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Review: Daredevil Hall

Daredevil Hall joins Indy’s ranks of family-friendly bars where beer is truly an adult beverage.

If Indy’s craft-beer movement were a person, born during the mid-’90s blitz of mash tanks and growler refills and International Bitterness Units, it would have its own apartment by now—maybe some nice Ikea furniture for it, and a few succulents. You’d think the buzz would have worn off after all these years. But the yeasty science of microbrewing is still bubbling and fermenting, a chilled-out version of its earlier self that feels appropriately grown-up at a place like Daredevil Hall.

Tucked amid the industrial-chic I-beams of The Ironworks Hotel complex, this offshoot of Speedway’s Daredevil Brewing Company shares prime commercial real estate with 120 Kardashian-worthy boutique hotel rooms, a few upper-end restaurants, and a day spa. From the parking lot (where valet service is an option), the taproom, with its sturdy brick facade and bright red roll-up doors, could be mistaken for an attached garage at the west end of the building. Inside, its 4,200-square-foot layout opens onto a wide and sparsely furnished dining room filled down the middle with picnic-style communal tables and not much else to absorb sound. The room is spartan by design, deliberately crisp and tidy like the background of every Iceland vacation photo you’ve seen recently.

On one wall, a mural of Daredevil’s “Flying Man” mascot—a windblown Christopher Lloyd look-alike strapped into what appears to be a steam-punk backpack with propellers—is a reference to Leonardo da Vinci’s ornithopter sketches, basically flying machine prototypes. The brothers who own Daredevil, Shane and Michael Pearson, both have engineering backgrounds that guide their technical approach to brewing—as well as their business plan’s goal to create an “aggressively fun craft beer.” Da Vinci, a self-taught engineer, would have been onboard with that.

Daredevil’s sporty front bar, which was designed to look like the Speedway originalTony Valainis

If there’s nothing over-the-top about Daredevil’s look, the same could be said about its menu of well-built, vaguely German dishes—the work of executive chef Neal Brown. Here, the shape-shifting renegade responsible for some of Indy’s coolest restaurants, from Pizzology to Ukiyo to Libertine Liquor Bar, shows a different kind of range with a list of solid, plaid-collar dishes. Puffy, chili-powdered pork rinds are served with a bottle of Tabasco, and Kung Pao chicken wings are sticky with a tangy-sweet sauce that tingles the lips. There are glimmers of pure Americana for people who just want a chop salad or a grilled chicken sandwich with house-brined pickles and ale mustard. Other sections of the menu veer toward Bavarian baked spaetzle, perhaps tossed with three-beer cheese (rendering a kind of dense egg-dumpling macaroni and cheese), and poutine covered in the classic brown gravy and soft, melty curds. Heaping bowls of mussels are steamed in various Daredevil beers—I spent a long lunch plucking meat from shiny black shells bathed in the Vacation Kölsch version, which is studded with slices of spicy sausage and wilted fennel, wishing the pale broth tasted like more than just warm, sausage-flavored beer.

The room is spartan by design, deliberately crisp and tidy like the background of every Iceland vacation photo you’ve seen recently.

Local links from Smoking Goose, Turchetti’s Salumeria, and Claus’ German Sausage get spiffed-up in other, more satisfying, ways: the Guadalajara Dog wrapped in bacon; the Indy Dog’s Pilsner-pickled white hot dog dressed with pub cheese and caraway kraut; and the Daredevil Dog given a ladle of porky Colorado green chili.

Daredevil Hall
2721 E. 86th St., 317-757-2888

HOURS
Mon.–Thurs. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.–midnight, Sat. 10 a.m.–midnight, Sun. 10 a.m.–9 p.m.

VIBE
American brasserie

TASTING NOTES
Frites-centric mains, burgers, and gussied-up hot dogs, each paired with two beer suggestions

NEIGHBORHOOD
Nora

MUST-ORDER
A hot pretzel, the Midwest Fish Fry, and the Brewery Cheese Burger, smashed and dressed Big Mac–style.

TAB
Appetizers $5–$21; sandwiches $10– $12; mains $8–$32

3-STAR RATING

Two jumbo planks of beer-battered fish wear the kind of golden-brown, air-pocketed crust that a parishioner might tear into at a folding table in the church parking lot, which gives serious cred to the dish’s name, Midwest Fish Fry. The pieces sit atop russety skins-on fries, dark and earthy, finished with a few well-placed grains of kosher salt. Its tartar sauce blends herbs and pickled bits into an unctuous cloud of spreadable perfection. Yes, I’m saying it’s exceptional tartar sauce. It’s okay—this is the kind of eatery where you can wax poetic about a dipping sauce.

The Midwest Fish Fry, with red-cabbage slaw and friesTony Valainis

After all, this is not the boundary-pushing Neal Brown whose Libertine Liquor Bar pioneered slapped-herb mixology and hosted visiting Super Bowl celebrities. It’s not the James Beard–courting Neal Brown slicing toro over the course of sake-paired Omakase dinners at Ukiyo, either. Shane Pearson says Daredevil Hall would not have attempted a menu like this without someone who “brings the same level of excitement” as Brown (who is also a partner in the taproom). And yet, the food doesn’t try to outshine the beer; the two seem equally relevant. “We probably spent two and a half years talking to Neal about this,” says Shane. “We’ve always had the concept of doing an American beer hall where we could highlight cultures from around the world. So that’s what Daredevil Hall is all about—bringing the kind of exploration that we have for our beer program to something broader.”

Inspired by a visit to the famous Augustiner-Bräu taproom in Munich, the Pearsons opened Daredevil Hall in February, putting some polish on the existing location that opened three years ago along Speedway’s revitalized Main Street (where all of the beers in Daredevil’s portfolio—from the headliner Lift Off IPA to the kitchen-spiced First Noel Oak Smoked Bock to the bacony, German-style Rauchbier—are still brewed exclusively). In 2020, Daredevil will become the official beer vendor for The Garage, the first phase of the $300-million Bottleworks mixed-use complex on the grounds of Mass Ave’s historic Coca-Cola bottling plant, working with the same developer from the Ironworks project, Hendricks Commercial Properties. Called The Garage because delivery trucks (and later in the building’s history, IPS school buses), were serviced inside the structure, it’s already shaping up to be one of the most exciting additions to downtown Indianapolis, and is not to be confused with the kind of garage where Daredevil’s beer-making forebears used to hone their craft. These days, garage brewing seems as quaint and old-timey as a backpack ornithopter.

Things change. People grow up. As do trends.

Daredevil joins the ranks of nontraditional breweries like Carmel’s Sun King Spirits, home of the two-level curated food court, and Field Brewing in Westfield, which has a courtyard full of lawn games, a 12-and-under menu, and an open layout so kid-friendly that you half expect to step on a LEGO. Think of it as zymology’s circle of life.As the craft-beer business has grown up, so have the brewers.

“One unfortunate aspect of the craft-beer culture has always been this ‘bro’ image that it has,” says Shane Pearson. “That can be very limiting in terms of what craft beer is and who is included.” If Daredevil Hall and all of its drinking buddies are any indication, it’s not bro culture anymore. It’s bros … and their wives and kids. And we’re all one big, happy family.

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