NASPA 2016 Indianapolis Recommendations

As a Hoosier, I feel compelled to offer some advice on having a great time in Indianapolis during NASPA 2016.

Pre-arrival reading

Indiana on Wikipedia
Indianapolis on Wikipedia
Indianapolis on Wikitravel

What to eat

Hoosiers have simple tastes that skew towards fried and sugary. The most famous Indiana dishes are pork tenderloin sandwiches and sugar cream pie.

You can also find “Cincinnati chili” at Steak ‘n Shake; while not a true Indiana thing, it’s certainly a distinct regional item. Steak ‘n Shake is the Midwest’s regional fast-ish food king.

Where to eat

Shapiro’s Deli
Best deli in Indiana… maybe the Midwest (save for Chicago). It’s big and busy at lunch time, but it’s worth it.

Bazbeaux Pizza
Funky pizza joint at the entrance to Mass Ave, good for larger groups. If you want to stay out for drinks after be sure to hit up MacNiven’s and Bakersfield just a couple of doors down.

Union 50
For a more upscale dinner with colleagues this place has great atmosphere and live music. Reservations will be required.

Scotty’s Brewhouse
For fried stuff and local beer. Scotty’s was started by a former student of Ball State University and has slowly expanded as an Indiana chain to all of the college towns and larger cities. There are a lot of “sports bars” in downtown Indy, if you’re going to go to one, it might as well be a local one. Pretty good pork tenderloin sandwich.

Café Patachu
Great spot for breakfast, will likely be very busy in the AM since it’s near the convention center and its slogan is “A student union for adults.”

Le Peep
Another good breakfast spot. Probably won’t be as busy.

St. Elmo’s Steakhouse
If you want to splurge beyond your per diem on your own dime… this is where you do that. Most famous place in Indiana. If you don’t want the full experience, get in at the bar, order a drink and a shrimp cocktail.


Bru Burger Bar
For those of you who are fans of finding the “best burger in {x}” this is the closest contending joint.

Workingman’s Friend
A little further out… but can’t beat the burger and experience.

White Castle
Sometimes you just want 30 little hamburgers in a suitcase. No judgement!


Local beers

3 Floyd Brewing
– Zombie Dust (hard to find, drink it if you do)
– Alpha King
– Dark Lord Imperial Stout
– Gumballhead

Upland Brewing
– Dragonfly IPA

Sun King Brewing
– Wee Mac Scottish Ale
– Osiris Pale Ale

Flat 12 Bierwerks
– Cucumber Kolsch

Local wine

Indiana does have wineries, mostly semi-sweet to exceptionally sweet blends. If you are serious about wine and like things dry, you should probably order the classics from California, France, and Italy.

All/most Indiana wineries make Traminette (a cousin of Gewürztraminer) wine because it is the state grape of Indiana. It’s an up-and-coming vintage that is grown in the great lakes, so if you’re interested in a semi-dry white, give it a shot.

Oliver Winery
– Soft Red is very popular, very sweet
– Dry Red Blend


Most of the places on my list are on/near an area of downtown called Massachusetts Avenue, or Mass Ave. This shopping and food area is just a short walk/Uber/bike away from the downtown core, but the eating and drinking experience is 10x, so it’s worth at least one night out.

legit German bier hall and bier garden. Closes a little early so start here.

Libertine Liquor Bar
Hipster cocktail bar.

MacNiven’s Scottish Pub
My favorite place to start an evening. Great rotating taps.

Elbow Room
Just a good old bar, that recently got all hipstery.

Slippery Noodle Inn
Oldest bar in Indiana, lots of Jazz/Blues music, touristy.

Kilroy’s Downtown
In my opinion, Kilroy’s is like the 4th best bar at IU-Bloomington, but somehow it’s the #1 “sports bar” by revenue in the U.S. This is the Indianapolis version so expect tons of Indiana University alums there.

Outdoor adventures downtown

It’s going to be unseasonably warm (60’s) in Indy, although rainy.

Pacers Bikeshare
Like most big cities Indy has rental bikes throughout the downtown area. They are bright yellow.

Indianapolis Cultural Trail
A well-maintained running and bike trail through the heart of downtown.

Canal Walk
A nice promenade along a well-maintained canal in downtown. Lots of monuments and art along the way.

For fun

If you have the time.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum
Most famous cars and drivers from the most famous auto race in the world.

The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art
Indian-a, get it? It’s not often that a museum dedicated to native people is within walking distance to a downtown conference center. The Indiana State Museum (with an IMAX theatre if you need to get away from everyone) is right next to it if you’re curious about the history of the beautiful state that you are in.

Duckpin Bowling
It’s really fun.. and hard.

One Day in California Wine Country

First thing first… I’m not a big wine enthusiast but I’ve slowly learned to appreciate the subtleties of some varieties, specifically Icewine and Pinot Noir.  However, my girlfriend loves wine and is slowly earning badges towards amateur sommelier status. So for her birthday this year we headed out to the California wine country (Sonoma and Napa counties) for four days.  It was a cool experience with good wine, and really good food.  So here’s my completely novice advice if you only have one day in wine country.

Some general information

  • Watch Bottle Shock & Sideways before your trip
  • Most wineries open at 10:30am and close between 5-6:30pm
  • There are over 400 wineries, and they cover a large area across two counties and many AVAs
  • Tastings at the wineries that we visited ranged from $10-$25 for 3-6 different wines
  • We were able to find many 2-for-1 tasting coupons and mobile “check-in” deals which softened the blow to the wallet
  • Reservations are a must for the busy restaurants and most are on OpenTable

We chose to do about three tastings per day, which was a pleasant pace. One could certainly spend more time at an individual winery or hit several that are grouped together, we chose a more scattered approach, which meant more time in the car.

If you have one day in the area here’s my suggested path:

Breakfast or brunch

The Girl and The Fig | Sonoma
A beautiful little cafe-styled joint that has fantastic food and a super friendly wait-staff.  The fig is featured and they have their very own charcuterie shop. Their menu changes seasonally, but I opted for the BLT tartine (grilled green tomatoes, little gem lettuce, basil aioli, crispy onions) with a fresh egg and it was great.  A delicious way to start the day.

Post fig

After your meal, stroll along the Sonoma town square and check out the numerous and eclectic shops.  Once you feel like you’ve worked off breakfast/brunch stop into Basque Cafe on the east side of the square and grab some of your favorite bread for a snack later.  The croissants are incredible, be sure to grab at least two of those.

Hop in your car and drive just a few blocks north to the Vella Cheese Company which is a wholesale cheese factory with a tiny little shop for visitors.  The staff will be happy to feed you great tastes of all of their offerings.  I enjoyed the Chedder-style Italian Table Cheese, other favorites of our group included the Messo Dry Jack and Rosemary Jack.  Be sure to check out the 1960’s letter from Cary Grant to Vella framed near the door. The cheeses will last several days without refrigeration which makes them great for shipping, and keeping in the car for a few hours.

Now, time for wine…

The beginning

Buena Vista Winery | Sonoma
Where it all began, literally.  Billed as the “first premium winery in California” the history of the place is really a great way to step into the story of the region.  The premises feels like an old fort or mission and is laden with wood and gravitas.  The tasting features two of their Pinot Noir wines, which were the overall favorites of our group.  The “Bela” Pinot Noir was hands down the best wine of our entire trip.  A great way to start your day of wines.

The process

Benziger Family Winery | Sonoma
After a quick ride back through town and north towards Glen Ellen the Benziger Family Winery is aloft in the hills.  Two elements of Benziger stand out.  First, it is still family owned and operated, a rarity in the region.  Secondly, the winery promotes bio-dynamic wine-making which is a step “above” organic certification and illustrates this process via a great tour (led by a local wine-grower on a tram) of their winery from the vineyard to the cellar.  After the tour you’re invited in for a tasting.  While none of the wines at Benziger were off-the-charts on our favorites list they were solid and very drinkable.  Grab a bottle, get your bread and cheese out and have a picnic a midst the Eucalyptus trees.

The bubbles

Mumm Napa | Napa
A beautiful drive northeast into Napa and you’ll be welcomed by a Champagne/Sparkling Wine maker called Mumm; which is a much more commercial operation.  I’m not much of a bubbles fan, but the experience of the tasting was premium.  Most tastings in the region happen at a crowded stand-up counter in a noisy room; at Mumm, tastings happen on a patio overlooking the vineyard while your group is seated at a table.  Because you are seated with your party the experience feels very personal and enjoyable; after all, champagne needs to be sipped.  Mumm also hosts a great free art gallery featuring Ansel Adams photography in their wine-aging facility, a great place to take your final tasting glass.  Everyone liked different variations of the bubbles, my choice was the Cuvee M Red.  Don’t forget to ask a staff member about why only US wineries are allowed to designate their sparkling wine as ‘Champagne’ outside of France.


Brix | Napa
Watching the sunset on the patio of Brix with their flower and vegetable gardens in the foreground is a great way to end the day.  I chose the Hanger Steak and it was prepared perfectly.  A great meal.

Napa vs. Sonoma

So there is a friendly rivalry between the two counties about their wine-making prowess.  The truth is, wine is such a personal affair anyway so who cares.  Find wines that you like.  For me, I prefer the family-oriented nature of the wineries we stopped into around Sonoma county, and each of the places we stopped in Napa were very busy.

The map

Here is a map of our four day trip with locations mentioned in this post highlighted in green. Note that Wine Country lies in two valleys, therefore the driving can get significantly curvy and hilly when hopping between them.

On the way out

Muir Woods | Mill Valley
If you’re heading to San Francisco after your day in wine country and you still have daylight left, be sure to stop at Muir Woods.  There is certainly a full day’s worth of activity in the woods, but you can take a peaceful stroll on a well-kept boardwalk through fantastic Coast Redwood groves.  Just remember that Coast Redwoods (taller) and Giant Sequoia (wider) trees are different and you’ll need to drive much further north or east to encounter a Giant Sequoia.

Sous-Vide Wooo Weee!

Yesterday, I was cruising around Google+ and I happened onto a story about sous-vide cooking. Sous-vide means “under vacuum” in French and is essentially a way to slow-cook using a water bath.  Slow-cooking has always intrigued me, mostly because I love BBQ, but my last DIY experiment (Alton Brown style terra-cotta smoker) was a disaster.

I decided to try sous-vide out

After a few quick searches and blog posts I decided to give the beer cooler method a shot.  After a quick Wal-Mart and Tops trip I had the appropriate tools and meat.  I scooped up a cooler for $9 and a probe-style digital thermometer, which I should have had in the kitchen anyhow.

I was going to use the “slowly dip into water” method for vacuum sealing the steak into the plastic bag, but I happened upon a new gadget from Ziplock that is made for inexpensive vacuum sealing, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

Once I had the equipment all ready to go I vacuumed my steak into the bag with a little canola oil, salt, pepper, and Montreal seasoning.  I then turned my attention to heating the water; as it turns out, my sink produces hot water at about 120-degrees, so I filled up a 6-quart pot and turned up the heat on my burner until I got an even 140-degrees.  While the water bath was coming up to temp I “pre-heated” the cooler by filling it with hot tap water.

Once the water was up to temp I dumped the pre-heat water and poured the cooking water into the cooler and let it cool slightly, down to 136, and then I added the steak. Surprisingly the cooler really held the heat pretty well, after 1.5 hours it was only down to 133, not bad for a $9 cooler.

After I took the steak out I threw it on my trusty cast-iron grill pan with a heated grill press for about 90 seconds of high-heat searing.  this brought in the grill marks that I love and made sure that the meat was finished at a solid temp.

The result

After a too-quick rest, because I was impatient, I had a perfectly cooked mid-rare steak at 134-degrees. Because no juices were lost in the process and the seasoning got to sit, without burning, on the meat for an extended period of time the taste profile was distinctively beef with hints of the seasoning. It was the best steak I have made cooking inside; grills just do a different tango.  I used an inexpensive cut this time for testing, I’m very excited about using a prime cut next time.

The coolest thing about this process is that its super repeatable and its not as time sensitive as high-heat methods; which is awesome because when I cook for others I almost never get the timing of the entree and side quite right.

For a small investment in reusable items (cooler, thermometer, plastic bags) you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.  Of course, if you have a big clan to feed, there’s always this 16 gallon behemoth to satisfy your slow-cooking lust.