Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Canal Café and Terrace
Indiana State Museum, Indianapolis, IN
317-232-1687
Review by Diana, SuSu, MaceVindaloo, Csillag, Bunchbox






The L. S. Ayres Tearoom is crowded with visitors nostalgic to show their children and grandchildren what Christmas in Indianapolis used to be like — you have lunch or tea, then go see Mr. and Mrs. Claus. The department store is long gone, and so this restoration at the Indiana State Museum is overrun with people wise enough to have made reservations. Walk-ins simply cannot be squeezed in at all, much to our dismay, especially since we'd been talking up the Chicken Velvet Soup that is the height of midwest fine cuisine. Aghast at the lost opportunity, we wondered how we could possibly leave without tasting the soup? Take-out? Break into the kitchen? Bribe the manager?

Fortunately, none of that turned out to be necessary, for the manager revealed that this cafeteria-style place next door basically served the same food as the tearoom. It comes from the same kitchen, and though there isn't table service and fine china and linens, the same food here is significantly cheaper. What a relief to know that they have the soup!

And though it was a serve-yourself, resulting in very messy ladling into pint-sized or cup-sized styrofoam containers, the soup was declared, "the best I've ever eaten," by the one whom we'd dragged all the way out to this midwestern demographic center of the country. In fact, he was so impressed that the following day we returned for brunch (meaning we skipped breakfast) and he imbibed in another half gallon of the stuff. He would have had more, but there are only so many places that much rich, creamy, dense liquid can go.

He also had a grilled cheese and ham sandwich, and the white or whole wheat soft dinner rolls which come with the soup. Others in the group tried out the spaghetti and meatballs, chicken strips and cheesefries, an omelette, a foot-long hotdog, some ice cream, chips, many sodas. The food is all appropriately presented, meaning stuff that wouldn't suffer for being kept warm on a steam table was on a "serve yourself" buffet. There were also "make your own nacho" stations for those who enjoy twiddling with their food. Stuff that should be cooked to order could be requested at their respective stations. The food was very good, and the place was kept clean. And if you wanted something a little different, the cooks behind the counter are happy to accommodate you as they could (one of us wanted our hotdog bun grilled).

There is always one other soup than the Chicken Velvet Soup, and sometimes the two soups look alike. Be sure to ask if you're not sure! (One time, it was Potato Cream Soup ... looks and smells remarkably alike, but it's not!) They are inobtrusively put on the far side of the food side of the cafeteria, opposite the soda dispensers, and decorated with a bunch of kale. Don't let their pedestrian appearance and mundane location allow you to overlook them! If you desperately need to make this soup at home, the museum gift shop sells the coil-bound L.S. Ayres Tearoom Cookbook for about $15, and yes, the recipe is within (as well as to-be-posted on Hut Cuisine)!

We commented how tidy the place was; one of us remarked that it's a "quality establishment" as the chairs all match! Amazing what can impress a person when expectations are low. The term "cafeteria" doesn't do this place justice, but there doesn't seem to be another term to describe this venue, so we'll settle for "very nice cafeteria." (No, it's not a café, either.)

We returned twice in one weekend, and we wish it was open more than 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. We'd hoped to have dinner there, but that wasn't to be. Just remember to reserve a table if you want to eat at the tearoom, and plan your grazing so you get plenty of soup, maybe at opening and before they start closing up shop and take the soup away. They will pack for take-out, too, so you can survive the evening. ;)


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