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[Photographs: Todd Brock]

Scotty's Brewhouse

3905 E. 96th Street, Indianapolis IN 46240 (Map); 317-574-0101; four more locations listed at scottysbrewhouse.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Build-your-own burgers and custom creations galore at upscale family-friendly sports bar with college-town roots
Want Fries with That? Wedge or waffle varieties are able-bodied sides
Price: Brewhouse Burgers, $9 to 10.50; Build-Your-Own Burgers, $7.75 to 9.75; cheese, +$1.25; extras, +$1 max

It's an occupational hazard of being a professional cheeseburger reviewer: Whenever I travel outside my usual jurisdiction of the greater Atlanta area, I'm guaranteed to get at least one offer to visit a local burger joint that will supposedly knock my socks off. Such was the case recently upon passing through Indianapolis. My brother-in-law wanted me to sample one of his favorite burgs, at Scotty's Brewhouse. I expected typical sports bar mediocrity, but I got a kick-ass burger in the kind of place where I'd actually hang out if I lived nearby.

The first inkling that Scotty's is different is the menu: not a laminated tri-fold, but a 28-page full-color magazine, complete with a table of contents. Their flagship offering is their line of Brewhouse Burgers (pages 14 and 15), hand-pattied half-pounders grilled to order and topped with some combos that are anything but ordinary. The Shewman Special, for example, is dressed in cheddar, bacon, jalapenos...and peanut butter. Not just a novelty item, it's listed as one of Indy's Top 25 Burgers by Indianapolis Monthly. A dozen other creations vie for your attention, but I was drawn to the second burger section three pages later, a full-page spread of build-your-own madness.

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"Madness?" Isn't that a bit over-dramatic? You tell me. Pick from five different bun types, seven free condiments, ten varieties of cheese, a dozen free sauces, and 14 other add-ons at no more than a buck apiece. But here's the best part, and something I'd never seen before: You get to choose your own meat. I'm not talking about simply swapping beef for chicken, bison, or a black bean patty (all of which are options). I mean to say that you can specify certified 100 percent chuck, ground top sirloin, or Indiana-raised USDA prime dry-aged beef that warrants its own 84-word description on the magazine/menu. I was instantly a fan of the way Scotty does things, and eagerly read up on the man behind the madness as I awaited my USDA prime burger with American, bacon, sautéed mushrooms, red onions, lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo on a bun of the "golden sweet buttery" variety.

Scotty Wise opened his first Brewhouse in nearby Muncie as an alum of hometown Ball State University. Then he expanded to Bloomington and West Lafayette, home of Indiana University and Purdue University, respectively. With a Scotty's Brewhouse location—and dedicated following—in each of the state's big three college towns, Scotty did what many of those schools' grads do afterward: He moved to Indianapolis, putting two more Brewhouses there. And while they definitely do a brisk bar business (as evidenced by the Mug Club, whose members pay a yearly fee for a mug that comes with special discounts and other benefits), Scotty knows his base clientele now has young'uns in tow, and accommodates them accordingly in a family-friendly place.

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Flecked with bits of char and visibly juicy, the beef was crowned with a blanket of superbly melted American. Peeking out were large slices of robust mushrooms, not the shriveled-up pile of brown fungi so often slapped on burgers. And draped over the top were curlicue strips of bacon. Visually speaking, this was close to flawless.

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The cross-section showed a patty grilled just a shade past what I wanted to see. I had asked for medium rare, but was met with the all-too-common "we're-not-allowed-to-go-lower-than-medium" ploy. I played along, asking to have my burger pulled off the grill at the very second it met the legal definition of "medium," and if it happened a moment or two sooner, I'd never tell. Oh well.

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The burger was outstanding (even if not as "barely medium" as I had hoped for), with a juicy, beefy bite to it and stellar toppings. Did it live up to its 84-word description? It sure was tasty, but so were the other burgers at the table. At the same price as sirloin and bison, and just $2 more than the chuck, it was easy to buy local beef I could feel good about. My only criticism is a bun that heavily outweighed the rest of the burger. It was good and had nice flavor, especially in the early bites, but a bun should never overwhelm the burger it's holding, and by the end, there was just too much of this one.

Indiana on the whole is a little nutso for waffle fries, and mine were good, although nothing to go on at length about. True to form, Scotty's also offers wedge fries, tater tots, Yukon Gold garlic mashed potatoes, onion rings, and about ten other non-starches as sides.

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I didn't attend college in my native Indiana, so I may be a bit later to jump on the Scotty's Brewhouse bandwagon than my Hoosier family and friends. But with a huge menu that offers a myriad of options at every turn, a friendly wait staff, a comfortable atmosphere, and exceptional burgers that are customizable nine ways to Sunday, I may have found a reason to go home again more often.

About the Author: Todd Brock lives the glamorous life of a stay-at-home freelance writer in the suburbs of Atlanta. Besides being paid to eat cheeseburgers, he's written and produced over 1,000 hours of television and recently penned Building Chicken Coops for Dummies. When he grows up, he wants to be either the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the drummer for Hootie & the Blowfish. Or both.

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