BY CHRISTINE BARBOUR
If you are smarter than the average bear you might have noticed that something is afoot at Yogi’s Grill & Bar. Over the years, and under the radar, this friendly sports bar just off the northwest corner of the IU campus has been edging in a gastropub direction. First they acquired a top-notch beer program, then they completed a gorgeous renovation of their back bar, and now they are launching a menu filled with old favorites but punctuated by new items that consulting chef Dave Tallent has helped the Yogi’s kitchen crew develop. If you thought Yogi’s was just another campus bar, think again.
First, the beer. Chris Karl, son of the restaurant’s founder, Jim, who bought the business 30 years ago when it was the fondly remembered Tao restaurant, started getting seriously interested in beer in 1996, adding taps and eventually working up to the more than 50 craft beers the bar has on tap today. In the process he became one of Bloomington’s only nationally Certified Cicerones—essentially a sommelier of beer. Check out the huge Yogi’s beer menu and you will find a variety of craft beers from all over the country, both on tap and bottled, and an ever-changing reserve list that has collector’s items including a Sam Adams Utopias 2012 that will set you back a cool $325.
As they amped up the beer program, the Karls decided to create a special place to enjoy it. The main bar of the restaurant is the original from the Tao and will never change, but in 2012 they redid the back room, adding a gigantic cooler to handle the draft beer and installing an enormous bar and spacious seating areas in a lustrous, polished cherry wood. The warm, clubby atmosphere is only a few steps, but a million miles, removed from the airy, open garden room in front that serves as a patio in good weather when all the windows roll up to let in the fresh air.
And then there is the food. For most of Yogi’s life it has served traditional American bar food—not expensive but comforting and familiar to its patrons. With a spiffy, new bar to go along with its remarkable beer selection, the Karls decided it was time to raise the food menu above the ordinary as well. Today, most of the food is made in house. The new Mediterranean dip is a fantastic combination of hummus, feta spread, and cilantro pesto, garnished with a pepperoncini and olive relish. The pot roast (or the meatloaf, if it’s a special) tastes like a mouthful of home; the fish tacos are spicy and terrific; that Indiana classic, the pork tenderloin, is a monster of goodness; and the yummy French fries are fresh cut and twice fried.
Yogi’s is now sourcing most of its meat locally, so the Muffaletta sandwich is piled with cured meats from the Smoking Goose in Indianapolis, and the steaks and the burgers come from Fischer Farms in Jasper. Despite the changes, there are still some old friends on the menu—the Broccoli Poppers are there and so is the Chicken Velvet Soup. “Dave Tallent wanted to take it off the menu,” laughs Jim Karl, “and I had to tell him—do you know how much of that we sell?”