Any restaurant claiming it’s #1, even in a special category like burgers or Chinese, has to have a bit of an outlaw’s spirit. So the somewhat renegade claim that Big G’s Gourmet BBQ is “Indy’s #1-Rated BBQ Restaurant” might raise some eyebrows among aficionados. While this isn’t Memphis or Kansas City, a few more barbecue prospectors have tromped into town, hoping to strike gold with local diners. So there’s a good share of competition for top-dog distinction among Indy’s slow-smokin’ elite.
All claims to supremacy aside, Big G’s delivers authentic, satisfying barbecue to a growing fan base, some of whom voted it #1.
The strip of chain restaurants and convenience stores past a dollar theater on US Highway 36 in Avon doesn’t exactly educe images of “barbecue country.” Neither is Big G’s location what you’d peg for a barbecue joint. By all appearances, this former dentist’s office is more like your cousin’s suburban ranch than someplace you’d stop in for dinner. At night, you’re more likely to find it by the light of Sunny Beaches tanning salon next door than by its own sign. But don’t let the unassuming exterior fool you. A cardboard cut-out of Larry, Mo and Curly greets you at the door, and more Stooge figurines and movie stills clutter the walls, along with a few of Hoosier native Red Skelton’s vibrant, folksy paintings of clowns. Given the stark white walls and brass ceiling fans, it’s a slightly jarring mix. But late on a Friday night, locals were waiting for carryout or meeting up with families for dinner. The “G” in Big G’s is Gary Taylor, a one-time amateur barbecue chef who for years supplied co-workers with their party food before taking his talents to the wider public. After opening his first restaurant in 2001, he re-located his self-named eatery to the corner of Rockville and Raceway roads last November. But the proximity of a church means Big G’s can’t hold a liquor license. So much for a wild time on the Westside. Appetizers here are heavy on meats. But onion petals ($3.99), a nod to another restaurant’s “blossom,” came fresh from the fryer with a generous side of grease. Two oversized ramekins of a pale orange condiment the waitress called Southwestern ranch sauce seemed more to the side of honey-mustard dressing and added little flavor except for an undertone of that curious Southwest ingredient: horseradish. Ketchup and barbecue sauce made more sympathetic toppings. Like a high-stakes poker game, our luck suddenly changed when the entrees arrived. Huge platters of ribs and brisket with Texas-sized bowls of side dishes nearly filled the table. If nothing else, we’d get our money’s worth. While much has been argued about the differing, almost cult-like camps of barbecuing procedures, Big G’s aims toward the school of dry-rubbed, slow-cooked, un-fussed-with meats. But sauces are important here and come in three different heat registers. When even the “mild” leaves an after-burn on the palate, you can imagine what the Big G “super hot” will do to your throat. Choosing from the wide selection of smoked specialties — from bratwursts to corn on the cob — was tough. We weren’t disappointed. A meaty half-slab of baby back ribs ($12.95) pulled away from the bones into delicate flakes of nicely smoky meat. The beef brisket dinner offered a generous pile of beef that emphasized the surprisingly earthy flavors of this once humble cut of meat. Side dishes ranged from the mundane to the sublime. Cole slaw and potato salad were straightforward, the former creamy but not too soupy and the latter with big hunks of potatoes and a slight crunch of relish. Sweet, spicy and almost more smoky than the meats, baked beans offered one of the meal’s highlights. Macaroni and cheese, on the other hand, looked and tasted like Kraft after a workout: bigger elbows, brighter yellow cheese. The lack of even the slightest crust offered more evidence that just about no one bakes macaroni any more. Perhaps betting that diners will be stuffed from their meal, Big G’s keeps its dessert menu brief. The homemade sweet potato pie ($2.99) had what was surely not a homemade crust but a nice, not overly sweet filling. In contrast, a gooey, warm apple cobbler ($2.99) with two scoops of vanilla ice cream ($.99) had us loosening our belts a notch. All claims to supremacy aside, Big G’s delivers authentic, satisfying barbecue to a growing fan base, some of whom voted it #1 on MSN.com’s City Search 2003. One of these days it will find a home more in keeping with a barbecue theme. Our enthusiastic waitress discussed the possibility of expanding into a nearby bowling alley, conjuring images of overfilled bowlers throwing gutter balls from greasy fingertips. Until then, it’s worth the kitsch for a great barbecued meal.
Big G’s Gourmet BBQ 10984 E US Highway 36, Avon 271-3663 Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Food: 3 1/2 stars Atmosphere: 2 stars Service: 4 stars