Stipulated: the perfect travel time for a three-day weekend getaway is four hours. More, and you waste your vacation. Less, and you’re still near home. Hence our series, The Four-Hour Rule, dedicated to revealing the best destinations that are far away, yet still close to home.
It’s time to expand your road trip repertoire.
Imagine a place less crowded than here. Smack in the middle of the geographical “Crossroads of America.” A destination that surprises, delights and offers — believe it or not — the very best brunch in that America.
That place is called Indianapolis.
Yes, Indy. The city of the corn. Home of the plain-speak prose of Kurt Vonnegut. The land of auto racing and sugar cream pie.
Indy’s still down-home and all that, but new developments like the Indy Cultural Trail — an eight-mile bike and pedestrian path that connects five downtown neighborhoods and opened in 2014 — has ushered in a whole new slew of gems.
Disappointed, we were not. Nor will you be — assuming you know where to look.
In the heart of Downtown, the art-centric Le Meridien Indianapolis offers a convenient location and sophisticated trappings throughout. When we say convenient, we mean it: the hotel is adjacent to one of the city’s most storied restaurants — St. Elmo Steak House, opened in 1902 — and spitting distance from Lucas Oil Stadium, so expect to see a lot of blue ‘round these parts.
Beyond that, you’ll be walking distance from the city’s most happenin’ downtown districts, including Mass Ave. The area’s buzzy nightlife endures at Chatterbox, a proper old-school Indy dive where they’ve got live jazz seven nights a week. You won’t miss it. As for Spoke & Steele — the restaurant found in the hotel lobby — it’s good, but skip dining in. Order room service instead.
Le Meridien Indianapolis, 123 S. Illinois St. (map)
Also check out: Hotel Broad Ripple
100 Acres at the IMA
Indianapolis has a startling amount of public green space for a city that loves the smell of rubber on asphalt. The Canal Walk is an easy favorite, a waterside promenade that leisurely cuts through Downtown and accommodates strollers, bikers and paddle boats. But the perfect launchpad for your shot of nature can be found at the Indiana Museum of Art, where, after a thoughtful game of putt putt, you can cross over to 100 Acres — a lovely nature park bounded by a 35-acre lake with moderate hiking trails and site-specific artworks.
100 Acres at the IMA, 4000 Michigan Rd. (map)
Also check out: Holliday Park
Photo: Andrew Kung/Sophisticated Living
Indy might seem like an unusual place to advocate a vegetable-forward restaurant. Much less a vegetable-forward restaurant housed in a former cottage on a quiet corner in the Herron-Morton neighborhood. But the bustling snap in the air at Tinker Street says otherwise. On the quaint patio, blonde woodwork illuminated by string lights create a calming mood, where locals are buying into chef Braedon Keller’s ingredient-minded menu that flirts with global flavors. For the record: so are we.
Tinker Street, 402 E. 16th St. (map)
Also check out: Blue Beard
Hands down the essential Indy eatery, named one of the best restaurants of the year by Bon Appetit, and it’s only open for brunch. So, what’s going on here? Let’s just say creativity goes a long way. You will not find your cattle call brunch fare here. Instead, you’ll get a Dutch baby pancake covered in honey almond yogurt, caramel corn and puffed rice. Grilled jerk chicken thighs served over rice, beans and twice-fried tostones. A potato and celeriac latke dotted with Heinz ketchup, espresso aioli and bread and butter pickles. The latter tastes like a Chicago hot dog. And that’s not even getting to Milktooth’s pastry program, or coffee program, both creative and exciting in their own right. No reservations. Go after 9:00 a.m. for the full menu. Try not to order everything. That said, it’s totally acceptable to eat all your brunches here.
Milktooth, 534 Virginia Ave. (map)
Also check out: Public Greens
Cocktail enthusiasts will find home at Thunderbird, but not necessarily only cocktail enthusiasts. When we there on a Saturday night, the crowd was humming with all variety of tippler. It’s easy to see why this joint is a popular hang: a solid food menu, a proper wraparound bar to hunker down at, and stiff drinks made with attitude. And since you’re in the area, you might not wanna miss vintage duckpin bowling, or the White Rabbit, a cabaret that puts on nightly shows all week. We call that a nightcap.
Thunderbird, 1127 Shelby St. (map)
Also check out: The Koelschip