When the temp dips and the flurries fly, nothing’s better than a mugful of something to warm you up. But heartier meals also can provide heat that ranges from turn-your-cheeks-pink to a three-alarm, eyes-watering fire. Here, four southside eats that’ll toast your taste buds and have you reaching for something cold.
by Jennifer Uhl
Photography by Haley Neale
Sweet Chili Chicken Wings
99 N Main St., Franklin, thewillard.com
» Downtown Franklin is awash with new restaurants, but The Willard is a local institution with a history dating to 1860. The house-turned-hotel-turned-pub and eatery attracts a mix of longtime devoted diners, families and couples on their way to catch a flick at next door’s Artcraft Theatre and antiquing day trippers. The menu is filled with a little bit of everything — American sandwiches and wraps are tucked in between an oyster dinner and a quesadilla platter — but pizza and chicken wings are the popular go-tos. Baskets of 10 wings (boneless, too) come tossed in your pick of eight sauces, including a sinus-searing x-hot. If you’d still like to feel your taste buds two wings in, opt for the sweet chili sauce instead. It’s not made in house, but that doesn’t matter when a sauce filled with diced garlic and crushed red pepper is this good. Ever since C.J Cash, an assistant manager, picked the sauce up two years ago, he’s seen customers request a side of it with other entrees — even salads — and notes, “It’s just sweet enough with a little bit of a bite.”
Cajun Beef Tips
Oaken Barrel Brewing Co.
50 Airport Parkway, Greenwood, oakenbarrel.com
» Two decades before the brewpub craze began and craft beer was a thing, Oaken Barrel was already winning awards for its house beers and a menu that includes pasta and pizza alongside burgers, sandwiches and the southside’s best steak fries. Portions call for to-go boxes with the check, and even the 12 appetizers are meals in themselves, particularly the mile-high Idaho nachos and the Cajun beef tips. The latter will clear up a head cold right quick, thanks to a housemade Cajun spice mixture of paprika, garlic, onion powder and oregano, plus “a few other things to keep people guessing,” says chef Bryan Bates. After coating the filet mignon bites, Bates tosses them in a super-hot cast iron skillet to blacken before plating them with pico de gallo and a housemade horseradish sauce for added kick. One order is enough for two to share while bellied up to one of two bars to watch the game with a caramel-colored Indiana Amber or Snake Pit, a heavy porter. Better yet, grab a flight of the six standard house beers to find your favorite.
Portobello Mushroom Burger
Court Street Cafe
39 E. Court St., Franklin, courtstcafe.com
» This sweet little spot on the courthouse square easily filled the “pretty food” niche that The Indigo Duck left behind when it closed two years ago; even more important, Court Street’s sandwiches, salads, flatbreads and burgers taste just as good as they look. The menu was recently updated with some flavorful newcomers, including a buffalo chicken grilled cheese and cheesy jalapeno bacon bread starter, but diners craving something heartier with a little bit of zing — or a vegetarian alternative — opt for the grilled portobello burger. After two grilled portobello mushroom caps are saddled inside each other to ensure they stay put, the “burger” is topped with grilled onions, Swiss cheese and a sriracha aioli for heat. A substantial brioche bun holds it all together, while a pickle and peppery kettle chips complete the plate.
Thai Sour Sausage Dumplings
501 Virginia Ave., Suite 101, Indianapolis, rookindy.com
» Take the Americanized image you have of tiny, strip-mall ethnic restaurants and turn it on its head: This Fletcher Place hot spot serves contemporary Asian street food in a sleek red-and-black dining room pulsating with owner/chef Carlos Salazar’s favorite old school hip-hop tunes. Surprises abound on the menu as well, with an Asian take on the Big Mac and crispy pig ears among the rice and ramen bowls. Also on the apps menu are dumplings stuffed with a sausage that includes lemongrass, garlic, ginger and fermented cooked rice. The sausage isn’t particularly spicy, but the tomato-based Nam Phrik sauce drizzled over the dumplings definitely brings the heat. Salazar grills every ingredient — tomatoes, garlic, shallots, green onions, lime and Thai chilies, which are tiny but pack a much bigger punch than a jalapeno or serrano pepper. The upside to the tongue-tingle you’ll have afterwards? Cooling off with the halo-halo, the most impressive dish of ice cream on the southside.