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 Dustin Heller (@eatindywatchindie on Instagram)
One of my favorite things about this gig is discovering an awesome restaurant that all the locals love and rave about, but somehow flies under the radar to everyone else. I like to call them “hidden gems” and it is my pleasure and privilege to introduce them to you. Perhaps I’m being presumptuous for a place that has been in business for five years, but I was just recently introduced to it myself. Thanks, Dave! Grilliant (Grill + Brilliant … get it?) Foods is located at 4320 W. 96th St. where owner and pitmaster Ernie Verbarg is smoking some of the best BBQ in Indy. Now that you know, you don’t have an excuse.
Verbarg purchased the European Foods building back in 2015 where he dedicated half of it to his BBQ restaurant while leaving the other half as a grocery store. He still carries many of the imported European goods, but also offers a number of local items such as BBQ sauces, rubs, coffee and meats. You can even purchase different types of wood for your own smoker at home. The restaurant side has the feeling of a small town diner from yesteryear – from the retro barstools to the vinyl chairs – you’re sure to feel welcome with a hint of nostalgia.
The menu at Grilliant offers many classic BBQ dishes such as pulled pork, brisket, ribs, baked beans, etc., but they also have some very exciting daily specials that are not so typical (more on that below). They have four smokers on site which allows for some diversity in the choice of wood and also smoking temperature. Ernie has competed in (and won) many BBQ competitions over the years and was crowned Grand Champion at the 2014 Indiana State Fair. Needless to say, this guy knows his BBQ. Now that you know all about Grilliant Foods, I’m sure you’re wondering what you should order. I’m glad to brought that up, because here are my four “can’t miss” items:
Beef Ribs: Who’s ready to channel their inner Fred Flintstone? Unfortunately, Generation Z readers probably won’t get that reference. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that you’d better bring your A-game when ordering this behemoth. It didn’t get the nickname “Dinosaur Rib” just by chance. These beef ribs are smoked for 18 hours and the result is nothing short of tender and juicy bliss. The meat has a rich, smoky beef flavor and the outer crust is to-die-for. To put it bluntly, these ribs are the bomb! (Gen Z’ers might not get that either … oh well) Disclaimer: the beef ribs are not on the everyday menu, so make sure and check for updates on the Grilliant Foods Facebook page.
Hog Wings: Whoever came up with the phrase “When pigs fly” has obviously never been to Grilliant Foods. If they can’t fly, then why do they have wings? Wait, I guess Buffaloes can’t really fly either, but I digress. Hog wings are essentially a pork shank that is cut from the fibula of the pig. The meat is super tender and has a succulent smoky ham flavor, not to mention that it also looks really cool. Want to impress your friends at this year’s Super Bowl party? Pick up a bag of these wings from the Grilliant freezer and blow everyone’s mind.
Burnt Ends: I’m taking the easy way out here and recommending both the Brisket Burnt Ends and the Pork Belly Burnt Ends. Only four “can’t miss” items just felt too confining. Full disclosure, I didn’t know Pork Belly Burnt Ends were even a thing before visiting Grilliant. These Burnt Ends aren’t just good, they’re competition worthy! Trust me, you’ll fall in love at first bite. The meats are smoked for hours and then cubed before going back in the smoker for the finishing touch. They’re poppable and addicting. Friday is Burnt End day at Grilliant, so plan accordingly.
Hoosier Pork Tenderloin: I know a pork tenderloin sandwich isn’t typical BBQ fare, but we are in Indiana after all. This sandwich is as big as your head and should make any Hoosier proud. The pork loin that is used here is a testament to the quality of the meats at Grilliant. It is hand cut and properly trimmed and tenderized before being battered and fried. The result is a non-chewy, perfectly golden pork tenderloin that is served on a locally made bun with all the fixins. Try this sandwich with the baked beans, they’re just like Ernie’s grandma used to make.