Though he never met his grandfather, Eddie Sahm grew up hearing stories about the great William S. Sahm. Friends called him Hoss because he was the spitting image of Hoss Cartwright from Bonanza—a big, gregarious man who served as the executive director of the Indianapolis Catholic Youth Organization from 1954 to 1973, taught speech at Marian College, was active in the civil rights movement, and once stood mere feet from John F. Kennedy. People wanted him to run for mayor, but he was a family man—a father of nine—who guzzled Tab and smoked cigarettes, and whose memory endures at the 85-acre William S. Sahm Park and Golf Course near Castleton, dedicated a few years after he died … too young, at the age of 45. “He was this guy that everyone wanted to be around,” Eddie Sahm says of his father’s father. “And to me, that’s what a restaurant is like. It’s a place where everyone wants to be.”
How fitting, then, that he would add yet another namesake to his grandfather’s legacy, Hoss Bar & Grill. Located in the corner slot of a busy Fishers strip mall, Hoss opened in February, repurposing the former Sahm’s Bar & Grill that had been shuttered for nearly a year due to COVID-19. The place is warm and unassuming in a family eat-drinkery kind of way, personalized with old Sahm family photos and an artful collection of vintage beer cans. Backlit marquee letters spelling out HOSS over the bar are the only nod to branding, glowing in the background of Instagram photos like the Hollywood sign.
The menu adds a dash of personality, detailing cheeky sandwiches like the Grilled Bries (cheddar, provolone, and brie melted on Texas toast with bacon and tomato-peppadew jam) and gourmet wieners available in both 6-inch and footlong versions. The smoked chicken wings, crisped up in the fryer and served with house ranch dressing, are called Ricky Bobbies, a Talladega Nights Shake ’n Bake reference. The 4 p.m. special might be a ginger-brined pork belly sandwich on a housemade potato bun or garlic sambal–glazed salmon over rice with roasted grapefruit crema. And you can share an order of chunky, complex house pickles plated with crackers and a party-style white-cheddar cheeseball rolled in pecans. Just like the man, Hoss Bar & Grill is fun to be around.
No surprise there. It was born into a restaurant family with a long tradition of fun. Ed Sahm (Eddie’s father) opened his first restaurant under the Sahm’s umbrella in 1986. Together, father and son now run more than a dozen locations, from rib-sticking go-tos like Sahm’s Place, The Roost, and Rockstone Pizzeria to Nora’s Big Lug brewery and the rambling Half Liter barbecue campus in SoBro. The latter two sit alongside their own little stretches of the Monon Trail—Indy’s equivalent of waterfront property. A third Monon-side spot is in the works, says Eddie, who started washing dishes in his dad’s restaurants around the age of 10, bought his first Sahm’s when he was 22, and was instrumental in guiding the business through last year’s pandemic pivots.
Chef Blake Ellis designed Hoss’s menu to give Sahm’s old-school customer base what they expect (variety, plenty of sides, a strong salad game) while playfully drawing in a fresh clientele of artisanal-pickle eaters and Bees Knees sippers. Ellis turns bacon-wrapped meatloaf into a decadent sandwich with horseradish, provolone, and a fried egg. He builds a plate of dark, russet house fries into a poutine pileup of melting cheese curds, tender chopped steak, and fried shallots, with rivers of rich brown demi-glace running through. You can get a 10-ounce sirloin dinner with housemade steak sauce and two sides, or order the nightly casserole special, which is always a solid vegetarian choice.
Instead of following along with the smashburger trend, Hoss goes big with its 6-ounce and 10-ounce beef patties. They sit high off the bun—tall, thick, and ordered to temperature. “We wanted to be able to play around with the flavors a little bit,” Eddie says. That’s hard to do on a smashed canvas, but when you’re working with something so beefy and juicy, you can lavish it with steak sauce and cheddar, or Swiss Mornay and peppadew jam, or honey mustard and a bologna. A couple of the burgers come standard with chopped white onion steamed on top of the meat and cheese, creating a heady White Castle perfume that will follow you home.
Ellis, who came up through the kitchens of Black Market and Tinker Street before joining the Sahm’s team, has a knack for working breakfast cereals into dishes. The Cap’n Ellis sandwich contains a Cap’n Crunch–coated fried chicken thigh, and garlicky Rice Krispies breading adds some snap, crackle, and pop to the deep-fried cod in Hoss’s fish-and-chips dinner. There has been s’mores bread pudding topped with Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms on a freshly extruded cloud of soft-serve ice cream. And yes, Hoss is home to a restaurant-grade soft-serve machine—doing the heavy lifting for an ice cream–based dessert list that includes homemade peach cobbler a la mode, a brownie sundae with cherry syrup and crushed peanuts, and an old-school banana split that takes some cues from the mother ship, Dairy Queen. It churns away behind the bar where people sit six feet apart, chatting with each other while enjoying their afternoon beers.
The whole vignette, so refreshing in its normalcy during a year that has felt anything but, might put you in a such a rosy mood that you will order a round of cute shots in the middle of the day—a Sahm Bomb with grapefruit Tito’s, lemon, coconut, and Red Bull, and a rummy Pineapple Split with a vanilla soft-serve back. Maybe you will shoot them before you even order your lunch, feeling like some kind of legend. That is, until you happen to glance up at the framed photo above your table, a blown-up black-and-white of a crowd gathered around JFK in a parking lot. And standing right there in the foreground is Hoss himself—an actual legend.