GO, MIDWEST!!!! GO, GO, MIDWEST!!!

January 14, 2010 · 13 comments

I was never a cheerleader (although I tried out at least 3 times… took me that long to figure out that a tall, lanky, muscle-less, introverted, near-sighted nerd a cheerleader does not make) — and somehow that’s apparent even when I try to type a cheer. But that’s what the headline is supposed to be: me, cheering, for the Midwest.

I was in my car sometime last weekend (?) and was listening to Marketplace on NPR. They were doing a blurb on food, in Cleveland: the city that prides itself in giving us The Latest Iron Chef, and is apparently a little hotbed of good eats. They were interviewing the chef of a new, hip local-fare restaurant there (can’t remember the chef or the restaurant, but you could probably podcast it to find out), and he had a bold prediction: that the new wave of American culinary artistry was going to happen right here in the Flyover States. That, with all the surging interest in local and sustainable foods, it will be the cities of the Midwest — the ones that are surrounded by pastures and farmland to supply a small restaurant’s every high-quality locally-grown need — that will start to shine.

Oh, please please please please please let him be right. Pretty please, with local raw honey on top. We have farmland, we have pastures, we have a city that desperately needs to be a part of a New Food Order.

I’m not nominating Indianapolis for Trendy Culinary Epicenter, not just yet. But — while I’m still wearing a metaphorical black veil in response to being a full 607 miles from The South’s Culinary Epicenter — we’ve had a couple of dinners out, of late, that have brought hope to our hungry hearts. The first was at a place called Pizzology, a pizzeria and pub in Carmel, a sprawling suburb on the north side of the city.

I heard musings about it a few months ago before it opened — it was started by a couple whose 2-year old is in my son’s preschool co-op. This isn’t the first restaurant venture by the Brown family — they owned an upscale restaurant in Broad Ripple called L’Explorateur, which we heard praised but unfortunately closed before we moved to town. After talking about the premise of Pizzology with Lindy, the co-owner and sommelier, I immediately held onto hope that it would be a void-filler. The story was: Neal Brown, Lindy’s husband and the executive chef, spent time in San Francisco last spring, and had dinner several times at the Neopolitan pizzeria, A16. He fell in love with the craft, began perfecting it himself after returning home to Indy, and set forth on plans for Pizzology. They had the 800º oven, they were going to make all their own cheeses, they were going to source local ingredients. How could this go wrong?

We finally made it there, to see for ourselves, a couple weeks ago, and were in no way disappointed by the food. We were a group of 3 adults and 1 pizza-eating child, so we shared two pizzas (following strict Neopolitan parameters, the pizzas are 13″ in diameter): the Homemade Pepperoni and the “Old Kentucky Rome,” with Kentucky-cured prosciutto, roasted figs, and taleggio. Both pizzas were fantastic — the classic thin, crisp crust with a softness to the middle underside; house-made pepperoni and cheeses; sweet, dark figs that perfectly complemented the salty prosciutto and creamy-but-present taleggio (a cheese I don’t think I’ve had before). The pepperoni pizza was spicy — quite so, to the point that we didn’t think our 6-year old could eat it. But she surprised us, and consumed three pieces without stopping for air (bringing to a grinding halt the oft-used claim that she “can’t eat her dinner because it’s too spicy”).  There is a good selection of beer, and based on Lindy’s reputation as sommelier a good wine list (though I’m not experienced enough to know — I’m currently an expert on Trader Joe’s under-five-dollar selection). Since we make our own pizzas almost every weekend in the winter, we never purchase them at restaurants (or order out). But this pizza — this Italian street food that can only be made in a hellishly-hot oven — I can’t make this. This is pizza that I’ll pay for, and I’ll do so because it is better than mine.

Now, for the drawbacks (because there must be one or two, right?). First, since I live within the city of Indianapolis proper, I don’t really like driving 25 or 30 minutes to get to Carmel (where Pizzology is located). We are just too lazy; we want our pizza, and to eat it close-to-home, too. And really, that’s the main negative. Another question mark of criticism was the atmosphere; while there is a warm and low-key feel to the place, with it’s chalkboard-look wall writings, it overall feels a bit too clean and pub-ish. And yes — it’s a “pizzeria & pub,” — but the atmosphere didn’t quite mesh with the uber-Italian, altogether unique (for Indy) eating experience. The classic rock playing on the restaurant speaker system just underscored the atmospheric mismatch. I don’t think they have to be piping in the Three Tenors — I don’t know what the solution would be — but there was something amiss, between what we were eating and where we were sitting. Lastly, the place is just too small. Since there is a bar, almost half the seating is reserved (by law) for 21-and-older only. That only leaves about 35 seats for patrons who have anyone under 21 (including an infant) at their table. We got there at 5:45, and waited 15 minutes for a table. By the time we left, at around 7:15, people were being told the wait was 1 1/2 hours.  Since they don’t take reservations, that means you need to be willing to eat dinner at either 5:30 or 9:00.  It’s a good problem for them to have — a full restaurant — but I hope they can find ways to accommodate more hungry souls if they’re gonna keep making pizzas that good.

So, the final word? Score one for Indianapolis. The second point came last weekend, at a restaurant downtown called R Bistro — but that night is the subject of another post. From what we’ve gathered since August via anecdotal evidence, it’s not that the city has a void of talented chefs; it’s that the city’s population, as a whole, just doesn’t buy their food when they make it. We’ve heard multiple accounts of really good restaurants (such as the Brown’s L’Explorateur, and Greg Hardesty’s Elements) just not making it. The real disappointment, though, lies in a drive around town, where you can find a sample of just about every national chain restaurant known to the Western world. Indianapolis is a city of chain-food eaters. And this is the uphill battle we are fighting.

But I’m not yet throwing in the towel — I’m holding on tightly to the pom-pom, and my hands are in the air. There is too much interest in the farmer’s markets, too much demand for raw milk, too many customers supporting places like Goose the Market for me to think it’s a losing battle. It might take a decade for us to reach a place similar to where Cleveland is right now, but we’ve got time on our hands, and a budget that could stand a few years to save up for all that good eating to come.

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{ 12 comments }

Rebecca Martin January 14, 2010 at 11:37 am

First Indianapolis, then Blacksburg? Please, say it can be so. We need culinary help here. And I need one of those pizzas.

katy January 14, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Easy solution, RM: take a trip to the Midwest (culinary hotbed that it is), and we can go there ; )

Nicole January 14, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Hello there from an Indy native. I can’t remember how I found your blog a few weeks ago, but I was tickled to learn you are right here and talking about my beloved, if a little behind the times, hometown. Maybe we’re so far behind the times that we’re actually on the cutting edge! At least, that’s what I tell myself when I eat my home-fermented sauerkraut that makes my Swiss born grandfather proud and everyone else we know think I’m weird. :) Anyway, love your writing and sense of humor. The post about Sally Fallon landed you squarely in my favorites – hilarious! I’m on the southside and lament about the drive to either of Indy’s Trader Joe sites. At least there’s the Winter Market downtown now! Keep up the good work. Cheers, Nicole (stay at home wife and mom of 2)

katy January 14, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Nicole — greetings!! I’m so glad you’ve been reading — and even more encouraged that you eat homemade sauerkraut! Don’t you think this town can totally make it happen? I mean, we’re out there — the people who would eat the good food — and it seems we are even bonding together, in a way, at places like the Farmer’s Mkt. We are currently renting in Broad Ripple, so only a 10-minute drive to the east Trader Joe’s; but we don’t know where we’ll be after May, so I might end up in the same boat as you, with a much longer trek. Oh, well — previous to living in Indy, my closest TJ’s was over an hour away, so I’ll take having it in the same city ; )

Angie @ Just Like The Number January 14, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Add me to the cheering section! I wonder if the restaurant in the NPR story was the Greenhouse Tavern?

We’ve been here three years and it still kills me to think about all the great eateries we left behind in Nashville. There is hope, though. I’ve seen some great new places open, like Pizzology, recently. I’ve noticed a subtle change in some attitudes as well. While they’re maybe not so into the ingredients and sustainability of the food they eat, they’re growing tired of the glut of chains and ready to support local businesses. It’s a start, right?

By the way, I had the Old Kentucky Rome pizza when we were there a couple of weeks ago. I enjoyed it, but couldn’t get over the stinkiness. Did anyone else at your table notice? Or are we just cheese weenies?

katy January 15, 2010 at 7:33 am

Angie, Greenhouse Tavern doesn’t ring a bell — it was a new place, I think — just goes to show they have multiple good eateries in Cleveland! I bet you did leave some incredible places behind, in Nashville. I never spent a ton of time there eating out, but with the art/music/money scene it’s not surprising.

I’m with you — I think, or hope, the tides are changing. And about that taleggio — yes, it was on the stinky side. I was mainly surprised by it, but tried to embrace it. I think (for me, not a big stinky-cheese connoisseur) it worked because of the figs.

Liz Wiley January 17, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Katy, I mourn with you. Everywhere we’ve lived over the years has been rich in options for good, quality, original, and satisfying food. But not here. Not the Midwest,at least not yet. And certainly not our little town. The closest we’ve come is a little combo restaurant called Bombay Garden/Greek Eats. Nowhere else would I even consider trying a place that tries to combine Indian and Greek into one restaurant, but it’s the best we’ve got: http://www.bombaygardengreekeats.com/index.html.
I was hopeful about this place called The Barn, rumored to be run completely by the Amish. Not the case. I should have done more research before venturing out, but last year, on a day of desperation, we opted to brave the hour plus trip to get there. All I can say is that it was more like a locally-kitchified Cracker Barrel:
http://www.thebarnrest.com/index.htm
I’ll keep looking, but I’m losing hope. Meanwhile, out of necessity I’ve become a much better cook, and our eating out budget has dropped considerably.

katy January 17, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Liz, the byproduct of cooking more isn’t a bad thing — I’ve felt the same way, and we’ve also greatly reduced our eat-out budget. But it’s so nice to know that options are out there. Did you guys have any luck in Columbus? Isn’t that the closest large city?

Monica January 18, 2010 at 6:52 pm

Well, I’m down here in Austin, so nowhere near the Midwest. But we do have pretty good, local food options! A lot of the chefs at the nicer restaurants get some, if not most, of their food from local farmers. We also have a year-round growing season, so that helps. I get plenty of grass-fed, pasture raised beef, pasture raised chicken (so chickeny!) and eggs, grass-fed raw milk, etc.

I think we are going to have to eat pizza tonight.

katy January 18, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Monica, I’ve heard great things about food in Austin. Consider me jealous.

Kimber January 20, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Hi, Katy!

Just checking in from the eastern side of the state! I’m working to find good, affordable sources for pastured meat/poultry and raw milk. The rest, I’m trying (and trying…) to start on my own. I’ve done some lacto-fermenting – salsa & cortido were a big hit, pickles… not so much. I’m trying to remember to soak more grains/beans. I do not have a grain mill, and haven’t found a good source for copious amounts of fresh grain yet, but I have gotten pretty good at making yogurt. I’m hoping to find someone nearby that makes kombucha, both to taste it and to hopefully find a SCOBY.

Like I said, I’ve done some work, but still have a ways to go. It’s a process, right? A process… 😉

Go Midwest!!

katy January 20, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Hi, Kimber — thanks for checking in! I’m hoping you’ll find as many options for pastured meat as we do around here — most of the farms are way outside of town, but I’m sure we only have easy access because it’s a metropolitan area. I have yet to venture into much kraut/pickling, which is something I hope to do this year.

On getting a scoby: you might have better luck when it warms up. We keep our house at 66-67º, and it’s taking forever for my scoby to produce a baby. Also taking forever for my kombucha to cook to a desired flavor.

The process: I have been noticing that while many friends don’t care much about traditional food preparation, they are starting to seek the flavor of that type of food. So, here, Goose the Market sells high-quality meats, cheeses, even NT “crispy nuts,” and friends love it, but they don’t really care about why it’s better for you. Maybe our MW tastebuds are changing for the better…

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