Downtown restaurants too good to miss (and just happen to be located in hotels)

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(Photo courtesy of The Capital Grille)

It used to be that the phrase “hotel restaurant” carried an air of desperation.

When a flight delay caused a late check in or a business meeting ran overtime, the on-site eatery at your hotel was the meal of last resort—and was nearly always approached with low expectations.

That may still be the case in some areas, but it certainly isn’t in downtown Indianapolis. Here, without leaving your lodgings, you can find high-quality dining experiences embracing both the creative and the comforting.

Here’s just a sample of what’s on the downtown hotel dining menu:

Conner’s Kitchen + Bar at the Indianapolis Downtown Marriott

Let us not forget brunch, the ideal hotel meal for those sleeping in. The former home of the generically named Champions, the spot had a 2018 redo as part of the hotel’s $40 million makeover. The end result is a comfortable spot with multiple dining area options. Pleasant weather can take you out to the patio. Seating at the edge of the lobby puts you in the midst of the hubbub. And bar seating transitions into the main dining room.  Wherever you park, consider one of Conner’s twists on the familiar. Like hushpuppies? You’ll like them even more with lump crab. French Toast catch your eye on the menu? Conner’s is a substantial block of sourdough with pecans, pralines, and bourbon maple syrup. Coming off a rough and/or memorable night? The Hangover Helper is there for you, featuring bacon-infused Hotel Tango vodka, jalapeno Mary mix, smoked chicken wings, peppered bacon, pickles, and those aforementioned hushpuppies.

Spoke & Steele at Le Méridien (Photos courtesy of Visit Indy)

Spoke & Steele at Le Méridien

The hotel insists that the driver himself “curated” the Simon Pagenaud Steak Frites and that’s just part of the way Spoke & Steele stresses the local. Hints of the city’s racing history (including headlights over the bar) accent the place and the menu includes a lineup of regional craft beers and food offerings built from locally sourced ingredients. Craft cocktails are primary here with seasonal originals more than doubling the size of the core list. Want to really impress your co-workers? Sign on for a Barrel Experience, an hour-long session featuring beverages, charcuterie and your own bartender to pour and serve.

The Capital Grille (photo courtesy of Visit Indy)

The Capital Grille at the Conrad Hotel

Perhaps the most familiar hotel restaurant name for expense account-wielding business folk, The Capital Grille launched in 1990 in Providence, Rhode Island’s Union Station and has since spread its elegant steak and seafood stylings to 24 states plus D.C. and Mexico. Portraits of Indiana-connected notables, including Notre Dame legend Knute Rockne and actress Irene Dunne, line the walls of the local outpost, but the focus here is more on service and what’s on the plate and in the glass. Entree focus is on 21-day dry-aged steaks ($45-$85) with alternatives including a citrus and honey crusted roasted rack of lamb and sushi-grade sesame seared tuna. To complement those, The Capital Grille offers more than 400 wines. Want to hold a private meeting? Consider booking The Wine Room or the Conrad Room. Hard to believe Capital Grille shares the same parent company, Darden Restaurants, as LongHorn Steakhouse and Olive Garden.

OP Italian at the JW

Weekday pizza-and-salad lunch specials, Bottle Up Sundays with half-price wine, and—a bonus for locals—complementary 90-minute self-parking offer incentives to try the JW’s lobby-level bistro. Baked Lasagna, Cheese Ravioli, and Chicken Parmesan help satisfy the familiar, although the menu holds some surprises, including Short Rib Gnocchi. 

Nesso Coastal Italian at the Alexander 

Another recent makeover transformed the lobby restaurant of the Alexander into a contemporary pasta and seafood house. Gone is the “bird’s nest” oddity that used to raise eyebrows in the entryway. Added is a central bar and a menu that maintains the attractive presentation of its predecessor, Cerulean. The eye appeal of the plated offerings subtly links the food here to the extensive contemporary art collection in the hotel. Burrata, the trendy appetizer, gets outstanding treatment here, with cherry tomato conserva, red wine candied onion, pesto and semolina sourdough (thanks go out to our waiter for the extra bread). The pastas ($16-$35) include a Risotto with squid ink, octopus and eggplant tartare and Calamarata with Calabrian chile, lamb sausage, yogurt, pesto and oil-cured tomato.

1913 at the Omni (Photo courtesy of Omni Hotel & Resorts)

Pier 48 Fish House and Oyster Bar at the Hyatt Place

The latest downtown Indy hotel just opened the latest downtown restaurant. Positioned to lure hotel guests, seafood lovers, and pre- and post-game celebrants from Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Pier 48 brings the food of the New England cost to our landlocked city. It offers a raw oyster bar, seafood shipped overnight including char-grilled “Lobstah,” Coffee & Pepper Crusted Ahi Tuna, and both indoor and outdoor seating with a casual vibe.

1913 at the Omni

Named for the year the hotel was built (back then it was the Grand Hotel of Indianapolis), the Omni’s restaurant merges the past and the present with contemporary variations on archived recipes popular back in the day. Of course, that includes Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie, but also House-Smoked Baby Back Ribs with chuckwagon beans and Indiana corn-on-the-cob and House-made Cheddar and Thyme Biscuits. •

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