Amer­i­can Dreamer

In In­di­anapo­lis, Sara Wax­man dis­cov­ers a city with a gen­eros­ity of spirit - for arts, cul­ture and each other

DINE and Destinations - - SARA SAYS: WHERE TO DINE NOW - www.vis­itindy.com

IN­DI­ANAPO­LIS IS A CUL­TURE SHOCK to an eastern big-city dweller. It is brim­ming with friendly mid-west­ern hos­pi­tal­ity, a trait that else­where might be looked on with sus­pi­cion. The stars and stripes fly from homes and pa­tri­o­tism is in­grained. On Sun­day evenings, there are Porch Par­ties, where neigh­bours visit each other’s “rock­ing chair” porches. Gen­eros­ity of spirit is a fact of life here. Its cor­po­ra­tions are phi­lan­thropy driven, and cre­ate cul­tural land­marks and events that en­rich “Nap­town,” as it’s fondly called by its res­i­dents. One of the world’s most “live­able” cities, In­di­anapo­lis is a place where it is still pos­si­ble to ful­fil the Amer­i­can Dream.

Wait­ing for a traf­fic light to change, I see a plaque em­bed­ded in the side­walk: “In­di­anapo­lis Cul­tural Trail A Legacy of Gene & Mar­i­lyn Glick.” What a novel idea, an ad­junct lane to the side­walk for bik­ing, jog­ging or walk­ing, rather than a bike lane on the street. Sixty three mil­lion dol­lars was spent on this Cul­tural Trail that con­nects the cul­tural dis­tricts to neigh­bour­hoods, and $26 mil­lion was spent on pub­lic art. And yet, no tax­payer dol­lars were used in th­ese com­mu­nity en­rich­ments. The Trail con­nects cul­tural dis­tricts with neigh­bour­hoods and leads me to the Eiteljorg Mu­seum of Amer­i­can In­di­ans and West­ern Art. The na­tion­ally rec­og­nized Con­tem­po­rary Art Fel­low­ship pro­gram has fur­thered the ca­reers of na­tive artists. The cur­rent ex­hibit is heart-warm­ing.

Dogs: Faith­ful and True, ex­plores the en­dur­ing pres­ence and con­tri­bu­tions of dogs as com­pan­ions, work­ers and he­roes.

The Eli Lilly Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany, head­quar­tered in In­di­anapo­lis, is known for much more than Cialis and Prozac. A quick 10 min­utes from town, the hid­den 100acre Vir­ginia B. Fair­banks Art and Na­ture Park and “Old­fields” Lilly House and Gar­dens is both a beau­ti­ful drive and a walk. Lilly has contributed greatly to the en­hance­ment of the city. The Mu­seum of Art has taken Robert In­di­ana’s weather-worn “LOVE” sculp­ture inside for some much needed TLC and in­stalled it near the en­trance. A team of hor­ti­cul­tur­ists land­scape and care for th­ese 52 acres of grounds. Lo­cal artists have de­signed a Mini Golf course on the grounds with Na­ture as the theme. Looks easy, but just try to get that ball into a whim­si­cal baby di­nosaur.

At the Indy Zoo, I wait in an­tic­i­pa­tion in a cen­tral square for the flock of brightly coloured Ma­caws who have been trained in a flight pat­tern across the Zoo. Spread­ing their enor­mous wings, they zip right over our heads to a sturdy perch where they chat­ter for a few mo­ments be­fore wing­ing back to their aerie. Then it is on to the new $26 mil­lion In­ter­na­tional Orangutan Cen­ter to see the fam­ily and the new baby. I smile at this cutest of crea­tures curled in his moth­ers arm, and I am pos­i­tive that he smiles back.

At its core, this is an agri­cul­tural state, and chefs thrill to or­ganic, qual­ity in­gre­di­ents in their own back yard. Break­fast in a garage? I’m game. Milk­tooth has made an im­pact lo­cally and na­tion­ally be­cause of Chef Jonathan Brooks cre­ative fun with in­gre­di­ents. With cof­fee come pur­ple sweet po­tato dough­nuts. (You won’t find th­ese at Tim’s.) Or­der oat­meal and re­ceive a bowl of ag­gres­sively healthy An­cient Grains Por­ridge with co­conut milk, plum jam, hemp seed and pis­ta­chios. And ba­con, which seems to be a sta­ple at ev­ery ta­ble, is a huge slab, drip­ping with sorghum glaze.

Vida is a new res­tau­rant with a rep­u­ta­tion for a note­wor­thy menu, and an en­tire wall with a hy­dro­ponic gar­den of del­i­cate greens—some of which make up my first course. Servers are well versed in ev­ery es­o­teric nu­ance: silken foie gras comes on but­ter­milk brioche with pick­led plum, port, can­died pecan and con­cord grape re­duc­tion. Beef short­rib goes Asian with udon noo­dles and soy-mush­room broth. I could have the gor­geous home­made bread for dessert, but that’s not en­cour­aged. ST ELMO’S STEAK­HOUSE OPENED IN 1902, and they’ve never had a slow night. Af­ter a century, there was no choice but to ex­pand. Harry & Izzy’s (named af­ter two now-de­ceased own­ers) opened next door, and ex­ceeds all ex­pec­ta­tions. A lus­cious globe of Bur­ratta perched on sturdy greens; a New York Strip Steak that de­fies crit­i­cism, shares the plate with two thin and crispy-de­li­cious po­tato pan­cakes that vie with my mom’s. At the Indy Vic­tory Ban­quet at the JW Mar­riott, guests, in black tie, en­joy cock­tails at Os­te­ria Pronto. Exec Chef Michael Leach, a vet­eran with the chain, takes own­er­ship of the menu with salad cap­rese; filet of beef and jumbo prawns; dessert is in­di­vid­ual Sacher torte. It’s an ex­am­ple of his hon­est menu that full­fils the needs of an in­ter­na­tional clien­tele. Be­fore head­ing to the air­port and home, we stop at the Loft Res­tau­rant at Trader­s­point Cream­ery for a real farm lunch. A cheese board of Aged Ar­ti­san Col­lec­tion, in­clud­ing Fleur de la Terre and Sheet’s Creek Ched­dar made with 100 per­cent or­ganic grass-fed milk, served with gar­den fresh vegeta­bles, fig jam and kitchen-made bread is farm to ta­ble in the truest sense. This is food raised in har­mony with the land, and you can bet, de­voured with ap­pre­ci­a­tion. And yet, there is so much I did not get to do! I didn't Cross the Bricks at 200 mph with Mario An­dretti; nor did I cruise along the canal, sip­ping cham­pagne in a Gon­dola with a singing Gon­dolier. Next time. Next time.

In­di­anapo­lis—the cross roads of Amer­ica

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