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TRAVEL: Surprise! Carmel has turned into a place I'd like to visit

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Frank Basile

I love to walk and explore cities. The mix of cafes, boutiques, shops and art galleries uniquely melding together into a defined public space appeals to me. Exploring a new cityscape is always high on my list when traveling. I’m thankful my wife, Katrina, shares my enthusiasm. Together, we seek out vibrant spaces for both fun and inspiration.

Over the past few months, we’ve fallen in love with a charming city just a few miles north of our Indianapolis home. Yes, I’m talking about the once-sleepy Carmel. As I began spending my days as interim president/CEO at Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts, it quickly became apparent that this city of 80,000 is the type of place Katrina and I seek out when traveling.

The burgeoning Arts & Design District, with its bricked sidewalks and cultural amenities, anchors a thriving downtown. Tucked along the Monon Greenway, the district is just a jog north of the state-of-the-art Palladium (which I love but won’t detail here to avoid the risk of sounding like a commercial).

Next door to the Palladium is the latest addition to the Carmel skyline: the striking seven-story Carmel City Center. Built and designed by the Pedcor organization, the complex features commercial activity on the street and plaza levels with residences above. Fountains, planters, street lights, stone sidewalks and brick paved streets create a neighborhood.

The Indiana Design Center, tucked along Range Line Road between Carmel City Center and the arts district, includes retail showrooms and designer services complementing a design research library. It’s the only design center of its kind in Indiana—and the closest thing we have to Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.

With all the entertainment and shopping, it’s a given that restaurants representing all cuisines are plentiful. While I have not dined at every restaurant, I will share a few of my favorites.

There are three with outdoor seating right on the Monon Greenway and Main Street. You can see families and singles enjoying the environment on a nice day. While dining at Bazbeaux Pizza one summer evening, we saw people walking and biking, a youngster on a tricycle, a mime (yes, a mime!), and a group of kids playing a game.

Across from Bazbeaux Pizza, also on Main and the Monon, is Bub’s famous hamburgers. The third restaurant on this lively corner is Detour’s, which features American food and live music on the street level of the urban-hip Sophia-on-the-Square Apartments.

Being from New Orleans, I appreciate the authentic and affordable Louisiana food at Mudbugs Cajun Café, also on Main Street and also with outdoor seating. Directly across the street are two other cozy ethnic restaurants—Donatello’s Italian Restaurant, featuring the creations of chef Patrick Aasen, and Le Mie Emelie French Restaurant, whose menu includes pies and pastries.

Farther east on Main Street is the famous Woody’s Library Restaurant, housed in a former Carnegie library, originally built in 1896. It carries the theme on the inside with books on shelves and the menu in the form of a book. There is a lower level, which has a pub/sports feel. The owner is Kevin “Woody” Rider. His wife, Rochelle, is the chef.

Outside the Arts & Design District, be sure to look for Vine & Table Gourmet Market, operated by Kahn’s Catering. There is a menu of salads and sandwiches to enjoy on site with exquisite wine, cheese and gourmet food to take home.

Carmel’s ongoing events—including the juried International Arts Festival—attract artists from all over the world. At the most recent festival, Katrina and I enjoyed dancing in the street to the Caribbean sounds of Barometer Soup (featuring Carmel’s weekly newspaper publisher Steve Greenberg). Other events include the Saturday morning Farmers Market, summer concerts and a monthly gallery walk in the District.

The annual Greek Festival takes place at the relatively new Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church and is a lively three-day event. The church’s former location in midtown Indianapolis is now home to the Opera Center.

Central Park, with 161 acres, is the largest park in the city and features natural wetlands, a lagoon, boardwalk, an urban-style skate park, four miles of trails that connect to the Monon Greenway, a woodland garden, beautiful groves of trees, and a variety of complementary seasonal and special events.

Space does not permit detailing other unique and interesting things to do and see in Carmel, such as the Flowing Well Park, the miniature houses museum, Coxall Gardens, the funky SoHo Café, the World’s Smallest Children’s Art Gallery (according to the Guinness Book of Records), the Monon Community Center and Aqua Park, and an award-winning public library.

Last but certainly not least, a trip to Carmel will include encounters with roundabouts aplenty. After traversing one or two, you’ll appreciate their efficiency and the ease of navigating through the flow of traffic. Just as they do in so many European cities where we have traveled, the roundabouts make a statement all their own.

And to answer the age-old question: Yes, the automobile in the circle has the right of way.•

__________

Basile is an author, professional speaker, philanthropist, community volunteer and retired executive of the Gene B. Glick Co. He can be reached at Frank_Basile@sbcglobal.net.

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