Friday, December 23, 2016

Seasonal splendor in conservatory display

Every year at this time, the Garfield Park Conservatory in Indianapolis dresses up its atrium and tropical plant exhibit for the holidays with colored lights, poinsettias, a Christmas tree and a model train landscaped with a tunnel and various attractions and scale-size people.

I have a two-year-old grandson who is fascinated with trains (Thomas the Train and all his friends are huge toy favorites), so it seemed appropriate that while my daughter and her children were in town for the holidays, we visit the conservatory and let Maddox get a look at the decorations and train. Of course, my older grandchildren (and Maddox's younger sister, who is 10 months old), got a kick out of it all as well.

On about six days during the almost full-month observance, which the park calls Conservatory Crossing, the conservatory stays open until 8 p.m. (usually it closes at 5 p.m.). A few years back, I remember it referring to the late-hours days as Candlelight Crossing ... or perhaps it referred to just one of those nights, when the conservatory would have cookies and punch available to visitors. At some point thereafter, however, "Candlelight" was dropped from the name. It now goes just by Conservatory Crossing.

In any event, we chose to go Wednesday, one of the late-hours dates, in order to get the full spectacle of the lights and decor.

Maddox was pleased ... and predictably entranced, especially, by the train and its landscaping. I took pictures, and while walking through the tropical plant section, noticed several interesting compositions enhanced by strategic fall of light on various leaves and, in some cases, full plants. Some of those shots are included here.

In a rarity for this blog, I'm not going to bother to compose captions for the individual pictures that appear below. I've pretty much described what this attraction entails in the text above, and there's little to add. Just enjoy the images.

As always, click on any photo to bring up a larger, sharper version. To see a full gallery of shots from the shoot, visit my site at

Photo geek stuff: I took all of the photos here with my Canon 6D equipped with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens using shutter priority (1/160) and varying my ISO settings to adapt to differing light availability.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

And now ... a final stop at The Garf

After re-reading my post from early this morning, the one about the recent closings of three dining establishments I cherished, I decided I had to stop in at The Garf one more time before it closes tomorrow.

This afternoon, I bought a Garfield club sandwich (left) on rye bread; I figured it would be appropriate to get the namesake menu item for my last order there. The sandwich came with chips (which were fantastic) and a pickle. I also grabbed a coffee (right) and took them all home to enjoy for lunch.

While there, I took the accompanying photos, to help document the bohemian niche the eatery and cafe created for itself, beginning with original owners Dan Sassano and David Sanchez, who opened the remodeled storefront in August 2014, and enhanced by current owners Beverly Manuel and Lori Leaumont, who took over a year later.

If I had one major complaint about the Garf in its short iteration as an eatery and coffeehouse it was the dizzying changing of the days and hours of operation, and that was true under both ownerships. I realize both owners were tweaking those things to find something logical to accommodate both customers and their personal lives.

But as a wannabe regular, it wasn't easy remembering what day(s) and hours it was open ... and remembering, under the second ownership, to get over there fast (before noon) if you were interested in ordering something off the breakfast menu. On at least two occasions, I spaced it -- and I stopped there when it was closed (a Monday, very shortly after Mondays became a "closed" day) or after the kitchen was shut down (after 2 p.m.).

To their credit, Beverly and Lori, greatly assisted by Lori's husband (and Beverly's son), Nicholas, experimented with night hours this summer to address neighborhood interest in having a walking-distance establishment to congregate ... and to cater to those who worked day hours and couldn't get to The Garf during the week.

But that experiment didn't work. In a Facebook post announcing the Dec. 23 closing, Lori said The Garf often had no traffic at all at night -- so the night hours were canceled about a month and a half ago.

At the very end, The Garf's hours of operation were 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, although it occasionally opened on a Friday or Saturday night for a special event, such as a concert by a local performer or the Brick Street Poetry group's open mic night.

A final post on the Garf wouldn't be right without a toast to barrista Phil, the lone employee who worked under both ownerships. He was a pleasure to see and chat with, and he nailed beverage orders each and every time. The photo of Phil (immediately above and left) is not mine; it's from The Garf's page on Facebook. He isn't smiling in the one image of him that I took, and because I will remember him for his cheerfulness and his smile, I elected to use The Garf's.

As always, click on any image to view a larger and sharper version, which is particularly important if you access the blog from a mobile device.

Wall art (above) adjacent to the distinctive beverage order board (below).

Three groups (above) of the four customers I saw in the eatery when I arrived to pick up my carryout order. A view of the bar area (below) as you walk in the front door. 

Above: Where customers could reward their baristas. 

Above: Lori was a skilled clay craftsperson and was affiliated with the Fountain Square Clay Center. Their works were sold at the eatery. A month ago or so, Lori invited and accepted orders for the holidays.  

Above: The table where, more often than not, Lee Ann and I enjoyed our meals at The Garf. 

Above: The last thing you see when exiting the front door. After tomorrow, it will be permanent.

A last supper at the Milano Inn

The past week was not a good one for me; my list of favorite dining haunts was reduced (or would soon be reduced) by three.

First, I learned that the second owners who tried to keep afloat a neighborhood cafe and eatery have decided to pack it in. The last day for the Garfield Eatery and Coffee, just south of Garfield Park on Shelby Street in Indianapolis, is Friday, Dec. 23. I'm not sure if I'm going to have a chance to get over there before then. I was there early this month before the closing was announced, but that was the first time I'd gotten there in quite a while -- even though it's walking distance from home. There's no word on whether anyone else is interested in keeping it open as an eatery.

The current owners lasted 16 months, which was seven months more than the first owners who transformed the space into a wonderful destination; in its previous iteration, it was a problematic tavern. The tavern operation actually had been closed for a while, so the building stood idle for a short time. Even as the Garf prepares to close, the quaint bookstore next door continues to look for a buyer; it's been for sale going on at least a year now.

Meanwhile, I found out just yesterday that a favorite dining establishment in Greenwood, Hal's
Fabulous Vegas, had closed in early July. That was shortly after my last visit, a month earlier. Hal's had been open for 10 years, and on the eatery's Facebook page, Hal (who, by the way, is Hal Yeagy, owner and operator of the Slippery Noodle Inn in downtown Indianapolis) said that it had been a good run but it was time to shut down.

I'd been to Hal's at least a half-dozen times (if not more); the first time was only about three years ago. It was a place for a couple of my birthday observances. My first visit, though, came with a dining group I belonged to at the time. It decided to check out Hal's when the restaurant participated in Savor the Southside, a project when eateries in a community offer discounts on select menu items for about two weeks or so.

One of the deals Hal's offered for Savor the Southside that year was a grilled salmon topped with raspberry glaze served on rice pilaf. For an appetizer, it offered its signature jackpot shrimp. The shrimp and salmon were divine; both remain the best shrimp appetizer (even better than Indy's St. Elmo's) and salmon I've ever had at a restaurant.

Our dining group visited Hal's on a Saturday night, and a few of us were so blown away by our meals we tried to go back the next day. We were bummed to learn that Hal's was closed on Sundays. I was bummed even more when, the next time I went there (which was for my birthday), the salmon dish I had enjoyed and SO looked forward to was no longer on the menu. I inquired about it, and the server told me the dish left the menu when the head chef left the restaurant's employment. Fortunately, the jackpot shrimp was still there, so I was able to enjoy it a few more times (although when I was there in June, the recipe for that seemed to be slightly different).

Finally ... a couple weeks ago, I learned that Milano Inn owners Gina and Tina LaGrotte would be closing the restaurant (pictured in the lead-off photo) on Indianapolis' near-Southside at the end of the year. Milano Inn, which Italian immigrants Paul and Joe Modaffari opened in 1934, had come to be a favorite of mine. I've been there probably three dozen times, the first coming in 1997 when I went there with a work colleague who was preparing to move to Cleveland, Ohio.

Two of my visits there were Christmas outings with members of a photography club I belonged to. Except for maybe six visits, I always ordered the Timballo (pictured above right), the best layered lasagna I've ever had. Frankly, it's why I kept coming back. And yes, I had the Timballo on Tuesday, when Lee Ann and I went for our last suppers there. Lee Ann had the parmesan breaded grouper (left), and we shared an appetizer of fried calamari and red sauce (below right).

The pictures you see here of the Milano Inn were taken with an iPhone 6s Plus on that last visit. I've been there quite a few times on a weekday in the early evening and never had trouble getting a table without a reservation, but not this time. Well-wishers are coming in droves -- even during the week -- to squeeze in their last visits before 8 p.m. Dec. 31, when the eatery closes its doors for the last time.

We got there around 4:30 p.m., and they said they had nothing available in the main dining rooms until 7:45 or thereabouts ... unless I was willing to dine at the bar or one of the two high-top tables for two in the compact bar area. We were willing to do that (and, on that night, Lee Ann's birthday, we also were hungry, so that's what we did).

Above and below: Decorations greeting visitors during the holidays. The couple pictured in the wall art above are Leo and Sondra LaGrotte, who bought the restaurant in 1981. The LaGrottes' daughters Tina and Gina took over the restaurant after their father died in 2007. A Milano Inn employee told us that Mrs. LaGrotte still visits the restaurant on occasion.  

We chatted briefly with the ladies in the picture above. They sat at the bar; like us, they most likely were not expecting a crowded house on a weekday. They were in a party of three, two of whom (including the one at left in the photo) said they had worked at the Milano Inn at some point. They made a point to do a bit of what I did -- take pictures -- before leaving. Below is a cut of the artsy bar ceiling. 

The Milano Inn menus (above) in its last days; these aren't nearly as elegant as the menus the restaurant diners perused before this year. Below is the first dining area as you enter the restaurant, and this view is from the bar. They couldn't seat us at any of these unoccupied tables because they were reserved for diners who would start trickling in around 5 p.m., a half-hour after we got there.

Above: Immediately adjacent to our table in the bar was this staircase, which leads to an upstairs banquet and dining area. I was up there once -- with a photo club holiday outing about five years ago or so. The club also was seated at a table in the room pictured below for a Christmas outing the previous year. And yes, I had the Timballo both times.

Above: The lower-level large-party dining room, which looked like it was set up for a big gathering that evening. The party hadn't arrived by the time we left. 

Above: This caricature greets guests headed to the upstairs dining area, but it was only about 10 yards or so from our table. 

Above and below: Two views of the outdoor seating area (used during warm weather, of course) and the bocce courts, where I believe the Milano Inn hosted bocce competitions. 

The walkway to the restaurant (above) from the north parking lot, which is adjacent to Angelo's Inc. salvage grocery store, a property that the LaGrotte sisters also own. 
Below, another view of the bocce courts. 

Above: After shooting the above pictures outside the restaurant along College Avenue, I turned to the northwest and caught this setting sun colorization of the Indianapolis skyline.