There is no question that the brewery’s seven owners (a team that includes managing partner Karl Mann, executive chef Scott Reifenberger, and the folks behind Chatham Tap and Ralston’s Drafthouse) embraced the building’s ecclesiastical floorplan; massive pointed arches and lancet windows soar toward a high vaulted ceiling, with tables arranged in the congregational nave and the beer-making equipment set up at the front of the church. But the overall look is surprisingly subdued, featuring a mostly brown color scheme as somber as a monk’s robe and not a pane of stained glass in sight. In fact, the most striking visual in this wide-open room is the celestial choir of shiny silver brewing tanks and fermenters filling the altar space—a full battery of Airstream–sized containers gleaming in the heavenly light, proving that this house of worship has its priorities in order.
Reifenberger’s menu seems formulated to play off of the house brews, to rouse drunken tastebuds with bold sauces.
Head brewer Alan Simons, formerly of Greenwood’s pioneering Oaken Barrel Brewing Company, rolled out a solid selection of house beers from the get-go. The smooth, spicy Sanctuary Saison was an early standout (though it’s out of the rotation until next summer). It shared the recycled–floor-joist bar top with the likes of a Kolsch; a stout; and the deep, dark Bohlen Brown, its toasty chocolate flavor enhanced with espresso roast from Strange Brew Coffee House, a southside haunt. Everyone has favorites and not-so-favorites—fans of especially hoppy, bitter ales will grouse at the citrusy Confessional IPA, for example. But one evening, two unrelated men sat at opposite ends of the crowded bar, wearing the same trendy Vardagen T-shirt emblazoned with the “Indiana: The Bearded State” graphic, which is a very good indicator for a successful craft-beer program.
Reifenberger’s menu seems formulated to play off of the house brews, to rouse drunken tastebuds with bold sauces and over-the-top flavors as overwhelming as a bag of Doritos. The most dangerous poutine in Indianapolis gets smothered in smoked beef and porter-beer gravy and then scattered with fried cheese curds just in case any Weight Watchers points had gone unspent. Fat jalapeños are stuffed with crab and tongue-tingling Capriole goat cheese and then bundled inside of chewy bacon, with a drizzle of Sriracha honey and a tuft of pickled red onions rounding out the flavors of this delicious but hard-to-maneuver bar snack. Crispy little beef short ribs wear a sweet Korean sesame glaze—excellent nibbles tugged right off the bone. Rock-shrimp fritters have a nice, briny seafood flavor, but their weird, rubbery texture makes them nearly as off-putting as the appetizer of sweet-potato tater tots that anyone with a toaster oven and a Sam’s Club membership could easily whip up at home.
Among the mains, a bourbon-glazed, hops-smoked pork porterhouse with bacon-braised greens is too much salty meat in one entree, but a hefty plank of grilled mahi mahi propped up on stems of grilled asparagus wears a luscious, perfectly balanced cilantro pesto that soaks into the bed of jasmine rice at the base of the dish. It’s a thoughtful combination of ingredients, right down to the slice of grilled lemon garnishing the fish. Equally impressive: a succulent Viking lamb burger dressed with feta, arugula, and harissa aioli that is simply perfect.
While the menu has hits and misses, it also has spunk and ambition. And the fact that the place is packed with folks from the neighborhood as well as a steady trickle of Mass Ave refugees suggests that, long after the drinking-in-church novelty wears off and that Hozier song becomes less of an earworm, St. Joseph will still be something worth singing about.
JOSEPH BREWERY & PUBLIC HOUSE
540 N. College Ave., 317-602-5670, saintjoseph.beer
HOURS Tues.–Thurs. 11:30 a.m.–midnight, Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–1 a.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.