The view driving down South Madison Avenue would never be mistaken for being particularly scenic. Acres of post-war housing yielded to many discount stores, payday loan outlets, and used car dealerships, and then, of course, a barnacle-encrusted steam ship that towers over the buildings surrounding it. Both out of place and still surprisingly at home, the building, situated just after Manual High School, was once one of the area’s top destination restaurants where land-locked Hoosiers satisfied cravings for treats from the sea for many years.
The Key West Shrimp House is an iconic name in Indianapolis restaurant lore. Opened in 1950 by Claude Kendall, the restaurant gave residents a chance to enjoy specialty seafood that would otherwise have to drive hundreds of miles to sample.
The menu indicates the preferred method of preparation had sea creatures jumping from the deep blue into the deep fryer. As the name suggests, shrimp were in heavy rotation. Guests were treated with complimentary dill pickles, garlic bread and lobster bisque’ served with each meal. Anderson, Bloomington, Madison and Gas City also had locations.
The restaurant business is plagued with many failures, however, this clearly was not the case with Key West. A special section reviewing several restaurants in the Indianapolis Star in 1984 proclaimed Key West the tastiest. In 1986, the restaurant, climbed aboard the newly redeveloped Union Station in an ever expanding downtown restaurant scene. The move was successful, as diners flocked to the new location, yet rough seas were imminent.
The popularity of the “festival marketplace” version of Union Station grew stale in short order. The Key West Shrimp House kept afloat til 1996 in their new location. Those craving a seafood fix can still sampler these old-time goodies. The location in Madison, Indiana on the banks of the Ohio River is still very much open. The restaurant is run by the family of the former Indianapolis manager and appears to be a very similar dining experience.
Have you got any longtime seafood or other favorite restaurants in Indianapolis?
Indianapolis Monthly, September 2002
Indianapolis Monthly, August 1994
Indianapolis Star, Special Feature, 1984
Indianapolis Yellow Pages, 1987