INDIANAPOLIS — Peter George is in the forefront of a culinary trend that is sweeping this heartland city like a summer thunderstorm.
"We're beginning to define a Midwestern cuisine," says George, owner and manager of Peter's restaurant in Indianapolis. "This area of the country has wonderful fruits and vegetables, great beef and excellent poultry, and we're developing a cuisine featuring these local ingredients in innovative recipes."
In August, Indianapolis will become the focus of international attention when it hosts the Pan American Games, the second-largest amateur sporting event in the world next to the Olympics. Visitors will find an array of good restaurants offering a new version of Hoosier cooking.
Pieces of modern art adorn the plain white walls of Peter's, a few blocks southeast of the city's revitalized downtown.
In the fall of 1985 George opened the restaurant and recruited young Hoosier chef Tony Hanslits to create exciting menus using local ingredients.
No. 1 in Ducks
"We use fish from the Great Lakes," George says, "along with local Angus beef and Indiana-raised duck. Most people don't realize that Indiana raises more duck than any other state, and it's third in the country in the sale of veal."
In the summer months George hand-selects fresh produce from the Farmer's Market two blocks away, and during the winter he buys from a hothouse farm near Cleveland.
Dinner began with cold chicken tossed with a peanut butter sauce and sesame seeds and served with incredibly fresh, crisp julienne vegetables. Then came a light, puffy gourmet pizza with yellow tomatoes, Iowa white Cheddar cheese and fresh chives, thyme, and rosemary.
Salads featured vine-ripened tomatoes, arugula, radicchio , romaine lettuce and goat cheese, with a raspberry vinaigrette.
For the main course we chose walleye pike (from Lake Superior) with a super-light coating of freshly toasted bread crumbs, feta cheese and lemon, and rabbit tenderloin grilled with rosemary and red pepper sauce. Baby summer squash in yellow and green were crisp and delicious.
Homemade Ice Cream
Dessert was homemade ice cream--peanut butter/banana and black walnut--and a creamy, smooth, upside-down apple pie prepared by pastry chef Cathy Duvall.
George serves the wines, from his extensive wine cellar. He features domestic wines almost exclusively, with particular emphasis on California vineyards.
The total bill came to about $30 per person, not including wine.
Like Peter's, Fletcher's American Grill & Cafe features regional cuisine imaginatively prepared. Fletcher Boyd and his wife, Gloria, began the trend here when they opened their two-tier restaurant downtown in the summer of 1985.
At street level is the informal, medium-priced grill where mesquite-cooked steaks and chicken, freshly baked dill rolls and Gloria's garlic/cheese potatoes are served in a sleek, modern setting. Entrees run $4 to $6 for lunch and $8 to $18 for dinner.
The more expensive and formal cafe downstairs is one of the loveliest dining rooms anywhere. The serene, candlelit room was done in pastels by local designer Amy Henderson and seems bathed in a soft, pink glow. The prix fixe menu includes appetizers, salad and entree for $29.50. Desserts are extra, at $3 to $5.
Surprises in Store
"I call our cuisine 'contemporary Hoosier eclectic,' " says Boyd, who coordinates menus with 33-year-old chef Ted Delay. "We try to surprise our customers by taking a familiar frame of reference and doing something a little different with it. For instance, we wrap our Beef Wellington in filo leaves instead of puff pastry."
Our meal began with a seafood sausage served in a cream sauce and angel hair spinach pasta with escargot. A salad of Belgian endive, enoki mushrooms and artichoke hearts in a sherry wine vinaigrette followed.
For the main course we chose blackened red snapper in a lime marinade and Moulard duck breast served with poached apples in a Calvados brown sauce. The flavors were intense and the preparations excellent.
Dessert was a Harlequin souffle--rich chocolate with vanilla sauce.
Another culinary treat is in the restaurant of the Canterbury Hotel, an enclave of Edwardian elegance in the center of Indianapolis. The wood-paneled dining room is a favorite place for business breakfasts and the fresh blueberry muffins are exceptional.
At lunch the house specialty is an angel hair pasta with smoked salmon, shiitake mushrooms, scallions and caviar in a sour cream sauce ($8.95).
Yorkshire Ham Medley
The British ambiance of the hotel is reflected in such menu items as a Yorkshire ham medley with pea pods, cucumbers, Belgian endive and Stilton ($6.50), and a Wiltshire porkpie with baked ham, fresh sage, pearl onions and potatoes ($6.50).
Dinner specialties include veal chop Lockerbie, with Canadian bacon and morels ($21); medallions of venison in a Cumberland sauce, with chanterelles and a chestnut puree ($22), and Hunter's quails with a Burgundy glaze ($16).