Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Interesting, Intriguing and Pleasing Indianapolis

Midwest City Full of Swagger and Satisfaction

Why are you going to Indianapolis? My four friends and I were asked that question every time we told someone where our 8th annual “Waiting to Exhale Trip” was going to take place. We are a melting pot of cultures, which includes New Orleans, Los Angeles and Jamaica. We brought with us our traditions and expectations for everything from food to entertainment, scenery and shopping. Indianapolis is nothing like Miami, Chicago, New York or Vegas, which are all places we’ve been in the past. However, it should pop up on your radar as a vacation spot because Indy offers everything many popular cities offer but the Midwest twist is at a more relaxed pace. Imagine Baltimore minus terrible traffic and its famous waterfront and you have Indianapolis. There is enough to do in the city to hold your attention, respect your wallet and satisfy your appetite.

The main strip in downtown Indianapolis is South Meridian Street. In a four block radius you’ll find a three level shopping mall, five night clubs, a comedy club and at least ten restaurants, some local and others chain restaurants. Hotels dot the strip as well. The Homewood Suites hotel, however, is likely the best option because the rooms are spacious with two full beds, two flat screen TVs, a mini-kitchen, sofa bed and free wireless connection. The hotel is only three years old. It has a computer room for guests, an indoor pool, laundry room and restaurant, which serves continental breakfast every morning.

Our happy shopping feet took us to The Circle Centre shopping mall. It is directly across the street from Homewood Suites. The mall has three levels and whether you want to splurge or sporadically shop, you’ll be pleased. Flagship stores like Nordstrom, Express, Coach and Ann Taylor, as well as the trendy stops like Forever 21, The Gap and Bakers Shoes are all tenants.

The city’s service industry deserves a salute. During our four- day visit, we noticed at every store and restaurant, staff members embodied the perfect balance between helping customers and doing their jobs in a respectable way. “The clerks in the mall knew how to help you without being overbearing,” says Natalie Bell, a California native. “There’s nothing I hate more than being followed around in a store,” she adds. During a shoe shopping trip at Nordstrom, a store clerk overheard our conversation about finding a great steakhouse. He called and personally made our reservation at St. Elmo. It’s a staple in the city for its Italian roots and steak recipes that are superb.

The white table cloth, brown leather chairs and carpeted private room steakhouse restaurant, where servers wear suits and bow ties could likely battle it out with any Texas steakhouse. The steaks were cooked exactly the way they were ordered, seasoned with the perfect blend of salt, pepper and house secret seasonings and their famous shrimp cocktail is not for tourists with a mild palate. “Oh my goodness that cocktail sauce was good but it was very hot,” says Johnette Dillon, a New Orleans native. If you can’t finish the food, like Dillon was unable to put away her T-bone steak, servers personally box up your leftovers.

Maxine’s Chicken and Waffles is another tasty Indy surprise. The restaurant’s menu, flavor and atmosphere prove you don’t have to have roots southern roots to know how to hit someone’s soul food spot just right. “We usually notice when people are full and satisfied here because they just lean back in their seats,” says Donniece Owens, restaurant manager. “We just put together a bunch of our family recipes in a book and we cook from that book only,” adds Owens. The strawberry waffle, with peach homemade butter and deep fried chicken wings was just as good as the fried catfish and collard greens. Of course, you can’t go to a soul food restaurant without grabbing a serving of homemade peach cobbler.

The crust on the cobbler kept its consistency, even after being reheated twice. The one-year-old restaurant is a family business that prides itself on cooking everything fresh and being able to give customers great tasting food without using pork products, a seasoning kick usually put in soul food dishes. They have a very diverse staff and the restaurant is about 10 minutes away from downtown. “I just love their salmon croquettes,” says Natalie Bell, a California native. “It’s been a real long time since I’ve had that and Maxine’s fried green tomatoes were just excellent. I’d definitely go back,” she adds. We ate at Maxine’s Chicken and Waffles two of our four days in Indianapolis.

After eating at some of the best restaurants in the city, we definitely had to experience Indy’s nightlife. Howl at the Moon is a combination of a piano and karaoke bar. Customers enjoy bar food, drink and give staff a tip to play and sing their favorite song on a piano. There’s nothing like hearing R. Kelly hits and seeing the crowd go wild and keep the energy flowing, when it’s time for a string of hits by the Dave Matthews Band and Lee Greenwood. For some songs, there’s a full band with a guitarist, violinist, drummer and trumpet player who accompany the pianist.

As for actually dancing to music, the Saturday spot as recommended by locals is Blu. The club is setup rather interesting because when you walk in you are essentially on the intimate dance floor. There’s little seating available, unless you shell out some VIP cash for access to one of the two upper rooms. However, for what Blu lacks in traditional club design, its DJ, DJ Limelight makes up for with his ability to mix, scratch and infuse hip-hop, reggae and 70s hits. “I loved the music but I could only stand for an hour,” says Bell. “The DJ was great,” says Tanassa Wilson, a California native. “His (the DJ) mixes of throwback hits and some of the hottest music from Lil Wayne to Jay Z, Beyonce and Ludacris definitely put Indy on the map in my opinion. I enjoyed myself,” she adds.

After every party comes the after party. For our group that meant winding down at a local spa. The Villa is about a 10-minute drive away from downtown Indianapolis. Our one-hour services of body scrubs and massages were comparable to spa treatments in New York, Chicago and Houston. The spa in Indy however, is an old restored Victorian house that also has a quaint restaurant, where we enjoyed their delicious spicy shrimp and pasta dish. “I really like the spicy shrimp dish. It’s the best food I’ve had in the Midwest,” says Dillon.

On a scale of one to 10, Indianapolis gets a nine. “The residents were very nice here and that blew me away because they were a lot friendlier than people in places we’ve been in the past,” says Tanya Evans, a native of Jamaica. “The city certainly had a hometown feel to it and I love that because when you’re on vacation you want to feel like the people in the city want you in the city,” says Bell.

If smoking in public places was prohibited, Indy would be perfect in our vacation book. A souvenir shop in the mall or on the strip downtown is also something we did not find, so we were limited to what was available at the airport.

The group photo appears courtesy of Scott Romer Photography, http://www.scottromerphoto.com/.
Please forward all comments about this story to newsheels@gmail.com.


  1. much love to all my sisters..WTE 09

  2. Wow, sounds like you all found excitement in an unexpected place! Your experiences have peaked my interest in visiting Indianapolis...thanks for the tips. The article adds pizzaz to a less talked about city!


  3. Your article & pictures painted the perfect picture of Indianapolis. Great Job!