so good that if you just got a burger with nothing on it, you would not be sad.”

ONE SMALL NEIGHBORHOOD WITH A BIG PERSONALITY

The Indy Cultural Trail, a sleek eight-mile bike path dotted with public art, runs throughout the city connecting downtown to the various neighborhoods, including Fletcher Place and Fountain Square, the walkable community that Karen calls home. Virginia Avenue cuts right through the middle of the neighborhood and when the trail opened, all the businesses along it got a boost. That means most of the spots that Karen called local are now better known. And that’s not a bad thing. She recommends Wildwood Market, a shop in an old gas station specializing in meats, cheese, pickles. Each day they make one sandwich, two soups, and a salad, take it or leave it. Mina recommends taking it. They sell out in an hour. Another option is Pure Eatery, known for its local and natural-minded menu. It was a basic sandwich shop when Karen moved in, and now it’s a full-on restaurant and bar where the breakfast taco menu starts at 10AM, earlier than most other restaurants are open. But the real allure here is the mac’n’cheese, which is essentially a choose-your-own-adventure in decadence. Bacon, cheese, spinach, and more cheese are among the swoon-worthy add-on options.

Bars are easy to come by. You can get a flight of tequila to accompany the excellent Mexican food at La Margarita, but for something really distinctive, check out New Day Craft Meadery, a spacious, kid-friendly spot adorned with local art. They produce an intriguing variety of meads and cider and host regular events, like yoga and the cleverly named Mead & Knead, a night where you can get a massage while you sip.

It’s a lively neighborhood in general, but it gets even livelier on First Fridays, the monthly event when pop-up shops arrive, bands play in the street, and businesses stay open later to accommodate the many people wandering.

Indy’s music scene is represented here, with spots like HiFi, a performance venue and ad hoc gallery. There’s a bar, but no kitchen, so lots of people order from nearby food trucks.

NATURE AWAITS

Indy has one of the biggest city parks in the country. Clocking in at 39,000 acres, Eagle Creek Park is more than four-times the size of New York City’s Central Park. An incredible urban oasis, it features a reservoir where you can rent kayaks or canoes, a six-mile trail along the periphery, and a half-dozen playgrounds. It’s not uncommon to find locals packed into the sheltered picnic tables or scattered throughout the greenspace in nice weather. The smaller Garfield Park, which boarders Fletcher Square, features European-style sunken gardens as well as a pretty greenhouse decorated with fish, birds, and seasonal decorations. There’s live music, including a summer concert season, and since it’s less than ten minutes driving from downtown, there’s no reason not to stop by.

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