Great American Bites: Indy's St. Elmo serves steak fit for a champion

ByABC News
February 16, 2012, 6:11 AM

— -- The scene: Just a few days before winning the Super Bowl, Giants quarterback Eli Manning ate at St. Elmo Steak House. Coincidence? Maybe, but the restaurant, arguably Indianapolis' favorite eatery, serves up the kind of hearty Midwestern fare that would power a 6' 4" NFL player. And he is hardly alone: In the week leading up to the game, all three famed Manning quarterbacks, Eli, Archie and Peyton ate here, separately and in combination (Peyton Manning is part-owner of adjacent sister restaurant, Harry & Izzy's, also a steakhouse but with a much more modern menu and another location at the Indianapolis airport). In fact, since it opened in 1902, virtually every race-car driver, athlete and celebrity who has visited Indy has dined here, along with state and city politicos, given that it is in the heart of downtown, an easy walk from the Statehouse, many hotels, the Convention Center and NFL venue Lucas Oil Field. Days before the Super Bowl, visiting New York sports broadcasters openly discussed how good their meal here was on the air, and the night before the game, diners included John Travolta and Jessica Simpson.

St. Elmo is the quintessentially masculine classic steakhouse with heavy wood walls and an impressive Tiger-maple bar that was imported from the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Upon entering, you find yourself in a classic watering hole, and diners can eat at the bar or high-top tables parallel, with a view of the open kitchen. Just beyond is a doorway that leads to multiple huge dining rooms filled with normal tables, and the place is much, much bigger than it looks from the outside. Virtually every inch of wall space is covered with hundreds of photos of St. Elmo clientele, many of them autographed, from Hollywood stars to Indy 500 drivers, visiting athletes to visiting bands - over my table was a framed print of heavy metal band AC/DC, signed by guitarist Angus Young.

Reason to visit: Spicy shrimp cocktail, steaks, Amish chicken, chops, King Crab mac & cheese

The food: Most classic steakhouses - St Elmo's is over a century old and still in its original location - feature only minor variations on a similar theme, one dominated by red meat. St. Elmo strays a little further afield than most, mainly in the way of some odd traditions. Every entrée is served with a starter choice of Navy Bean Soup or a glass of tomato juice - and no one seems to know why. "It's just always been that way - soup or tomato juice," said current owner Craig Huse, whose family took over the business in 1986. "I asked the previous owners and they didn't know why. It used to be called Soup du Jour on the menu, but it was always Navy Bean, every day, so we dropped that. The tomato juice is local Indiana Red Gold brand." Like the juice, St. Elmo tries to use local products as much as possible, most notably Indiana's Millers Amish Chickens, very popular here, as well as local duck, farmed seafood, cheeses and a wide variety of produce.

The other distinction is that all entrees are served with a choice of sides, either green beans or potatoes (fries, baked or redskin-mashed). As a result, while St. Elmo is not exactly cheap, especially by Indianapolis standards, when you order a protein you get a meal, whereas almost every other higher end urban steakhouse is totally a la carte, making bills here roughly half of what they would be at comparable places in New York, Chicago or Las Vegas.