The Indiana Plate: What to Eat in the Hoosier State

Take advantage of Hoosier hospitality and try some of Indiana’s quintessential dishes

Photo By: Jay Patzschke

Photo By: Richard Spahr

Photo By: Brian McGuckin

Photo By: openField photography

Hungry, Hungry Hoosiers

Indiana’s breaded pork tenderloin sandwich – and Indy’s famous shrimp cocktail – may get all the attention, but a visit to the Hoosier state turns up plenty more classic dishes to sample, from lake perch up north to persimmon pudding down south.

 

Illustration by Hello Neighbor Designs

Coney Dog

It’s not that Coney Dogs are an Indiana specialty, but Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island has become part of the city’s culinary heritage. The same family has operated it for a century, and the little restaurant doesn’t look much different than it did in the 1930s. Customers can still sit at the counter and watch the hot dogs being prepared. The go-to order is “three and a bottle” — three dogs with sauce, onions and mustard, with a bottle of Coke.

Biscuits and Gravy

Unlike Indiana’s fried biscuits, this dish features the traditional variety that are rolled, cut and baked in-house. They’re then split and topped with sausage gravy for a hearty breakfast (and a tried-and-true hangover cure). You’ll find biscuits and gravy at just about every small-town diner and café. The original Oasis Diner was shipped to Plainfield in 1954 and operated until 2008. It was eventually relocated a few miles from its original location and restored inside and out, reopening in 2014. Their loaded biscuits and gravy pile the dish with two eggs, home fries, crumbled bacon and cheese.

Triple XXX Root Beer

No, it’s not an adult beverage. Triple XXX brand root beer, which originated in 1895 at a Galveston, Texas, brewery, has been sold here since 1929, when Triple XXX opened as a “thirst station.” At one time, there were more than 100 such root beer stands across North America, but this is the last one left, and it still serves the original root beer. Now family-owned and operated, Triple XXX has been featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives for its classic drive-in fare.

Go to: Triple XXX Family Restaurant

Shrimp Cocktail

Easily the most well-known restaurant in Indianapolis, St. Elmo Steak House has been in business since 1902, and photos of visiting celebrities line the walls. Shrimp may seem an unlikely specialty, but just about everyone who dines at the classic steakhouse orders the appetizer, which is served with a notoriously fiery cocktail sauce. In fact, the restaurant serves more than 40,000 pounds of shrimp each year, with more than 3,000 gallons of sauce.

Smoking Goose Charcuterie

Since Chris Eley and his wife, Mollie, opened Goose the Market in 2007, the small meat market and specialty food shop has become known for its charcuterie. The demand was such that Eley expanded the operation to Smoking Goose “meatery,” which opened in 2011 and provides smoked and cured specialties like ham, bacon, salamis and sausages to restaurants and shops around the country. In addition to the meat counter, Goose the Market also has a downstairs enoteca, pairing the charcuterie with wine and beer.

Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich

If the Hoosier state had an official sandwich, this would be it. The deep-fried breaded pork tenderloin sandwich is big in Indiana — literally. The pork is pounded out, breaded, deep fried and typically served on a bun that looks conspicuously small compared to the meat, but that’s part of the appeal. At The Mug, a “farm-to-curb” drive-in in Greenfield with a second location in Indy’s Irvington neighborhood, that pork is pasture-raised on local farms.

Zombie Dust

It might look like just another pint of beer, but 3 Floyds Zombie Dust, a Citra-hopped pale ale, has become a favorite of hopheads — and demand always outstrips supply. The cult favorite has legions of fans who stand in line when cases are available at the brewpub and who quickly snap up shipments as soon as they arrive in liquor stores. 3 Floyds also hosts the annual Dark Lord Day each spring, a massive one-day event to release its Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout.

Popcorn

Indiana is among the country’s top popcorn producers, second only to Nebraska, and is home to several national companies. But one Indianapolis business has taken popcorn to a whole new level with its creative flavors and fun approach to marketing. Twin sisters and business partners Mandy Selke and Carly Swift have made their Just Pop In brand of small-batch gourmet popcorn into a local favorite. The lineup of flavors includes varieties made with local beer, cookies, pizza – even Smoking Goose bacon.

Traders Point Creamery Dairy

This organic dairy makes award-winning yogurts and cheeses from the milk of its pasture-raised brown Swiss cows. Located just outside of Indianapolis, the farm also includes a destination restaurant called The Loft, which serves a farm-to-table menu using many of its own products. The creamery’s popular milk, yogurts, cheeses and eggnog (a seasonal favorite) are sold in area supermarkets, but locals love to visit the farm store as well.

Roast Beef Manhattan

According to local lore, this dish originated at a downtown Indianapolis deli in the 1940s. It’s basically a roast beef sandwich on white bread, which is cut in half (often diagonally) with a scoop of mashed potatoes situated in between. The whole thing is then covered in gravy. It’s pure comfort food and always on the menu at MCL Restaurant & Bakery, which has been serving home cooking cafeteria-style since 1950.

Sugar Cream Pie

This simple pie came to Indiana in the 1800s with Quaker and Shaker settlers, German and Dutch immigrants and those moving north from Appalachia. The recipe uses just a few ingredients: sugar, flour, cream, vanilla and nutmeg. A 2009 resolution in Indiana’s legislature recommended sugar cream be recognized as the state pie, since Wick’s Pies in Winchester makes more than 750,000 of them each year. Find an especially luscious version at My Sugar Pie in Zionsville.

Sweet Corn

Each summer Hoosiers anxiously await July, when sweet corn season arrives. This is the quintessential Indiana crop. The Allen Baird family of Tipton County tapped into the popularity when daughter Jennifer started selling her dad’s sweet corn in 1999. As they expanded into local farmers’ markets, demand grew and now it’s part of the family business. During the summer months, Indianapolis restaurant Circle City Soups sells its My Dad’s Sweet Corn Chowder, made only with Baird family corn. 

German Sausages

Germans were the largest immigrant group to settle in Indianapolis, and Indy’s German heritage is still on display at the Rathskeller, in downtown’s historic 19th-century Athenaeum building. German fare is available in the dining room, in the Kellerbar beerhall and (in summer months) in the outdoor biergarten. The menu includes schnitzels, rouladen and sauerbraten (as well as steaks, seafood and other dishes), but the hot wurst platte of sausages is a must-try.

Fried Bologna Sandwich

This homey sandwich — a mainstay of childhood lunches and late-night diners — gained celebrity when Indianapolis native and longtime talk show host David Letterman would discuss it on-air, famously calling his mother, Dorothy, for the recipe. There’s really not much to it. The classic sandwich just features sliced, pan-fried deli bologna on white bread. Cammack Station, a retro restaurant in Muncie, where Letterman attended college at Ball State University, serves an excellent example.

Chicken and Noodles over Mashed Potatoes

Noodles over mashed potatoes? Yes — some would even add corn for starch on starch on starch. For many Hoosiers, particularly those from northern Indiana, chicken and noodles (or beef and noodles) are almost always served atop mashed potatoes. In fact, at Das Dutchman Essenhaus, in northeastern Indiana’s Amish country, which offers an extensive menu as well as buffet service and family-style dinners, it’s one of the restaurant’s specialties.

Imperial Breakfast Magpie

Indianapolis-based mead and craft cider maker New Day Craft is becoming known for its own once-a-year event: the release of Imperial Breakfast Magpie. New Day takes its regular Breakfast Magpie, an espresso-infused black raspberry mead, and ages it in bourbon barrels to create the imperial version. Only available for purchase on Black Friday, the release prompts fans to line up outside the Fountain Square tasting room while most people are still enjoying Thanksgiving turkey to get their hands on bottles of the popular mead.

Persimmon Pudding

Persimmon pudding is actually more of a very moist cake than a creamy pudding. In Indiana, it’s typically made with the pulp of wild persimmons — which become squishy when ripe and fall from native trees in late autumn — rather than the firm Japanese persimmons found in supermarkets. Mitchell, Indiana, hosts an annual Persimmon Festival and is home to Spring Mill State Park, where the Inn serves the popular dessert in its Millstone Dining Room.

Fried Brain Sandwich

Before you get too grossed out, keep in mind that fried brain really isn’t common anymore. But it is authentic. The brain sandwich came to the Evansville area with German immigrants, and was once served in taverns and small-town diners around the area. Few places offer it today; those that do use pork brains rather than beef. The Hilltop Inn still proudly serves its jumbo fried-brain sandwich to longtime local fans and curious tourists alike.

Lake Perch

Don’t forget that Indiana is among the states with a Great Lakes shoreline. Lake Michigan extends into the state’s northwestern corner, and classic Great Lakes fish, such as perch and walleye, have long been a staple at local restaurants. Tiebel’s Family Restaurant opened in Shererville in 1929 and still serves specialties such as its “boned and buttered” lake perch to loyal diners in its elegant dining room and informal cafe.

Fried Biscuits with Apple Butter

Now, these aren’t what you probably think of as biscuits — they’re more of a deep-fried bread dough — but the fluffy, cinnamon- and sugar-covered treats have become something of a Nashville, Indiana, specialty. At the kitschy Nashville General Store & Bakery, the dough is made from scratch, rounds are fried to order, then each is tossed in cinnamon and sugar and served with apple butter, which really isn’t butter, but rather a rich, dark, spiced-apple spread.