Classic Restaurants of Indianapolis by Jeffrey S. Kamm

Jeffrey S. Kamm’s new book Classic Restaurants of Indianapolis tells the story of Indianapolis’ restaurants — those only in memory and those still in existence. The book’s outline is told in the names of the chapters, “Legends That Stand The Test Of Time,” “Gone But Not Forgotten,” “Cruising Down North Meridian,” ”International Flair,” and “Diners and Drive-Ins.” There are even some special recipes at the end such as L. S. Ayres Chicken Velvet Soup and Tee Pee Salad.
The Legends that stand the test of time include those you’d expect such as St. Elmo’s, The Iron Skillet and Shapiro’s. For eastsiders, though, it also includes The Historic Steer-In which has been featured on the Food Network’s “Diner’s, Drive-Ins and Dives.” There has been a restaurant there since the Depression.
I had more fun, however, reading about the restaurants that are long gone. The author talks about the Coconut Shrimp from the Key West Shrimp House but I remember the Panama Shrimp I ate there with my friend’s family. My mother always dressed up very elegantly when going to the Embers. I really wasn’t aware of the first class entertainment — just how wonderful she looked. Knobby’s on Shadeland may very well have given the Tee Pee a run for its money as discussed, but to me it was where we turned to go to my Grandma’s farm. Sam’s Subway reminded me of fun times after I returned to Indianapolis after college. Then there was the L.S. Ayres Tea Room. I have a lifetime of memories there from my Hobo Lunches to my daughter’s first birthday lunch. The international chapter features the Chinese, French and Italian restaurants that were the sum total of the international restaurants when I was young.
The Indianapolis restaurants of the past are varied but nothing like the new restaurants blossoming throughout town. That doesn’t, however, make the restaurants of the past any less interesting or nostalgic. The restaurants reflect the times. Change is eternal. And this book helps one understand where we were so we can move on to the new world of Indianapolis gastronomy.