Thursday, January 23, 2014

Zionsville, IN

A little gem north of Indy...

I’ve got a soft spot for Indianapolis.  Living in Chicago, I pass through the city on most of my journeys south, and several of the writers conferences I attend regularly end up there.  Honestly, I thought I was pretty familiar with the area.

Then one day, on a tip from a knitting friend, I ventured about 30 minutes north of the city to a quaint little town called Zionsville.  Sure, it may just look like an exit while you’re barreling down I-65 on your way to who knows where, but it’s not.  It’s adorable.  It’s charming,  It’s yummy.  And it’s worth your time.

One fact that most got to me was that evidently Zionsville had a parade for everything.  It makes sense when you look at the place—it has a picture-perfect Main Street just dying to host a parade.  As if the Powers That Be built the street expressly for that purpose.  On the sunny day I visited, I could easily envision a parade making its way down the street.  Farmer’s market, folks out shopping, brick and wood and wrought iron everywhere; it’s all that charming, really.

Spend your first hour or so wandering down the street stopping in any of the establishments that catch your eye.  If it’s a Saturday morning like my visit, stop and chat with all the folks dining alfresco with their dogs if the weather’s fine (probably not a good idea in January—but you never know).  One dog you’ll want to be sure and meet is the resident mascot at: 

Black Dog Books
115 S. Main Street
Zionsville, IN  46077
(317) 733-1747

The shop feels like you wandered into a rabid book-lovers weekend cottage, all whitewashed and stuffed with intriguing volumes.  This is one of those great places that regularly hosts authors—a dying breed of store and very much worth your commerce.  You could walk in here, describe your Great Aunt Edith who’s so hard to buy for, and walk out with a thoughtful recommendation.  Try getting that kind of service at your ginormous online retailer!

When you’re ready for lunch, there are many choices, but I followed a local tip and ate at

135 South Main Street
Zionsville, IN 46077

(317) 873-5590

Step inside this 1868 home—one of the first in town way back then—or dine outside if the weather’s fine.  I found the servers attentive and the food deliciously creative.  While many suggested the chicken salad, I combined my longtime affection for the BLT with my New England upbringing to indulge in the shrimp and lobster BLT.   Delicious, inventive, but a bit spicy.  I paired it with a marvelous sherried mushroom soup—first rate and charmingly presented in it’s own little pot.  

Again, I put a lot of stake in how a restaurant treats a woman dining alone, and this place did it right.  Of course, if you don’t like only your own company when you eat (I know lots of people who don’t enjoy noshing alone), mosey up to the community table and make some new friends.   I’d really love to come back for the English Tea (2-4 Monday through Saturday by appointment) or the Sunday brunch.  Opt out for dessert, though—we’ve got plans for that.

Need to get your artsy side revved up?  Head to

Art in Hand
211 S. Main Street
Zionsville IN  46077

I love these type of co-op shops where you can sample the fares of several local artists.  You can satisfy a variety of styles and budgets while supporting talented nearby craftspeople.  Shops like these are my favorite place for gift shopping—unique and thoughtful items that are mostly one-of-a-kind. One of my “when I’m rich and famous” goals is to give myself an entire set of locally produced tableware.  It’s not happening anytime soon, but here was a fun place to dream about such a massive and decorative purchase.

Feeling duly artistic, it’s high time to indulge in fiber shopping.  Look for the sign made from an actual sweater leading you to

The Village Yarn Shop
209  South Main Street
Zionsville IN  46077

Some stores stun you with their size.  Others with their stock.  This one pulls you in with sheer friendliness. Everyone says hello to you the minute you walk in.  Were I beginner, I’d know instantly that support and encouragement could be found here.  After all, beginning classes are a steal at $10 for two hours, and there’s a “Sit and Knit” every Saturday.

There is a nice, diversified stock in the shelves, and plenty of projects done up to inspire you.  The place is loaded with texture—after all, that’s important to fiber folks like us.  Still, it’s not enough to overwhelm a beginner (or make your spouse’s eyes glaze over in anticipation of a multi-hour visit).  

Having said that, it’s no surprise that “people spend all day here,” says Harriett McNabb, the enormously affable former school teacher who owns the shop.  It’s a nice balance in atmosphere—you’d want to stay, but you don’t feel like you have to in order to find the perfect purchase.

Speaking of perfect purchases, here are some of the projects that caught my eye:

Churchmouse at Home Basic Christmas Stocking
And why shouldn’t you be thinking about next holiday??  Think how calm and accomplished you’ll feel heading into the holiday season with some of your Christmas knitting out of the “in progress” pile!  This pattern from the lauded Washington shop knits up Lambs Pride Worsted into a cherished family heirloom.

Ann Budd Alpine Tweed Cardigan
Ready to show off some mad knitting skills?  Strut your stuff with Ann Budd’s classic cardigan.  I like the nice scoop neckline on the “Chickadee” version.  Knit up in Berroco Vintage’s sturdy washable wool, this will be a garment that will see lots of love and use.

Our knit-along from Village Yarn Shop marks a rare foray into home decor knitting:

Churchmouse Yarn Wreath Kit
I’m not much of a decorator, but even I know it’s hard to find something for the winter seasons that doesn’t scream “Christmas.”  Not that you couldn’t make a holiday version, but I love the universal nature of this white fiber.  I might accent it with some little knitted hearts for Valentines Day or shamrocks for March.  The possibilities of this versatile kit are endless.

Once the fiber’s been acquired, well, that’s when I head for desert.  And oh, is there delectable desert in store for you in Zionsville! 

My Sugar Pie
40 E. Pine Street
Zionsville, IN  46077

Pie.  Three letters that go straight to my heart.  They even have a pie of the month club—anyone want to pitch in and buy one for me?  They had a lot of mouth-watering flavors, but this trip introduced me to Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie.  Hey, it’s the official Indiana State Pie—it’s my journalistic duty to investigate!  Delicious.  You’d think it’d be over-the-top sweet, but it’s not.  Just the perfect pairing for a cup of coffee as an afternoon treat.  They do everything from taking one home for dinner to full scale corporate gifts.  You know what they say—everything’s better with pie.

Still, if sweet’s not your thing, there’s salty just down the block at

Inga’s Popcorn
140 South Main Street
Zionsville IN  46077

They had me at Snickerdoodle.  That’s all I’m saying.  Awesome.  Of course, there are lots of other flavors, but where-oh-where else are you going to score Snickerdoodle popcorn??

Take in some more shops until dinner, where I have two suggestions:

Cobblestone Grill
160 S Main St
Zionsville, IN 46077
(317) 873-4745
When the weather’s nice, Monday nights are Dog Nights, so you can dine with your furry friend—how fun is that? They also have live music on the weekends.

Friendly Tavern
290 S Main St
Zionsville, IN 46077
(317) 873-5772

“It’s been around for ages.”  Places like these don’t stick around for no reason—they’re good.  My sources say they are known for their burgers or tenderloin, and that this places serves “the best homemade vegetable soup around.”

Now, when next you visit Indianapolis, you can augment your standard tourist stuff with a quick day visit to this wonderful town.  Or, I can’t think of a better way to break up the endless trek up and down I-65 than with a long, leisurely lunch and shopping expedition in Zionsville.  A hidden gem to be sure!

Next up, we tackle the knitted wreath from The Village Yarn Shop.

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