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This 1950's post card shows the interior and exterior of Rene's (courtesy Evan Finch)

This 1950s post card shows the interior and exterior of Rene’s. (Image: Evan Finch)

What comes to mind when you think of French cuisine? Could it be an elegant dining room with tables draped in white adorned with intricate place settings? Perhaps an image of meals served with loaves of warm, crusty bread and an endless parade of wine pairings? Or could it be a plethora of glistening meat, game and fish coated in flavorful sauces whisked to perfection by chefs wearing the old uniform of all white, capped with tall white hats?

Whatever comes to mind, if it involves Indianapolis, it must be a memory from long ago. The city no longer boasts one of these stereotypical French restaurants, but this was not always the case. In fact, one of the first examples of French dining appeared at a small roadside motel on West Washington Street and was known as Rene’s French Restaurant.

Today’s subject is not to be confused with Rene’s French Bakery in Broad Ripple or any earlier incarnations. Rene’s French Restaurant was on U.S. 40, just east of Lynhurst Drive and lasted approximately from the early 1950’s until 1963. The restaurant fronted a small lodging operation known as the Eaton Motel. This would have been a magnifique location, as U.S. 40 was the bustling east-west route prior to construction of Interstate 70.

Does a review of this “board of fair” look appetizing to you? And where are the dishes like Escargots and Boeuf Bourguignon?  Were liver and onions and ham steak the height of French cuisine at the time?

 

A filet for $3.00! Keep in mind the average household income in 1955 was below $5,000.00

A filet for $3.00! Keep in mind the average household income in 1955 was below $5,000.00. (Image: eBay)

Indianapolis finally did receive her high end French restaurants. La Tour operated atop the Indiana National Bank Building throughout the seventies and featured a young Wolfgang Puck. Many can remember romantic evenings at The Chanteclair, which operated at the top of the airport Holiday Inn until 2008. Around this time, the venerable Chez Jean on Kentucky Avenue gave in to sagging demand as well.

It’s unclear what lead to the restaurant’s demise, but at least, if you’re feeling nostalgic, you may take solace in the current menu at MCL, where you may find a number of the offerings from the above menu.

Today the site of Rene’s remains as only a parking lot bordered by an AT &T building and a Fazoli’s location.

Do you remember Rene’s or any other French restaurants in Indianapolis? Please share your reminisces and reviews with us!

9 responses to “At Your Leisure: Rene’s French Restaurant”

  1. Sharon L. Koepper says:

    Thank you for confirming my recollections of Rene’s. I was in grade school when my father treated my mother, brother and I to dinner there a couple of times. I don’t remember the entrees, but I certainly remember the creamy salad dressing they made. I have often wished I had the recipe. It was full of taste and loaded with garlic. To the best of my memory, the salad was absolutely simple…head lettuce with the dressing. Nothing more. If anyone has the recipe and would be willing to share it….

  2. Amber says:

    I’ve lived in the neighborhood where this restaurant resided my entire life, my father has lived there since 1964 and my mother since 1978. I’ve heard tons of stories of previous businesses, etc., but never this one. I guess you learn something new every day!

  3. D MIKELS SHEA says:

    2 Comments:

    1. The Renee’s in B Ripple was a one-table, two-chair start up (an inverted big institutional vegetable can was the third seat in rare instances of seating in a primarily carry-out wonderful restaurant –a 1-woman start-up. I once saw my l2 year old or so son strolling along the canal toward our home, eating a salad with a fork, and I admonished him re good manners. “Why is it OK for me to eat an ice cream cone” he asked (I had given him money to go to Linder’s for a cone — he instead saw the just newly opened restaurant and opted for a salad). It was a fair question. He became addicted as we did to Renee’s daily “carry out special,” which she posted on a small window sign (hard to read from your car as I remarked to him.) He became her drop-in daily unpaid helper–and imagine my annoyance one day, returning from dry cleaners to find my husband’s shirt drawer all askew…in those days shirts were returned sealed with white cardboard “shirt boards”. He had told owner her signs should be bigger and to demonstrate had taken all the boards and a marking pen to help her market her daily fare more effectively! Later it grew bigger, expanded, died, but what a great spot! @. And–re LaTour–if anyone out there knows how to reach Wolfgang Puck (who got his start there) I am clearing out my home of 60-plus years of collecting–and have 6 pristine cut velvet covered dining chairs I bought at LaTour closing. Any offers?

  4. Sue Oliver says:

    I remember Rene’s fondly, especially their house salad dressing. If anyone knows about its being sold anywhere or where to find the recipe, I would be so appreciative! Never had anything come even close to its deliciousness. Thanks.

  5. Todd Eaton says:

    My Grandfather William Eaton owned the restaurant, he died shortly after I was born, he also owned the Eaton Motel on the west side. If I remember the story, I believe there was a fire at Rene’s and he closed it after the fire.

  6. Rob S. says:

    I would come to Broad Ripple from Bloomington, my favorite was Rene’s. Great salads and the best beef stroganoff, I’ve ever had, before or since. I really miss this quaint Resturant with fantastic food!
    Rob S. From Bloomington

  7. Mic says:

    Does anyone remember the French crepe restraunt that was located in Glenbrook Mall in 1980’s?

  8. Ray Heilman says:

    To Mic—Yes! The Magic Pan at Glendale Mall was wonderful. I no longer live in Indianapolis, but have a friend still there who was at one time a server at the Magic Pan. He went on to own more than one restaurant/bars as well as many pieces of real estate. The “magic'” in those crepes was real!

  9. Bonnie Nichols says:

    Rene’s French Restaurant is one of my fondest memories, even though I never got to go there. However, my mom and dad went there frequently for their romantic couple dinners, and they always would bring home for we 3 kids one of Rene’s incredible chocolate cream pies. Oh, my, gosh! Never have tasted anything better, and all these years later, I still ache for one more taste of heaven that was that pie.
    I am now 77 (2023), so that was a long, long time ago. At the time, we lived at 2206 Lafayette Road; we moved across town (5735 N. Pennsylvania Street) when I was 10, so my mom and dad no longer went to Rene’s.

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