On a balmy friday night, as the sun sets over the Fashion Mall, a crush of well-heeled 40-somethings crowds the patio of Brewstone Beer Company. Bartenders shake up sticky concoctions with names like Mango Tango and a grove of fruit-flavored mojitos while a guy with a guitar and a fedora provides the poppy Dave Matthews–esque entertainment. This handsome spread looks like what you would get if Tommy Bahama threw a party for Crate & Barrel. “Don’t you love this place?” the singer says into the mic. “This is my favorite new spot.” People raise their cocktail glasses and cheer in a scene that gives true meaning to the term TGIF.
Meanwhile, servers rush out plates of pulled-pork nachos oozing liquid cheese, thin-crust pizzas, and gourmet burgers. Because somewhere amid the imbibing and table-jockeying—the casino floor that is Brewstone on a weekend night—people do actually eat this food. They do so even though the offerings seem to go out of their way to underwhelm: Garlic engulfs a plate of shrimp scampi; French onion soup arrives in a neat square bowl, too watery to do the crouton justice and sans the indulgent crust of cheese draped over its sides. All of this, of course, is beside the point.
The first location in a planned five-restaurant chain, this 20,000-square-foot eatdrinkery set up in the former Music Mill continues the tradition of those great casual crowd-pleasers of the ’80s and ’90s—places that predate Indy’s foodie renaissance and awareness of things like white truffle oil and house-cured bacon. It has the sexy energy of the northside Champps Americana and the laidback, popped-collar vibe of Rick’s Cafe Boatyard. You might even sense here the ghost of Dalts, that long-gone waypoint for Keystone at the Crossing shoppers.
Brewstone caters to the masses—those diners who still appreciate the novelty of a wedge salad, even when it is nothing fancier than a hunk of chilled iceberg with serviceable chopped bacon, red onion, and tomatoes, and soft crumbles of bleu cheese. You can’t go wrong with coconut shrimp in a place like this, and Brewstone gives its version a breadcrumb crust flecked with sweetness and a little ramekin of coconut-milk sauce for dipping. No surprise that sliders, six renditions in all, take up a bit of real estate on the menu. The veggie sliders shine, layering discs of fried eggplant, cooked to soft submission, with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and greens all drizzled in perfect proportion with sweet, concentrated balsamic dressing. They could bring meat-eaters over to the other side—at least for one long lunch on the sunny patio.
A couple of other entrees stray, frustratingly so, from their menu descriptions. Baja fish tacos came stuffed with thick strips of mild whitefish, shredded cabbage, pico, cojita cheese, and a nice kick of spicy mayo. But somebody in the kitchen left out the promised slices of avocado—the money shot of the dish, as far as I am concerned. A Hawaiian pizza, one of eight pies that Brewstone describes as flatbreads, was weirdly sauced with a white-cream Alfredo base. Adding to the insult, the chunks of “grilled” pineapple bore not a trace of that sugary caramelized char that this pizza requires.
Those who cannot abide such pizza-topping slights might want to steer a wide path around this smartly packaged clearinghouse of dining trends just past their prime. This place does not have the Napolese or Pizzology clientele in its crosshairs. But really, Brewstone promises to be nothing more than a romp, decked out as it is in equal parts red neon, deep-red upholstery, ski-lodgey columns of stacked fieldstone, and art-lit posters of Southern California scenes. (As with the food, the decor leaves no concept unsampled.) But for every foodie quoting Marilyn Hagerty, the Internet-famous Olive Garden reviewer, in some snarky way, there are 20 more diners who just want a hangout—a place to meet friends and troll for age-appropriate hookups until the bar runs out of martini glasses, a place that could easily be coined “Cougaritaville.” To that end, all one really needs to do at Brewstone Beer Company is sit back with a Mango Tango and enjoy the show.
Brewstone Beer Company
3720 E. 82nd St., 317-577-7800. brewstonerestaurant.com
HOURS Sun.–Wed. 11 a.m.–1 a.m., Thurs.–Sat. 11 a.m.–2 a.m.
This article originially appeared in the July 2012 issue.