When you head out of town with the family, your thoughts may be on sticking with a familiar and reliable fast food chain, but if a visit to Indianapolis is in your future, there’s no need to settle for the same old #4 value meal.
Indy is a great food town full of trendy spots, classic eateries and mouthwatering menus with a number of restaurants that will entice and satisfy everyone in the family.
Scotty Wise was just 22 years old when he opened his first restaurant in 1996. As a young man opening his business in a college town, his focus was a bit different than it is today. He’s now a married man with four kids and nine (soon to be 11) locations and as his life has evolved, so have his restaurants with a lot of touches geared toward his youngest guests.
When Scotty’s Brewhouse was suggested for lunch when I was on a recent trip to Indianapolis with my husband and four kids ranging from age 8 to 15, I was surprised a place known as a brewhouse would qualify as “family friendly.” However, with a large kids’ menu of 16 items (four are gluten-free), televisions at the tables, free kid meals two days a week and silverware wrapped in small absorbent towels in place of napkins, it’s a welcoming environment for parents and kids.
“It’s kind of morphed with my age,” said Wise. “A few years ago my wife asked why there weren’t changing tables in the mens’ washrooms and now we have them there.”
Wise says these days he notices different things when he dines, like how clean the place is and if the straps on the high chairs are working and he makes sure he’s paying attention to such details at his locations.
Other unique features for Scotty’s are a toy chest brought at the end of the meal and corn hole on the outdoor patio at the downtown location that can occupy kids as the meal is prepared. “We also ask if you’d like the kid meals cut up and if you want the kids meals to come out first,” said Wise, both things that can ease a parent's anxiety when they venture out with wee ones. “People forget that kids are sometimes the decision makers on where a family goes to eat,” he added.
On Sundays, several of his locations also have face painters, magicians or balloon artists from noon to 2 p.m.
With a motto of “Downhome goes Uptown,” Zest! is known for its comfort food items, but with an owner/chef who is a vegetarian, she’s also mindful of offering lighter fare, even for the littlest visitors.
A featured eatery on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive Ins and Dives” on the Food Network, Zest! is a popular spot for breakfast, lunch and dinner serving up a variety of goodies for all tastes and diets with a big focus on using local produce and products.
Valerie Vanderpool, who owns the restaurant with mom Carol, is in the midst of revamping menus and a new feature on the kid's menu will be a gluten-free brown rice penne with veggies. Other kid faves can be found on the menu, such as scrambled eggs and their “world famous mac and cheese.”
Quesadillas and hand-breaded fish sticks are also among the options with a scrumptious scaled down version of their Creme Brulee French Toast winning over young diners.
“We don’t have pancakes, but everyone says that when they taste the Creme Brulee French Toast, they don’t miss the pancakes,” said Vanderpool.
Breakfast is served up until 5 p.m. when the menu switches over for dinner.
Another fun feature of this spot - crayons are at every table for creative scrawling while you wait for your meal. Some of the artwork ends up hung on the walls.
Cafe Patachou has several locations in the Indy area and is another nice option for breakfast or lunch. With several gluten-free options and healthy, fresh offerings, there’s a lot to choose from. The children’s menu includes standard kid requests like PB &J and waffles, but also a fun Green Eggs and Ham dish where they can channel their inner Seuss. They’re also able to scale down many of the regular menu items to a child portion.
We ate at the downtown location across from the Capitol, with a pretty stunning view and we walked over for a self-guided tour and history lesson after our meal.
If a visit to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is on your itinerary (and if you’ve got kids, it absolutely should be), you can rest assured that the food court there won’t be serving frozen mystery meat you may sometimes have to settle for at family venues. With fantastic options for kids and adults, food is fresh and nutritious.
There are several sections within the food court and at each location there is a “Kids Live Well” option with healthy alternatives to typical kid fare with calorie counts posted.
Parents will be happy to see that there are also great options for them, including gourmet sandwiches and salads that would rival those at some trendy downtown cafes.
If your kids have a more sophisticated palate, consider taking them to Harry and Izzy’s, sister restaurant of the historic, fine dining establishment that sits next door - St. Elmo Steakhouse.
Harry and Izzy’s serves the same famous shrimp cocktail as St. Elmo, which my seafood loving son devoured. This cocktail sauce is made with horseradish that is shaved daily in the restaurant and it is rumored to have helped seal the deal in bringing the Super Bowl to the city in 2012.
Two of my boys were pleased to find steak medallions on the kids menu of the same quality as the adult version, just in a smaller serving. Sunday is a good day to stop as adults can enjoy their 3-course special for $30 or $40.
If you’ve got burger lovers in your family, a visit to Bru Burger is in order where mom & dad can enjoy gourmet options with such toppings as taleggio cheese, peach compote and arugula pesto and kids can get a scaled down, simpler version. Big onion rings and mounds of fries made my kids’ happy along with over-the-top desserts like the S’mores cake that my son and I fought over after we intended on sharing.
Directly across the street is Mass Ave. Toys, a fun shop to browse through after dinner with fun classics and specialty toys with many on display to try out.
A little jaunt away from downtown is Iaria’s, a hidden little gem with authentic Italian specialties that dates back to 1933. Kids can help pick out toppings for a custom thin-crust pizza (my son ordered his with four different meats) or enjoy their traditional spaghetti with meatball. Kid portions are very generous.
If your kids enjoy mozzarella sticks, you can try out an order of Mate’s Mozzarella, which are fresh mozzarella slices that are hand battered and sautéed in olive oil and served with marinara. The kids also loved the glass bottles of Triple XXX root beer, which is brewed not far away in West Lafayette.
We happened to be visiting on my son’s birthday and when I mentioned it to our server, she came out with a triple scoop of ice cream with a candle in it and we all sang to him.
Mug-N-Bun is another Indy eatery that is sure to be a hit with diners of all ages. The nostalgic diner dates back to 1960 with carhops delivering burgers, pork tenderloins and a variety of other sandwiches along with their homemade root beer. There are 11 options on the kid menu, all are $4 and include fries and drink.
And if you want to pick up a few snacks for the road trip back, take a walk around Monument Circle and stop in for some fudge or chocolate treats at South Bend Chocolate Co. or choose from oodles of nostalgic and foreign candies at Rocket Fizz. They also have a massive selection of sodas in classic and unusual flavors. For more information on the food scene and more in Indianapolis, find it online at visitindy.com