Friday, January 6, 2012

#19. Dine in the Rathskeller's Vonnegut Room

I have had some incredible experiences because of this blog: ziplining into a quarry, climbing Mt. Baldy, unearthing treasure at an Amish flea market, and touring a Southern Indiana cave, to name a few. While I have experienced several mishaps along the way (getting lost, visiting French Lick on an insufferably hot day, etc.), my ventures have usually gone very smoothly. That is, until I attempted to complete #19.

Eating in a restaurant should present very few snafus. Save bad service and food, eating in a restaurant is simple, mindless even: enter the restaurant, sit at a table, pick a menu item, order, eat food, pay bill, exit restaurant. Somehow I managed to entirely muck up this process.

My friend and I entered the Rathskeller, a German restaurant in downtown Indianapolis, at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, eager to eat a German lunch. We were informed that lunch ended at 2, but that the bar was open and sandwiches and appetizers "like chicken fingers" were available. Because we wanted to try German food and were under 21, the host suggested that we return at 4 p.m. when dinner would be served. This was mishap #1: arriving after lunch and having to kill two hours before eating.

Luckily this wasn't too much of an issue, as the Rathskeller is across the street from a series of stores on Massachusetts Avenue. My friend and I passed the time by playing with a puppy in Three Dog Bakery, perusing the Fair Trade items in Global Gifts, watching a blue parrot in Stout's Shoe Store, tinkering with toys in Mass Ave Toys, and giggling over cheeky gifts in At Home in the City.

Once 4 o'clock rolled around, we re-entered the Rathskeller. This time, a different host told us that dinner did not start until 5 p.m. By this time our stomachs were growling and the host must have taken pity on our pathetically obvious disappointment, because he offered to seat us anyway. I asked if the Vonnegut Room was available and he replied that he would have to set the room up. Although I considered the offer for a second (I am horrible, I know), I didn't want to be even more of a hassle and we were instead seated in a general dining area. Mishap #2: not sitting in the Vonnegut Room, the whole point of this blogging venture.

Rathskeller dining room

Although I was initially disappointed about this, it really was not a big deal. I have eaten in the Vonnegut Room before, and while it is a beautiful, quiet space, the room in which we were seated was asthetically-pleasing and deserted due to the off 4 o'clock hour.

Pretty stained glass

Not so pretty...
All was going well until we looked at the menu prices. While the lunch menu (what we were expecting to order from before my timing blunder) was reasonably priced, the dinner menu entrees were between  $20 and $30, much higher than what my friend and I are used to paying. I reached for my wallet to make sure I brought enough cash, only to discover that I left my wallet at home--mishap #3.

Luckily my friend had a debit card so it wasn't too much of an issue. We decided to split the Jaegerschnitzel, a breaded center-cut pork loin topped with a sauce of wild mushrooms, shallots, fresh garlic, red wine, and herbs. It came with a salad and two sides. We selected spaetzle noodles and potato pancakes with applesauce as our sides. This was all new to us, and we nervously laughed at the prospect of the food tasting strange given the numerous difficulties we had already encountered for this meal.

Our hesitation was unwarranted: the meal was delicious. The jaegerschnitzel was similar to a tenderloin and the sauce was terrific. The spaetzl noodles were fantastic, comparable to dumplings and very flavorful. The potato pancakes were lightly fried and (surprisingly) paired very well with the sweet cinnamon applesauce.

Jaegerschnitzel, potato pancakes, & spaetzl noodles
The service was great, too, especially considering how weird we must have seemed coming in when they were closed and asking to sit in a room commemorating a dead author.

The closest I came to Mr. Vonnegut: street art on Mass Ave
In spite of the numerous flukes, my visit to the Rathskeller was definitely memorable and filled with tasty food.

#37. Climb the Monument

Punctuating the center of downtown Indianapolis is the 284.5 foot tall Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument. The stately monument is a popular backdrop for wedding photos and the facilitator of the holiday season's Tree of Lights. On any given day, thousands of Hoosiers and tourists alike gaze at this impressive limestone structure paying homage to the state's military veterans. While spectators can undoubtedly appreciate the exterior beauty of the monument, few know what lies inside.

Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument strung with lights for the seasonal Tree of Lights

Located inside the monument are a Civil War museum and an observation deck, both of which are free of charge. The Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum is relatively small and features several collections of authentic wartime items varying from military uniforms to medical equipment. Interactive activities and documentaries add punchy twists to the typical exhibits. 

Civil War doctor's medical kit....yikes!

Civil War military coat

The museum is respectable, especially considering the absence of an admission fee. It is very similar to the Indiana War Memorial Museum that I blogged about here.

After meandering through the museum, my friend and I moved on to the task that brought us here: climbing the monument. Although an elevator is available for $2/person, we decided the only way to get the actual monument experience (and save $2) was to climb the 331 steps to the observation deck. It was a long climb on narrow stairs, but markers counted down the remaining steps. The markers were tremendously motivational and made the ascent significantly easier. 

Once we reached the top and caught our breaths, we took in the view around us. We visited the monument on a bland January day, so the scenery was nothing notably special. Had snow covered the roofs, leaves made a green treetop oasis, or fall foliage burned in the distance, it would have been a beautiful vista. This was not the case, however, so the view was dismally industrial. 

View from the observation deck
Despite the lackluster view, it was a cool experience. I have passed the monument countless times, but before reading the Indianapolis Monthly article I did not know that it was possible to climb the monument. After asking several friends and family members who have lived in Indianapolis their entire lives, I discovered that none of them had visited the interior of the monument. One fellow observer commented, "I lived in Indianapolis for 20 years and never climbed the monument. Why did I wait until I moved away to do this?"

Indianapolis Monthly headquarters across from the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument
For whatever reason, it seems that relatively few Hoosiers take advantage of this experience. Climbing the monument made me look at Indianapolis with fresh eyes, allowing me to be a tourist in a very familiar city.