When Big Bear Grill opened in 1998, Co-Owner Jeff Freed’s father joked that the restaurant’s patio umbrellas were the landmark of Wildwood. Back then, the city was newly incorporated and there were few dining options for residents in their own backyard. To fill that void, Freed and his family, including his mother, Nancy, and his brother David, opened Big Bear Grill in the Schnucks Wildwood Plaza.
Freed explained that his father’s nickname in college was Big Bear. Looking for an original name, the moniker was soon given to the eatery and a lodge theme helped shape its menu of hearty, homestyle cuisine and warm, welcoming decor.
Keeping things homemade has been key to Big Bear’s long-term success. From its salad dressings to its sauces, almost everything is made in-house.
“All of our beef is fresh,” Freed said. “We still hand-patty our burgers and cut our steaks and salmon by hand.”
Specialities of the house include the Roast Beef Flatcar, an open-faced masterpiece featuring juicy, succulent, hot roast beef sauteed in homemade brown gravy and thinly sliced, in addition to Sunday’s off-the-menu special, Fried Chicken.
“It’s the best fried chicken in town, period.” Freed confidently proclaimed. The recipe is his mother’s and the secret to its deliciousness is a homemade breading that highlights a unique blend of spices and herbs.
Chicken Modiga also hits high notes. The lightly breaded chicken breast is grilled and topped with provel cheese, then finished with a delicate white wine mushroom garlic sauce.
Soups, such as Hearty Pepper Jack Potato or well-balanced White Bean Chicken Chili, get the same homemade treatment. By switching out the standard cheddar for pepper jack and ground beef for chicken, Big Bear Grill’s soups provide a pinch of pizzazz from everyday versions.
Orchestrating the cooking is kitchen manager Josh Sheppard, who has been an integral part of Big Bear Grill’s kitchen staff for 11 years. Freed said having such longevity on his team is one of the attributes that allows the restaurant to be a go-to neighborhood spot for so many people.
“The main core of our team has been with us for at least five years.” Freed said. “Part of what makes us successful is that we cultivate employees and that’s hard in this business. But customers appreciate that stability and consistency – they know when they come in, our staff is going to recognize them and know their name.”
Besides Sheppard, Freed was quick to mention bartender Erica, whom he calls the Queen of Happy Hour. If celebrating the end of the work day with a refreshing adult beverage is your preference, Big Bear Grill offers drink specials during happy hour, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Catering is another area where Big Bear Grill excels. “We will do any size, anywhere and have exceptional prices,” Freed said. He also noted that there are no delivery or setup charges and no order minimums or distance restrictions, just reasonably priced, home-cooked food. The restaurant’s outstanding Fried Chicken is available from the catering menu with 48-hour advanced notice.
Freed encouraged residents of Ellisville and Ballwin to make the drive down Hwy. 100 just a little farther west of Clarkson to experience Big Bear Grill’s hospitality and quality, homestyle fare. “As the community has grown around us, we have grown around the community. Stop in and join us.”