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DINING: Altered church gets new life as brewpub

June 27, 2015
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A highlight: The Open-faced Bison Meatloaf, which rests on a bed of Texas toast and mashed potatoes and is topped with egg. (IBJ photos/Eric Learned)

I’ll confess that I have a bias toward businesses that find praise-worthy uses for neglected properties—ones that celebrate rather than try to cover up the past life of the space they occupy. So forgive me if I offer a quick history lesson before discussing the dining offerings at St. Joseph Brewery & Public House (540 N. College, 602-5670).

Established in 1873 as the fourth Catholic parish in Indianapolis, St. Joseph’s cornerstone was laid in 1879 by Bishop Chatard (no doubt you’ve heard the name), who blessed the completed building a year later. Additional churches and a shift in population were among the factors that led to its closure and deconsecration in 1949 (its bells were moved to Our Lady of Lourdes in Irvington). It continued serving as a meeting hall until 1954 and was primarily used for storage after that. Want to see some stunningly depressing photos of the space? Visit photographer M.W. Lafary’s blog at mwlafary.squarespace.com.

Take a look at those pics before visiting St. Joseph Brewery and you might want to shake the owner’s hand. The gleaming brew tanks occupy the alter, and a bar sits near the place where sinners previously lined up to confess their misdeeds. The former church offers a wide-open feel rare in downtown eateries. Try the Sweet Potato Chipotle Soup ($6) and you may want to shake the chef’s hand. (I told you I’d get to the food.)

ae-stjoseph-5-15col.jpg Deconsecrated in 1949, the former Catholic church has been augmented with brewing tanks, a lengthy bar, and a solid menu. (IBJ Photo/ Eric Learned)

The table-filling bowl, garnished with a twisted strip of candied bacon, may make you regret ordering anything else except a chunk of bread to make sure to get every drop. It was far more interesting than the St. Joseph Salad ($6.50), which, even with dried apricots, pistachios and feta on the baby greens, needed more than the pale ale vinaigrette to spark it. Rock Shrimp Fritters ($11.50) with sweet potato (clearly a favorite veggie in the kitchen), corn, and cilantro served with a zesty chili-lime aioli succeeded in whetting our appetite for our lunch entrees.

I’m usually not a big fan of egg on meat, although I happily add meat to my omelets, so I won’t claim I’m consistent. In the case of St. Joseph’s Open Faced Bison Meatloaf ($11), though, I may have seen the light. A fried egg tops a black-pepper-porter-gravy-enhanced slab of bison, which is parked on Texas toast with a mashed potato foundation. It’s more entrée than sandwich, which is far from a complaint. Juicy and equally substantive, the Viking Farms Lamb Burger ($13.50) with feta cheese, arugula, red onion and Harissa aioli, was another worthwhile offering.

Choices broaden after 5 p.m., when you can order Citrus & Coriander Rubbed Salmon ($21.50), Hops Smoked Pork Porterhouse with bacon-braised greens ($25), or Vegetable Wellington ($16.50).

St. Joseph’s drafts—including Sanctuary Saison and Confessional India Pale Ale (what, no Papal Blue Ribbon or Upon This Rolling Rock”?) run $5-$6•

—Lou Harry

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