A sampling of the menu in 1955 (Courtesy Indiana University)

A sampling of the menu in 1955. (Image: Indiana University)

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.

A postcard showing the cliche' nautical theme of the exterior and interior of The Key West Shrimp House (Courtesy Evan Finch)

A postcard showing the cliché nautical theme of the exterior and interior of The Key West Shrimp House. (Image: Evan Finch)

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.

A promotional add showing how the restaurant appeared in 1957. It had yet to sprout a second story (Courtesy Indiana State Library)

A promotional add showing how the restaurant appeared in 1957. It had yet to sprout a second story. (Image: Indiana State Library)

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?

Who doesn't love a dancing shrimp? An add from the 1980s. People would probably question the "healthful" claim of deep-fried seafood by this point (Courtesy Indiana State Library)

Who doesn’t love a dancing shrimp? An add from the 1980s. People would probably question the “healthful” claim of deep-fried seafood by this point. (Image: Indiana State Library)

Printed Sources:

Indianapolis Monthly, September 2002

Indianapolis Monthly, August 1994

Indianapolis Star, Special Feature, 1984

Indianapolis Yellow Pages, 1987


17 responses to “At Your Leisure: Key West Shrimp House”

  1. Steve Koepper says:

    The Kendall Inn on E. 38th Street, west of Arlington was also a favorite. Probably the same owner.

  2. Dave Brewer says:

    Your article brings back many happy memories. This was a favorite birthday destination for me and my family for many years. It breaks my heart every time I drive by there now, though.

  3. Donna Winsted says:

    For many years, when I was a child, the Key West Shrimp House was not in our family budget. But when I had a family of my own, we would go there as often as possible! My father came to visit inn 1985 and we took him to the shrimp house. He was from Chicago then moved to Milwaukee, WI, and he declared the shrimp house one of the best restaurants he’d ever been to. 😀

  4. Jack Rhodes says:

    Key West and Kendall Inn were ‘related’ in some way. Not sure if they shared an owner or at least shared family. I seem to recall that as Kendall was fading in the 70s or 80s, an attempt was made to renew some patronage by adding the Key West name at the Kendall Inn location. It didn’t last long in that co-branded form.

    But how I miss the original Shrimp House. I remember the first time I ate there. A hot summer Saturday night. I was maybe 10 years old. You walked out of the summer evening heat into that cool dark lobby and then escorted upstairs to our table. The smell of seafood intermingled with cigar and pipe smoke from the diners. Music, laughter, conversation. It was all very adult to my elementary school aged mind. I was immediately in love. I’d found my favorite restaurant.

    We’d met my aunt and uncle there that night. The men had beers, the women had 7&7s. I had a Coke. And how we ate. I had shrimp of course, but what I really wanted was what my dad chose…the Seafood Norfolk. They told me it was “too rich” for a ten year old. The women, shrimp. My uncle, lobster. Funny, the way he talked always had a little of the pretense of Thurston Howell, without the money of course. And of course, we all had those famous stuffed twice baked potatoes.

    Then desert. Key West had a small “cake” type item that as I recall came with every meal. Not sure quite how to describe it. About all I remember was the shock of seeing my aunt wrap up my uncle’s and her piece of “cake” in the restaurant’s cloth napkin and stuff it into her purse for the drive home. Taking that napkin didn’t seem right to my ten year old mind and I’ll always remember the disappointment I felt in seeing her do that. I know my dad especially was shocked by her doing that.

    It truly was my first “adult” dining experience. Until then, eating out was mostly a trip to Knobby’s or Big Boy. Maybe a trip to the Smorgasbord in Hagerstown. But after that night, I knew where my birthday dinner would be for the next six or eight years. We usually got there only one time each year, but what great times. And how fun it was when a few years later, I finally got to order that Seafood Norfolk. In my mind, I can still taste it today. Nothing else will ever be quite that good.

  5. Scott Koerner says:

    My mom started working at the shrimp house in 1958 and got my dad on the same year. Dad managed the restaurant through 60’s into the 70’s. In 1974 he was transferred to the Madison location. In 1981 he bought the restaurant and in 2000 he sold to me. January 1st I sold the shrimper to Cathy Morgan who has working at the shrimper for 22 years. The Madison location was opened in 1968.

  6. Carol Thompson says:

    I remember the Key West Shrimp House and the Kendall Inn well…quite well! They both were my husband and my favorite during a long period of time. Yes, they were owned by the same family. That’s why the Kendall Inn has it’s name “Kendall” as it was the Kendall family who owned them.

    My husband and I went to the Key West on our first wedding anniversary…1971….then for many anniversaries afterwards. When my parents would come to visit, we’d always make a visit there. I have a copper coffee pot from there that my husband purchased for me on our 10th wedding anniversary.

    The little cake items someone mentioned was the hush puppy….made from corn meal. The seafood was always fresh and abundant. I loved the bacon-wrapped BBQ shrimp. My husband always got the Captain’s platter. So, did my Dad! My parents lived in Florida and commented that they thought the Key West had as good, if not better than what they got in Florida!!!

    The Kendall Inn was closer to our home, so we visited there almost every week. My favorite was a beef bourguignon with mushroom sauce. They also had potato dish I liked….don’t recall its name. We got to know the piano player there so well, that when she’d see us enter the door, she’d change whatever she was playing and start with “Send in the Clowns” which was very popular at the time and one of our favorites. We had joked with her about it…and so…when she’d see us coming, she start playing.

    The reason the Kendall Inn closed was because of the declining neighborhood along 38th street. Their parking lot needed major repairs and vandalism was starting to become a huge issue. They placed a guard house in the parking lot…but that didn’t change the attitudes of their clients. Some were afraid to venture into that neighborhood after things starting to get worse.

    They had several Rembrandt and Rubens-like oil paintings on their walls….if not original ones. They were beautiful and I remember wondering what would happen with those beautiful pictures…

    I believe the Kendall Inn has been torn down now…as I’ve driven by there several times and don’t see it.

    Yes…in the 70’s and early 80’s…those along with the King Cole and Glass Chimney were the restaurants of choice!!!

    King Cole is gone…I don’t know about the Glass Chimney…probably. That is one of the restaurants, I believe, where Wolfgang Puck made his debut!

  7. Donna Winsted says:

    Thanks so much for all that wonderful information, Carol! I really did love the Key West Shrimp House! <3

  8. William Gocke says:

    I have a copy of the original recipes used at Kendall’s Key West Shrimp House on Madison Ave. in Indianapolis

  9. Brenda Partridge says:

    I am eating at the Key west Shrimp House in Madison right now and overheard the owner say she us looking for the recipe for the apricot bars that used to be served complimentary with each meal. Do you have it?

  10. Simone says:

    My mom worked there for a time in the Nickelodian bar in the basement. It was a neat place!

  11. Jack Rhodes says:

    Apricot bars…that’s the item I referred to as “cake” in my earlier post…the desert item my aunt wrapped in the napkin for later. Not the hush puppies as another had suggested.

  12. Les Gordon II says:

    Jeff, My wife and I just savored an excellent dinner yesterday evening, Saturday, April 28, 2018, at the Key West Shrimp House located in Madison, Indiana, on the banks of the Ohio. The current owner, in a many times given short talk, told us about the history of the restaurant and the history of the Key West. She could add and clarify many of the questions that some of the readers have asked. The Madison Key West Shrimp House is alive and booming. The place was packed for several hours with a waiting line at the door.

  13. Julia richards says:

    Enjoyed the Shrimp House in the 50’s,60’s, and 70’s. The house salad dressing was my favorite….lots of oregano in it! Do you still have the recipe ? Thanks!?

  14. Karl S says:

    Mr Gocke,
    I grew up in INDY and now live in Raleigh. When I was a child on special occasions we would go to the Key West Shrimp House on south Madison. Anyway I was a very picky eater. The one dish I remember enjoying was the bacon wrapped shrimp. I would greatly appreciate if I could get the recipe I would be very greatful.

    Thank you for your time.

  15. Harriett Lucas says:

    The apricot bars were from Boydens bakersy on Meridian street in Indianapolis. I was a waitress there for a while

  16. Sherri says:

    How could we get copies of the twice baked potato that I loved and am now craving??

  17. Keith says:

    Raymond A. Mastellone

    84, Indianapolis, passed away April 4, 2016. He was born in Hillside, New Jersey, the youngest of five siblings. He attended the University of Miami in Florida on a football scholarship, where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree and his Lieutenant bars in the U S Air Force. In 1955, Ray married Jacqueline Kendall in Indianapolis IN. He spent 4years at Hickam Air Force Base. After leaving the Air Force, he spent 25 years in the restaurant industry (Key West Shrimp House and Kendall Inn). The Mastellones raised four children, Cynthia, Susan, Kendra, and Michael.

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