Visit The Mug-N-Bun

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Sometimes tourists know what they’re talking about and sometimes they don’t. I’m not proud to admit that I lived in Memphis in another lifetime. Along with high crime, Memphis is known for Bar-B-Q. There is a famous spot for ribs known as The Rendezvous. I went there a few times, but usually at the request of friends that came in from out of town. When I wanted really good ribs without the chance to buy an ugly T-shirt, I went to the little known spots that escaped the tourist magazines.

In the nineties, business took me to Chicago and Buffalo fairly frequently. I was always told to check out Carson’s for ribs. Supposedly, they would be the best I ever ate. Instead, they were the worst. They reminded me of boiled ribs that were then soaked in ketchup. However, while in Buffalo – I visited The Anchor Bar which is where the Buffalo Wing was invented. I was expecting to be let down as this would surely be another overrated tourist trap. Instead, I found what I thought were the best wings I’ve ever eaten. Later, a local took me to Duff’s, where the natives supposedly went to munch on wings. Sorry, but The Anchor Bar won hands down, in my opinion. Almost twenty years later, I still say that The Anchor Bar serves my favorite wings ever.

Why am I reviewing various tourist traps across our great country? Because I found myself in Indianapolis a few weeks ago and visited an establishment that I had heard about for years, but had never been to before – The Mug-N-Bun.

Indianapolis natives may scoff at this. A tweet of mine about eating a breaded tenderloin at the Mug-N-Bun has already been the subject of scorn from our friend JP IndyCar, who lives in the Indianapolis area. He laughs at us out-of-towners that target the Mug-N-Bun as the place to grab a tenderloin, and swears that a place called Edwards Drive-in on South Sherman Drive in Indianapolis is the best. I’ll admit the sandwich he tweeted looked mighty tasty, but being the out-of-towner that I am – I had vowed to someday eat at the Mug-N-Bun in Speedway, and I did not leave disappointed.

The Mug-N-Bun has been located at the same location in the town of Speedway, on 10th Street just east of Lynhurst Drive since 1960. Up until a couple of years ago, it was strictly an old-fashioned drive-in. Now you have two options; eat in the car as the traditionalists do, or dine in the new dining room, which is just that – a converted building across the parking lot that has tables and a restroom, but no kitchen. You place your order, and they call it in over at the main kitchen. When it’s ready, the kitchen calls back and your server goes out into the elements to retrieve your food. Being the old fogey that I am, I wanted to eat inside. I gave up eating in the car about the same time I gave up camping – and probably for the same reasons.

The food was good – and cheap! I, of course, had a tenderloin for $3.80; while Susan had a cheeseburger. We split an order of seasoned old-fashion krinkle fries. While my tenderloin was good, it was not as good as what I’ve had at nearby IMS. I’m not sure if sitting in the hallowed grounds of the Speedway with cars rushing by makes it taste better than sitting in a remodeled building or what, but I have to admit it didn’t satisfy quite as well as what I’ve had at the track. Nor did I hear Susan rave about her burger, other than saying it was good.

Surprisingly, what made the meal most memorable was the giant frosty mug of homemade root beer…and yes, I said homemade – for only $1.80. I am a root beer snob. I love good root beer, but there is nothing worse than bad root beer. Have you ever tried Barq’s? (Barf!) Take it from me, this is good root beer. The mug was ice cold, but the root beer could have been just a tad bit colder to make it perfect. Still, weeks later I find myself craving more.

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I’m not sure that race day at Indianapolis would be the ideal time to try out the Mug-N-Bun, if you’ve never been. The day before the race may not be so good either. All of Speedway seems to need a bath that day. Qualifying weekend may be a good time to go, but I’m sure it’ll be crowded. I have a lot planned that weekend, but I’m hoping my schedule will permit me to go by there at least once.

If you do go sometime, it’s not far from Turn One at IMS. From 16th Street, turn left onto Main Street. Go past the new Dallara factory until Main Street dead-ends into 10th Street at the Allison plant. Turn right onto 10th and it’s only a few blocks on your left. Just like everything else in the month of May at Indianapolis – the Mug-N-Bun is like stepping back into time.

George Phillips

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24 Responses to “Visit The Mug-N-Bun”

  1. SkipinSC Says:

    Ironically, I was just last night placing another order to the Rendezvous for four more bottles of their sauce and a couple of bottles of their seasoning, which I use as a rub for ribs my wife and I make ourselves. Every year, one of my brothers sends us dinner from the Rendezvous (packed in dry ice) for Christmas and we thoroughly enjoy it. While their “hot” sauce is much too hot to use by itself, when mixed together with their “regular: sauce, it becomes a delightful combination.

    I wholly agree abut the Mug N’ Bun. Their tenderloin is ok, but not quite up to the fare either at the Speedway or at any of several Indy establishments. (Bear in mind that I spent most of my first 35+ years in and around the Indianapolis area.) Moreover, I have never been particularly fond of root beer, so that part is meaningless to me.

    THe place that used to have the absolute best tenderloin on earth was a dive on the north side of Anderson call Abel’s. Sadly it’s no longer there, but I spent many a visit there after I had moved south in 1990.

    • SkipinSC Says:

      P.S. I don’t know how you and Susan feel about steak but if you’ve never eaten at St. Elmo in Indy, you two should try it. There aren’t many places I will go out and order steak because I can do a pretty fair steak at home on my own, but St, Elmo is worth it. (I usually send the brother who sends me the Rendezvous dinner a gift certificate for St. Elmo.)

      • I’ve been to St. Elmo’s three or four times, but not since the nineties. What I remember most was the shrimp cocktail with sauce that would surely cure the toughest cold. I did check out the online menu for St. Elmo’s just this week as a possibility for qualifying weekend. $48 for an a la carte filet was just a bit too pricey for my budget this year – maybe next.

        But you’re right. They know how to cook a mean steak. – GP

    • This is one of the things that George and I disagree on. Being a dri-ribs (dri-fit) guy the Rendezvous Ribs are the best ever. However, the BBQ sandwich of all-time is served right here in Nashville by Neeley’s. As for BBQ chicken, well, nobody tops mine. Now for the tenderloin sandwich, I am content with the one served at the track, but I find a glass of water more is preferable at IMS than anywhere else, too. :) I understand the Dawson’s serves one of the best as well. Regardless of all of that, George has served up another choice column that has pressed my “go-button” even more on my impending trip to the Greatest Race in the World.

  2. Odd this is the topic today as I ate there last night. Mug-n-Bun is an institution that locals, especially Speedway residents, irrationally defend at all costs, not that it often needs defense. One could argue it is almost a part of the identity of the town as much as the track. While Edwards Drive-in probably has better fare, it is in a rather unremarkable part of the city, with little community to rally around it so folks tend not to think of it in the same frame of reference. Just my 2 cents

  3. Root beer cannot be beat. I’ll be at practice tomorrow and I’ll plan on a stop at the Mug-n-Bun.

    Thanks!

    • Stopped by on Saturday. The rootbeer was all you said it was and more. Some ice cream would have made the best root beer float ever.

      Was more impressed with the food than you were. I ordered a barbecue sandwich which was real barbeque, not hamburger as you often find at a restaurant of this type. My son ordered a pizza burger. It was meat on a bun with cheese inside the burger. With toppings including marianara sauce, he said it was great.

      We ate outside and would definitely go back!

  4. As a native Western New Yorker, I can whole-heartedly endorse the Anchor Bar. It can’t be a tourist trap as Buffalo doesn’t get tourists.

    After reading your Mug-n-Bun review, I will definitely take the boy there on Saturday before the race. We LOVE old fashioned root beer, and we’ll be among the great unwashed horde that is in need of a shower anyway.

    (FYI – We’re sitting in the A Stand this year for the 1st time. Hopefully come Sunday you won’t be able to smell us from your seats behind the pits.)

  5. @JoHoWo Says:

    The root beer is the best Mug N’ Bun has to offer! Speaking as a former native of the west side of Indianapolis, there are better places to get a tenderloin in my opinion. I personally love the double cheeseburger with a slice of white bread separating the two patties. Onion rings are a must for me as well. We always go the night before the race, the crowd isn’t terrible, not sure how it gets later into the night. Great post! Good works as always.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    George, you are the first person I’ve encountered to blast Barq’s before Mug. Mug is amazingly terrible root beer. I almost think it is intentionally bad.

    But I could not agree more on the Mug ‘N Bun. I had read about it for several years, but I had not bothered to look up the location when I went to Indy for the first time last year.
    My dad and I arrived in Indianapolis on the Thursday before the race and headed straight to the Speedway and museum. As luck would have it, while heading back to the hotel after several hours at the Speedway, we were hungry and we wound up on 10th Street… and I recognized the Mug ‘N Bun name I had heard so much about.

    The root beer was the highlight, of course, followed fairly closely by the onion rings that my dad ordered. We also asked for the free bumper sticker, which the server autographed at my dad’s request (because he’s a loon) and which resides with our other mementos of last year’s race weekend.
    I’ll have to try the tenderloin there if I ever get back to Indy, though I have to say that I still don’t quite understand that sandwich.

  7. As long as we’re talking about things to do in Speedway, does anyone know if the new Dallara Factory / Indy Racing Experience on Main Street is open yet? All I can find online is it opens “sometime this summer”. We’ll be camping out Friday & Saturday in the family lot 3G, and I’m looking for things to do beyond the events inside IMS on Saturday.

    Also, can anyone tell me if it’s worth trying to go to breakfast at Charlie Browns on race weekend, or are we better off sleeping in and making our own Bfast at the campsite?

  8. Several thoughts:

    1) I’ll have to disagree with George as well about the dry rub from the Rendevouz. I haven’t been there, but when my wife’s brother and family came to Tennessee to visit a few weeks ago, they stopped at the Rendevouz and ate (to middling to good reviews), but also grabbed a container of their dry rub which we had later in the week on some steaks. Good Stuff.

    2) That said, I will not disagree with George’s general taste in food, as he did direct me to what we’ve found to be the best (so far) BBQ in the “South of Nashville” area at Corky’s in Brentwood. Sorry, George, your secret is out. Corky’s dry rub is where it’s at.

    3) The highlight of Mug’N’Bun is definitely the root beer. Hands down.

    4) To Tom G. above: Charlie Brown’s is definitely worth a visit. My own “secret” is about to come out here, but I try to visit Charlie Brown’s on the morning after the race every year. A short stack of some of the best pancakes around, some bacon and a big cup of coffee while sitting among some fantastic racing memorabilia just can’t be beat during the afterglow of The Big Race.

    OK, as you were. It’s May. Cars are on The Track. I’m a little excited.

  9. Ron Ford Says:

    Apparenty Tony and Rubens read your 5 star review and went right over to the Mug ‘n’ Bun with a film crew.

    As for me, news of good root beer is always welcome. Another good one: Sprechers root beer of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

  10. Mike Lis Says:

    I really like your blog George but, please stick to racing. Reviewing a $4 sandwich? You must be a fan of the pace car driver.

    • The Lapper Says:

      George is on the money. For many of us, having a tenderloin sandwich is as much a part of an Indianapolis 500 weekend as singing “Back home Again in Indiana.”

    • The whole racing experience is different things to different people. To some, a trip to the Mug-N-Bun is as much of their Indianapolis 500 tradition as Jim Nabors, the Borg-Warner trophy or a bottle of milk. How much can we talk about the low engine supply? This site has always been about a variety of topics, some of which are barely related to racing. It is your right to skip over a post. I think this one was pretty obvious what it was about from the title.

      I normally don’t “attack” readers in the comment section, but based on the number of viewers this article had – it hit home to a lot of people. You will be glad to know that Monday’s post will be about hard-core racing. I hope you’ll come back and read it. I appreciate your comments and the fact that you took time out to visit this site. I just wanted you to know that many, many folks appreciated this post. – GP

      • Ron Ford Says:

        You are in good company George since Tony Kanaan and Rubens Barrichello both found time to do a video review of the Mug ‘n’ Bun. Marilyn Hagerty did a review of the Olive Garden and wound up on Good Morning America. Perhaps we will see you there. Do you have an agent?

        As you stated so well, finding good places to eat is an important part of the Indy 500 experience.

    • WTF?? – Like George said, the title of that article should have given you a slight clue what the article was about. Maybe that should have been your hint to pass. Instead you read right through it to see how much a sandwich costs, then whined about the article. It’s the not so serious things like this why we all come here. You want your all-serious, all-racing, all the time crap? Go back to trackforum and do your bitching. You’ll fit right in over there.

    • I wish I were driving the pace car!!!

  11. Tenderloins as well as a polish sausage are what fuels my body during an Indy 500 weekend. Fill me up with Hi-Test!!!

  12. Stopped for my 1sr visit this week, Thumbs up for the root beer and onion rings, not so big on the foot long hot dog. George for ribs in Chcago try Gale St Inn or the Twin Ancors….. the fact that Carsons is still n business amazes this life long Chicagoan.

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