This place is definitely an Indy original. John's Famous Stew's website says that they've been going since 1911. I'm not sure how long they've been on Kentucky Ave. near the Lilly tech center, but... the place sure looks authentically vintage!
I've been to this place a lot, especially since I did a lot of contract work at Lilly at one point. The only downside to me about this place is that it has kept the distinction of being a bar, not a restaurant, so people can still smoke inside. At lunchtime, the smoking seems usually fairly rare, but you'll catch the scent in the air.
How many places specialize in stew? That is what first caught my eye when I saw this place when I had moved back to Indy in 2002. I can't say I'm some stew aficionado (who is?), but... it seems unique - and it is. My friends that first introduced me to John's all go for the Tenderloin Supreme. And, it is truly a sight to behold.
Somewhere under there is a tenderloin nearly the size of the plate. On yesterday's visit, I took a neophyte who'd never been to John's, my friend the Running Man. These are definitely heroically sized portions. I got the regular tenderloin, and as you can see through the fork for scale, the bun and tenderloin are ginormous.
The value component of being good grub is completely satisfied here. The Running Man is rail thin, but can put down the food. He had the tenderloin supreme ($6.95) with a big ladle of the medium stew over the tenderloin. He also had two pieces of bread and the pickle from my platter! He drank just water, for for $7.50 that's huge value. The breaded tenderloin is $6.25, but fries (the cheap, frozen from a bag variety) were an additional $1.35. I only ate 75% of my sandwich, so value abounds.
How's it taste? Go with the tenderloin supreme. My breaded tenderloin is just too salty and too dry. The stew just makes the tenderloin so much more moist and as long as you go with the medium or hot stew, there is a lot of black pepper in it to add some punch and to balance the salt a bit more. The decor isn't anything to try and recreate in your mancave, but... it sure feels genuine. And, the waitstaff is fast, friendly and also very authentically vintage.
The verdict: 4 belly rubs (out of 5). Great value, great local color, unique place.