My in-laws constantly wax poetic about their regular place, Barrel. Not a week passes without hearing “So the other night at Barrel…” Finally, we had to try it.
Barrel is known for–pretty obviously–their whiskey. Something that should be known about my father-in-law is this: he is fantastic at finding great cocktail bars. He is also great at presuming that they have good food, and we have been burned by this assumption enough times to not let him choose restaurants based on drinks alone anymore. Remember a few weeks ago when we ate at Kith and Kin and then went savage on a Bacio pizza because it wasn’t enough food? Regrettably, that wasn’t our first time doing this. I will take the blame for Kith and Kin but let’s just establish the fact that no, you can’t eat dinner at Denson. And as soon as we sat down at Barrel, which has a great vibe, by the way, my FIL said, “Okay, so the food here isn’t the greatest…” I had kind of already set some low expectations for the food, but I probably made a face when he said that.
We ordered drinks–two solid craft beers on draft, a wine, and I had the A Henway cocktail. It was made with gin and blackberries; it tasted like gin and not a lot else. I immediately regretted this decision, but it’s my fault and my fault alone. It sure was pretty though.
Barrel’s menu is organized horribly. You will see why later. It has three sections that don’t make a whole lot of sense: starters, grub and sammys (?), and pasta. Why is pasta not also classified as grub? It’s also not terribly cohesive. Tacos? Pasta? Crab rangoon? Jerk ribs? Barrel has no idea what it wants to be when it grows up. Barrel is, like, three years into college and still a freshman because it has changed its major so many times.
We ordered the brussels sprouts for the table. They are made with Asian flavors (I rest my case), tons of fish sauce, chili, and peanuts. They were salty, savory, and delectable. I could eat this all day.
My in-laws warned us about Barrel’s spicy spicy buffalo chicken sandwich, so naturally we had to get that. We also decided that maybe it wouldn’t quite feed two people and we should also get another small dish. Having no direction whatsoever in terms of choosing an appropriately-sized dish, we settled on the lamb nachos, which were served over sweet potato chips. We thought that would be the right amount of food. We chose poorly.
The chicken sandwich was nothing to sneeze at. I like the soft ciabatta roll and the pickles and the red onions. The flavors melded nicely. The chicken was tender with a good crust. It was not spicy. The lamb nachos were ENORMOUS and only nachos in the loosest sense of the word. That is, it was something on top of chips. Again, I like ground lamb. I like subtle curry spice. I like sweet potato chips. But how are these nachos without cheese?
Meanwhile, my father-in-law ordered TWO orders of the carnitas tacos because, being a regular, he knew that this plate was tiny and he would need two plates of it to even come close to representing a full meal. The tacos were pretty basic: weirdly bland carnitas, cilantro, and cheese. All three of the aforementioned dishes were located in the “grub and sammys” section of the menu. How could one possibly know what size of food one is ordering?
So as it turned out, it wasn’t Barrel’s quality of food that diminished them in my mind. The quality was good, the food was tasty, the brussels sprouts were a stand-out. It was the fact that they don’t quite have a handle on basic existential questions such as Who am I? and What am I doing here? and What kind of food is this? Barrel needs to take a gap year and backpack across Europe or something.
Price: $40 per person.
Bottom line: Barrel is a great joint for happy hour and trying new whiskey, or drinking one of their famous barrels of Old Fashioneds. Although I didn’t try the Mac and Cheese (since I thought it would be too much food but it turns out that would have actually been an appropriate amount), I saw and smelled it and I can recommend it based on this alone. Bring some friends and get some diverse bar food.