Indiana is like America’s middle child. Its population, size and even location put it right in the middle of all the other states in the country. It had to find its thing to stand out and rise above, one of which is its food and beverage scene.
“What am I going to do in Indiana?” Gwendolyn Rogers asked herself when her husband, who works in film, decided to settle back in his home state between jobs. What she did was start a bakery from scratch. “I had to borrow $100 from my son for ingredients,” Rogers told me and, for three years, she baked cakes out of her kitchen until one of her friends offered her $60 to make a cake. From there, she won a cake contest in London (from more than 3,000 entries), judged by celebrity chef Peter Sidwell. She personally selected and designed every detail of her first Cake Bake Shop in Broad Ripple, Indiana. She ordered twinkle lights from the Netherlands, built her own cherry trees and designed the pink and white uniforms that are the theme colors of her first and second shops. Her signature logos appear on everything possible and her second shop in Carmel, Indiana, is like walking into a Disney palace. Everything shines and sparkles in pinks and whites. Dinner at Cake Bake is a fairytale vacation. Every plate could feed a giant and the ingredients bring their stories to life. Nothing is left to chance, everything is perfectly curated by Rogers, including the 30-step shipping process of each cake. “It costs me $32 in materials to ship a cake,” says Rogers. But she ships to customers who order her cakes from Williams & Sonoma and she’s made Oprah’s “O” List two years in a row — in 2018 for her Mint Chocolate Chip Cake and in 2019 she received accolades for her Maple Walnut Crumb Cake and Blueberry Crumb Cake. She still decorates her own shops, changing seasonally, with her husband and son. Even her dog is white. This is a not to miss experience for dessert and dinner lovers visiting Indiana.
A designer by trade, Larry Hanes scoured the Earth to find a blend of recipes to transform into culinary works of art in the breakfast restaurant he opened, Eggshell Bistro. Some, like the artichoke tart, are deceptively mundane to the eye but once tasted, the explosion of flavor and creativity are unparalleled. Melting into the north side of Carmel City Center, the Indianapolis Monthly Magazine included Eggshell Bistro in its “top 10 best new restaurants” list after it opened in 2011 and Livingly Magazine chose it as having the “best brunch in Indiana,” amongst its “state-by-state best brunch” selections. Nothing is ordinary inside Hanes’ restaurant as he too cultivates every detail, from the throwback decorations, eccentric in style and era, to the impeccable server, akin to a soft-spoken marionette and, of course, his intense interpretation of breakfast food.
If passion could be poured into a chocolate mold, it would take the shape of Chocolatier Joann Hofer, a painter who trained in the art of chocolate making in Austria. Tucked inside a small alley, off Main Street at Carmel’s Art & Design District, Hofer opened Xchocol’Art in 2019. Before contracting with a collective to buy organic chocolate in bulk, she visited each chocolate plant farm to make sure they had ethical and organic growing practices. She uses her background in art to illustrate ornate designs on many of her rich, award-winning pieces. Hofer works to create the chocolates on Mondays and Tuesdays and sells them Wednesday–Saturday. She also invites the community for classes on chocolate making in the condominium above the shop. You don’t have to be local to enjoy Hofer’s chocolate because she happily ships her award-winning chocolates to your home.
It started as a barn that looked like it had had one too many and could no longer hold itself up. But Toby and Melanie Miles, chefs who’d met while working at a white tablecloth restaurant, could see what the Rail Restaurant and Bar could become. They started creating simple dishes with complex tastes. All the food is sourced from around the state of Indiana and most dishes have only three or four ingredients. Dishes like duck-sausage cassoulet and seared pork belly fanned under a drizzle of LocalFolks Foods mustard sauce have customers rotating through the small eatery, only a handful of two-tops and a large wooden picnic table, through the seasons, each offering different tastes. Set in Westfield, on a remote road with sprinklings of artisanal storefronts slowly popping up, the barn restaurant is just three miles from recreational sports village Grand Park.
If you’ve ever wondered the proper way to hold your tea cup, where to put your spoon after stirring or how long each variety of tea should be brewed, native Englander Tina Jesson will be more than happy to fill you in. Tea is her passion and sharing the customs in Tina’s Traditional Tearoom is her way of sharing her heritage with guests. “I started out selling scones at farmer’s markets and realized people were eating them the wrong way,” Jesson said. So, she set up a storefront dedicated to everything England, from flags to banners to images of Queen Elizabeth regaling every inch of space in the single-story residential home she rented and converted into a shop. She regularly instructs patrons through actual tea parties and tours to England.
The ultimate wine tasting experience might just happen inside an igloo overlooking a vineyard in Indiana. Urban Vines Winery and Brewery has couches set up inside a plastic dome, held together by a latticework of hexagonal pipes so tasters could savor the award-winning delights outside, with stars or sun shining above. Inside, heaters warm the air while visitors relish a fabulous charcuterie platter between sips of red, white or hops. Reservations are required for igloo rentals and recommended for the main tasting room. Check the calendar for fun musical events on the giant lawn around the igloos.
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