Review: 101 Beer Kitchen

Crostini and pork croutons top the ale-and-cheddar soup at 101 Beer Kitchen.

Photography by Tony Valainis

A place like 101 Beer Kitchen need only click on its “Now Open” sign to become an instant hit. Diners are drawn to this bustling restaurant appointed with the familiar elements of casual communal eating—horizontal wood paneling, soft caramel-colored leather booths, open shelves of branded growlers—by some primal desire to drink craft beer and share fried cheese curds. How nice to feel not judged for requesting extra honey-mustard sauce (so sharply sweet and essential to the molten cheddar experience) and to know that no one here will scoff if you eat the hand-cut fries first. In a world that sometimes feels as if it has given you too many forks, this is a safe place.

A tightly configured 4,400 square feet of deep booths and window tables tucked into conjoining dining areas, the vibrant gastropub seems designed to please a wide swath of clientele, universally palatable right down to the pale blue cloth napkins and artfully mottled ceramic plates and bowls. It opened last December, taking up a busy corner section of The Yard at Fishers District, arriving maybe a week after St. Elmo Steak House parent company Huse Culinary debuted its lush 1933 Lounge across the parking lot and more than a month before Fishers Test Kitchen unveiled its culinary launch pad/tasting table with cameos by Rook chef Carlos Salazar and the owners of King Dough. And while it doesn’t have the pedigree of a 118-year-old Indianapolis institution or the Test Kitchen’s gourmet firepower, 101 Beer Kitchen plays an important role in the 18-acre complex’s delicate ecosystem.

The eatery arrived on Hoosier soil with a fully developed motif, including a website with drool-worthy menu descriptions.

Fittingly, this rolled-sleeve concept found a home in the northern suburbs of Indianapolis, where it came in hot as a place to wind down after a day of Topgolfing or get some no-brainer sustenance before an Ikea marathon. Just to get this out of the way, 101 Beer Kitchen is neither local nor independent. The fourth incarnation of the restaurant and the first outside its home state of Ohio, the eatery arrived on Hoosier soil with a fully developed motif, including a website with drool-worthy menu descriptions and some pretty enticing language: “rustic food & craft beer” that is, as the brand’s mantra goes, uncomplicated, uncommon, and unpretentious.

Seared scallops over risotto cakes set the mood for a flavor-foward menu.

To that end, there are loaded tater tots puffed crispy with cheese and crowned with pork croutons and squiggles of Sriracha cream. Massive soft pretzels speckled with sea salt and caraway come with a sidecar of thick beer cheese. Brown-buttered pierogies burst with potatoes and pecorino, laid on a bed of braised red cabbage. Smoked and grilled wings balance the stickiness of honey adobo sauce with little blackened nibs of crunchy charred skin—the hot meat pulling off the bone with that satisfying tug. And those are just the appetizers.

The shrimp and grits skew soupy, spiked with Andouille sausage and ladled over a cheesy base that soothes the soul. Two pounded slabs of pecan-crusted chicken sit atop roasted-garlic mashed potatoes, anointed with honey-mustard sauce and topped with crispy fried potatoes that are basically the treasure you find at the bottom of a bag of Kettle chips. The peppercorn hanger steak wears a heavy layer of wild mushroom pan sauce, and the oversized 101 Burger dripping with Nueske’s bacon, cheddar, horseradish mayo, and good old shredded lettuce might as well come with a pair of Guy Fieri sunglasses to wear on the back of your head as you down it in big, face-melting chomps. Sure, there are fancier, more chef-driven places to eat in town. Honestly, there are several of them just steps away. But this place? It’s a solid pretty good.

It is not without flaw, however. On each of my visits, the staff seemed pressed to keep up with the frantic pace of the dinner rush. A forgotten salad arrived in the middle of the entrées, and only after we inquired where it was. Good thing we asked, because it was leafy-green perfection: a “wedge” presented in a revisionist style, with ribs of romaine replacing the iceberg doorstop, then lavished with bacon, roasted tomatoes, and so much extra-chunky housemade blue cheese dressing that it could count as a cheese course.

101 Beer Kitchen’s decidedly unstuffy philosophy is also camera-ready.

The salmon BLT had some structural issues—its telera bread so dense and lubed with guacamole and roasted-tomato mayo that the grilled fish slipped out onto the plate, saved by a pile of addictively crunchy beet chips. You should skip the flavorless macaroni and cheese (which should be criminal in the state of Indiana) for a side of crazy-good fried risotto cakes, crispy like hushpuppies and arranged atop that amazing mushroom pan sauce.

The bar also struggled to keep up with the house cocktail orders—our server stopping by multiple times to give us updates on a Bloody Mary that eventually made its way to the table, rimmed in seasoned salt and garnished not extravagantly with an olive, a slice of charcuterie, and a pickled pepper. I didn’t like my New Orleans Flip seasonal cocktail, a stash of Huber Starlight Apple Brandy and Buffalo Trace Whiskey shaken with lemon, bitters, and egg white—maybe I was expecting something a little less intense and acidic, a little more “woooo-woooooo!” I only mention this because my server, noticing that I wasn’t sipping it, insisted on replacing the drink with something more to my liking. On another night, when a manager in the back of the house noticed that someone at my table had only nibbled at her open-face roast beef sandwich, he paid our table a completely unsolicited visit. Was there something wrong with the dish? He seemed genuinely concerned. When she reluctantly admitted that she had simply ordered wrong, unaware that the gravy would contain so much red wine and not noticing that the bread was multi-grain, even though it said so right there on the menu—he vowed to make it right by taking the entrée off our bill, a heroic act that made our little jars of butterscotch pots de crème and our carrot-cake cheesecake taste even sweeter.

“I just want you to be happy,” he said, as more of the dinner crowd pressed through the door. And you know what? We were. Because sometimes a simple human gesture is all it takes to make things perfect.  

101 Beer Kitchen

9708 District North Dr., Fishers, 317-537-2041

Mon.—Thurs. 11 a.m—10 p.m., Fri.—Sat. 11 a.m—11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.—9 p.m.

Hamilton County Date Night

High-concept sandwiches and rustic comfort food paired with house beers.

The Yard At Fishers District

Wings and loaded tater tots to share with the table. A hulking 101 Burger, side of housemade beet chips, and wedge of coconut cream pie to keep all to yourself.

Starters $6-10, sandwiches $10-$14, entrées $12-$25