My question is: have I overlooked something? Did something change in Catalyst since the helpers were written that has caused this behavior? More curiosity now that I've goten it "working" than anything else.
The behavior of the index/default stuff changed significantly between 5.7 and 5.8, IIRC. Since Cat is on 5.9 it's a bit hazy. It's probably just an oversight on playing catch-up since the change was made before the most recent version of Handel was released. You might file a ticket if have time.
Catalyst is a solid and very deep framework that won't disappear soon and unless you are doing websockets or something it won't stop you from doing whatever you like. That said, it's not maintained well enough right now for its size (so I say). Most of the major core players have moved on and community activity has been lower for about 3 years. Might be expected for a mature kit. I have been using Catalyst in personal sites for 8 years and production code for 6; total of something like 15 applications. I doubt I will ever write another based in Catalyst though; not for myself anyway. And this snippet from the Test::Mojo doc gives a peek at the why-
Writing tests for Mojo is so easy it's goofy and it neatly fits with actual Mojo code. Tests for Catalyst are easy on one hand but they, in my view, are disjointed from Catalyst code and are difficult and arcane to do anything outside the beaten path.
I've come to believe that solid tests are the only way for an application to outlast the initial developer's infatuation with the project. Mojo also recaptures the clear brevity I so love about Perl.
Sidenote: Catalyst's biggest selling point has always been flexibility -- it's Ruby on Rails without having pre-laid *all* the rails. And one of the most attractive parts here was deployment flexibility. Plack/PSGI has mostly slain that beast.
Dancer isn't the only other game in town either. There are several microframeworks and others at a similar level like Amon2. There's nothing wrong with looking around and sampling as many as you like.