Nora’s Corner

More Than the Indy 500

Indianapolis is so much more than the “Indy 500.” After a number of visits with family there, I’m even more impressed with its many attractions for visitors as well as residents. Home to the Colts football and the Pacers basketball teams, this medium-sized city (almost 900,000; over 2,000,000 metro area) and capital of Indiana has an amazing number of museums and historic sites. In addition, the performing arts are alive and thriving in theaters and musical venues in the downtown area and nearby colleges and universities. (World-famous violinist Joshua Bell is a graduate of Indiana U. in Bloomington, about an hour’s drive away and where the movie “Breaking Away” about the “Little 500” bicycle race was filmed.)

One of my favorite restaurants in Indy (and all-time favorite places to eat anywhere) is Hollyhock Hill. Down-home favorites like delectable fried chicken and side dishes are served family-style in a homey setting that reminds me of ‘Half-A-Hill,’ my parents’ 1920-1939 restaurant in southwestern Missouri.

A recent unforgettable café experience was The Cake Bake Shop in the charming neighborhood of Broad Ripple. It is a fantasy of pink and grey décor carried out in the servers’ uniforms and the interior. My post-Christmas visit dazzled, with glittering overhead decorations of swans and snow queens draped with sparkling, filmy white tulle. A full-size Father Frost and his snowy white reindeer who nodded his head periodically made an arresting window display. And the delicacies! Foot-high frosted cakes were displayed in a glass case, most surely designed to tempt customers who can also salivate at the view of the kitchen through an interior window. It’s fun to watch the pastry chefs measuring, baking and icing the goodies. My lunch was a mushroom quiche served with a nest of arugula greens, lightly dressed with a house-made French vinaigrette. The desserts are tempting—it’s difficult to select one to share. The Cake Bake’s famous “Millionaire’s Cake” lifted me to the heavenly regions of gourmet delight. My daughter said, “It’s like being in Paris … and you don’t even need a passport.”

When the Ayers Department Store closed in downtown Indianapolis, its 85-year-old elegant tea room was eventually duplicated in the Indiana State Museum. It reminds me a bit of Heer’s Department Store’s tea room long ago in my hometown of Springfield, Missouri. I was beguiled by the old-fashioned civility of the setting and the sitting hen ceramic container that held mouthwatering chicken pot pie. The A.S. Ayers Tea Room is a must for grandmothers, mothers and daughters, especially when the “Tea with Raggedy Ann” and “Santa Holiday Breakfasts” are scheduled. (Reservations must be made days, if not weeks, in advance.) I must confess that I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed mundane hamburgers and fries lunches at the ubiquitous “Steak and Shake” diners in Indy.

Two outstanding museums I’ve visited in Indianapolis are the Eiteljorg Museum of the American Indians and Western Art, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA). Both are conveniently located in easy-to-get-to downtown and both are immensely impressive in their own ways. The Eiteljorg’s collections compare (and may presently surpass) those of the Museum of the American Indian in our nation’s capital. A half-day’s visit can hardly do justice to all the fascinating exhibits, but it’s well worth seeing. The same is true of the IMA. But each museum hosts special exhibits that a visitor, who may be pressed for time, can focus on. The exterior architecture of both buildings includes interesting outdoor sculptures and extensive gardens and landscaping.

This past December I was happy to discover that the IMA was featuring an exhibit of Hiroshige’s woodblock prints. I’ve long been an admirer of his and other Japanese woodblock printers from the Edo (the old name for Tokyo) period of artists. These prints had been enlarged into huge murals that were even more impressive in their details. The exhibit area also contained a full-scale replica of a small room with a tatami mat-covered floor and sliding doors, “Just like my home was,” my friend Mochiko commented after listening to my description. A display of exquisitely simple Asian vases and jars was directly adjacent, enhancing my peaceful, deeply pleasurable reaction to the perfection of such artistry.

The IMA has a gift shop that is the ideal place to shop for tasteful souvenirs and additions to one’s home. I had to restrain myself from purchasing more books (for children as well as adults), wee pots of succulents and after-Christmas, half-price sale ornaments. Best buys were bookmarks with lovely reproductions of paintings on the fronts and information about the artists on the back, only $2 each.

Other Indianapolis sites include the Children’s Museum; the White River State Park (which contains the zoo), the historical homes of James Whitcomb Riley, the Benjamin Harrison House and the Eli Lilly Mansion and gardens. Along the canal walk that connects the museums, runners, walkers and strollers young and old enjoy the vibrant downtown atmosphere on a warm sunny day. Pedal boats with rambunctious teens and a gliding gondola provide a water experience on the canal.

With so much to do, including additional signature museums, the Indianapolis Art Center, the newly developing Massachusetts Avenue section that’s bustling with emerging top chefs, and a miles-long hike on the Monon Trail, Indianapolis is, in its modest Midwestern way, a destination city that will please.