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Foodie Spotlight: Big Lug Canteen

Indianapolis is quickly becoming one of the hottest food cities in America.  A destination for true foodies who are interested in everything from fine dining to food trucks.  This column will put the spotlight on one of these local hot spots to help get the word out and share in the love of all things food.

Review by contributor Dustin Heller

Lace up your jogging shoes or get out your mountain bike because we’re taking the Monon to get to our next foodie destination.  Big Lug Canteen is a restaurant and brewery located in Nora at 1435 E 86th Street where their motto is “Masters of Decent.  Genius in Pretty Good”.  As you can probably tell by that statement, owners Eddie Sahm and Scott Ellis don’t really take themselves too seriously (and they’re really funny), but don’t mistake that with them not working hard or not caring about a providing a great product.  If you’re thinking that the name Sahm sounds familiar, you’d be right.  Eddie comes from a very successful family in the Indy restaurant scene, and he is carrying on that tradition with some pretty fantastic places of his own.  With Big Lug, Eddie and Scott set out to create a place that wasn’t easily defined and a place where they could just be themselves.  As you’ll see for yourself when you visit Big Lug, they really sell themselves short with that tagline above as they might just be masters of “delicious” and genius in “very” good.

Located in the building formerly occupied by the Snooty Fox, you can’t miss the neon read and blue sign boasting the signature Big Lug logo.  The place is really fun and interesting with some vibrant artwork on the walls and a really slick-looking bar area.  Not to mention a free play Shinobi game upstairs that will hit home with any Gen X’ers out there.  While not pinning itself down as just a brewery, Big Lug does brew its own beer and much of the décor goes right in line with the huge brew tanks located upstairs.  The interior is great, but it’s the outdoor patio area facing the Monon which really sets the place apart.  I know that when I finish a big workout, I’m ready for a good meal.

When it comes to the food, Eddie is the mastermind behind the Big Lug menu.  At first glance, the menu might look like typical bar-food, but I can testify first-hand that it is anything but typical.  That said, Big Lug isn’t trying to break new ground with its food; they are more interested in tempting your taste buds.  All of the food is made in-house and pairs nicely with their impressive drink menu.  The menu is quite extensive consisting of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, burgers etc…you get the point.  In order to simplify things for your next visit, below is my list of “can’t miss” items to help you out.

  1. Spicy Garlic Cauliflower: You might not guess it by the name, but this is pretty much a Buffalo chicken cauliflower wing.  Well, I’m pretty sure cauliflower doesn’t have wings, but you get my point.  They toss big chunks of cauliflower in beer batter and seasoned flour, deep fry them, and then cover them with their delicious spicy garlic sauce.  Through all of the this, the cauliflower somehow manages to come out perfectly cooked and not the least bit mushy.  Dip them in ranch or bleu cheese and then just sit back and enjoy.  Trust me on this one!
  2. Poutine: What do Justin Bieber, Celine Dion, Nickelback, and poutine all have in common?  They are all wonderful gifts from our friends in the Great White North (please note: opinions may vary).  For those that don’t know, poutine is a dish consisting of French fries topped with cheese curds and smothered in gravy, but Big Lug doesn’t stop there.  They have a Pork Poutine that is topped with pork belly, a Vegetarian Poutine that is covered with Scott’s Gumbo, and a rotating Poutine of the Day that is always creative and delicious.  If you’ve never had poutine, Big Lug is a great place to start.
  3. Goose Melt: Don’t worry, this isn’t a sandwich made out of goose meat, although it does feature some fantastic meats from Smoking Goose Meatery.  Be warned, this is not a sandwich for the vegetarians out there.  Big Lug takes a generous portion of Smoking Goose Capocollo, City Ham, and Mortadella and top it with chopped Romaine, Parmesan Vinaigrette and Muenster Cheese.  This sandwich would make any meat-eater proud.
  4. Burgermeister: Admittedly, I’m a burger junkie, and the quality of a restaurant’s burger is a good measuring stick in my eyes.  First off, the burger patty is made from local Fischer Farms beef (check); secondly, they cook the burger to order (check); and lastly, they make their own buns (they call them knots) that are incredibly soft (check).  They could stop there and this would be a great burger, but no, the Burgermeister has a bleu cheese crust, herb mayo, and a delightful bacon onion jam.  Looks like all the boxes are checked, let’s eat!

For those with a sweet tooth, Big Lug doesn’t offer any desserts on the menu.  Bummer, right?  Not really, they took them off because no one was ordering them after such a big meal.  Needless to say, the portions are more than adequate.  Big Lug is a sneaky foodie destination because it is mostly known as a brewery, but their menu shouldn’t take backseat to anyone.  If nothing else, you should go just to experience the awesome patio overlooking the Monon (but wait until it warms up a bit!).

Tell Dustin your thoughts about Big Lug Canteen. You can follow him on Instagram @eatindywatchindie.