3UP is a rooftop bar that overlooks downtown Carmel — Photo courtesy of Hamilton County Tourism
With a population of around 100,000 people, Carmel, Indiana is neither large nor small, yet travelers probably drive past it on the way to or from Chicago and Indianapolis. However, situated only 30 minutes north of Indy, less than three hours from Chicago and less than two hours from Cincinnati, Carmel’s burgeoning food scene makes it ideal for a quick dining stop or a longer weekend getaway.
Any season is a good time to visit, but during the Christmas season, Carmel lights up with Carmel Christkindlmarkt, featuring raclette and several kinds of Glühwein. Carmel abounds with a score of women-owned businesses, global cuisine, the Carmel Caffeine Trail (the nation’s first) and the most roundabouts of any U.S. city.
From vegan to craft coffee, here are 10 of the best restaurants and beverage spots to check out in Carmel.
The Cake Bake Shop
The Cake Bake Shop bakes and sells huge slices of cakes — Photo courtesy of Garin Pirnia
In 2014, owner Gwendolyn Rogers opened her first Cake Bake eatery in Indianapolis’ Broad Ripple neighborhood. In 2019, she opened a second location and more spacious restaurant at Carmel City Center.
The extensive menu consists of French- and New Orleans-inspired dishes such as gumbo poutine, hunks of quiche, soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers and crab cakes. But make sure you save room for dessert, specifically cake.
Rogers and staff create cookies and pies but also Oprah-approved three-layer cakes in the basement of the restaurant. Although it costs around $15 for a slice of cake, it’s large enough to share with the entire table. Besides the sweet and savory menus, Cake Bake offers coffee drinks, cocktails and champagne, because nothing goes better with excellent cake than a little sparkle.
Eggshell Bistro boasts an international brunch menu — Photo courtesy of Hamilton County Tourism
It might be surprising to discover that Carmel is chock-full of international cuisine, including Larry Hanes’ Eggshell Bistro. The daytime café opened in 2011 at Carmel City Center and has become a local staple.
To start with, he offers single-origin pour-over coffee, a coffee drink called Polar Opposite (hot and cold layers of espresso, crema, chicory syrup and organic milk), and Japanese iced coffee. There’s also a rotating menu of shakshuka, kedgeree (a curried fish and rice dish), artichoke tart and truffled egg brioche.
He employs staff who hail from all over the world, so you feel transported to another place.
Sun King Spirits
In 2009, Sun King Brewery opened in Indianapolis and quickly became the largest brewery in Indy and the second largest brewery in the state. Nine years later, Sun King opened its Carmel outpost, Sun King Spirits, where they distill their own vodka, agave, rum and whiskey.
The taproom, adjacent to the “rails-to-trails” Monon Trail, serves an assortment of Sun King beers, boozy slushies (flights!), cocktails imbued with Sun King’s spirits and four food kiosks, including smoked meats place Goose.
Joann Hofer oversees her high-end chocolate candies — Photo courtesy of Hamilton County Tourism
Chocolatier Joann Hofer uses high-end chocolates from South America in her hand-made candies. Located in Carmel’s Art and Design District, Xchocol’Art sells almost-too-pretty-to-eat candies, such as whiskey honey truffles, painted chocolates and caramels covered in dark chocolate and sprinkled with fleur de sel.
For a pick-me-up, be sure to try her rum-infused drinking chocolate.
Indie Coffee Roasters
The name could easily be a riff on “independent” and/or “Indiana,” but Indie Coffee Roasters owners – Alec and Jenny Tod, and Diane and Kevin McAndrews – named their venture after Indie the dachshund, who appears as the logo.
The Doghouse, located inside a Victorian home, is the hub for roasting and gathering with friends or by yourself. Order the coffee in seasonal lattes, cold brews, nitro coffee or pour-overs, and buy a bag of beans. If coffee isn’t your thing, they also offer teas, as well as assorted pastries.
Tina’s Traditional Tea Room
Come to Tina’s for British pastries, tea and a Prince Harry sighting — Photo courtesy of Hamilton County Tourism
In 2008, Tina Jesson and her husband moved from England to Indiana, and six years later, she opened her namesake tea room. Because Tina is from England – Derbyshire, in fact – she generates authentic British food and etiquette lessons, and she even has life-size cutouts of Royal family members Prince Harry and The Queen scattered in the antique-filled rooms.
Complement a pot of tea with her made-from-scratch scones, sausage rolls, finger sandwiches and her grandma’s recipe for green tomato chutney. The Royal Family cutouts aren’t for sale, but she does sell her loose leaf teas and tea brewing equipment.
Try one of Caffe Buondi’s several frittatas — Photo courtesy of Hamilton County Tourism
Another daytime-only spot, Caffe Buondi – which translates to “good morning” – integrates Italian dishes into brunch and lunch fare. The lengthy menu features crepes, galettes, Nutella mascarpone French toast, several kinds of frittatas, paninis, salads, pizza and pasta.
During the week, opt for the lunch combo consisting of soup, salad, panino or baked pasta. And nothing says Italian more than Lavazza coffee drinks, wines and sparkling wine cocktails.
Books and Brews
Drink beer and buy books at this literary-themed bar and bookstore — Photo courtesy of Hamilton County Tourism
Reading and drinking kind of go hand in hand, so it makes sense for a used bookstore to make its own beer. Located next door to Eggshell Bistro, Books and Brews creates its own literary-named beers, like Clifford (an Irish-style red ale), Charlie (a chocolate milk stout) and the punny Cream and Punishment cream ale.
You can purchase the beers on draft and in cans while perusing the books, which cost $3. Besides the beer and books, they offer board games, open mic nights and a literary food menu – offering Lord of the Fries, or Wilbur, a pulled pork flatbread.
3UP Rooftop Bar
Drink handcrafted cocktails while soaking in a rooftop view of Carmel — Photo courtesy of Hamilton County Tourism
Until 2019, Carmel was lacking one thing: a rooftop bar. However, 3UP opened above Anthony’s Chophouse with sprawling views of downtown Carmel, a living wall and a classy cocktail menu. Choose from eight different cocktails and a small menu of shared plates, like tacos, sliders and pizza.
Though Carmel experiences winter like the rest of the Midwest, the rooftop’s open year-round – fire pits and cozy couches outside and an indoor bar will keep you warm, and so will the cocktails.
divvy offers almost 30 kinds of small plates to assemble into a food board — Photo courtesy of Hamilton County Tourism
With divvy, co-owner and chef Richelle Rider brings vast vegetarian and vegan options to Carmel City Center. The word divvy means “to divide up and share,” and patrons can assemble shareable food boards from almost 30 items (many of them unusual).
Consider wasabi deviled eggs, edamame hummus, pineapple preserves, cashew “cheddar,” squash tots, mini morsel desserts, crispy goat cheese and Korean pork tacos, and pair it with one of many booze “tours,” aka flights.