Restaurant review: Cameron Mitchell's The Barn opens its door onto old-school favorites

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

Instead of chasing dining trends, Cameron Mitchell has been running from them lately. Yes, the man who helped put the Columbus restaurant scene on the map two decades ago by following what was "hot" at the time, is going back to old-school.

Witness Mitchell's embrace of country club-style meat and potatoes at year-old Hudson 29. At his newest, six-week-old The Barn at Rocky Fork Creek, Mitchell unleashed a menu The Barn's website calls "traditional cuisine." This means time-honored steaks and seafood, barbecue and old-fashioned desserts. It also means high-level quality control and frequent high prices.

And it means Mitchell's famous hospitality. You'll encounter this when pulling up to The Barn - a former Hoggy's closely resembling a barn - and enjoying complimentary valet parking. Inside, where the usually packed huge structure looks like a super-fancy Cracker Barrel with handsome gold lighting and ranch-inspired horsey accents, service is disarmingly courteous.

Among The Barn's distinct spaces is an often slammed bar called the Bourbon Lounge. Obviously, bourbon is highlighted, and from 50 advertised varieties to exclusive Woodford Reserve blends, to three barrel-aged Manhattans ($10), to "The Barn Bourbon Cocktails" ($10), you can sip bourbon in style.

For lighter whiskey libations, the Bourbon and Citrus and Bourbon Apple Punch both nimbly accessed the liquor's refreshing side. Prefer something stiff and serious? Try the Rye Manhattan or Bourbon Hemingway. All four quaffs were terrific, and will ease your wait if you unadvisedly didn't make dinner reservations. Also ameliorating your wait: a bar-located, free snack station with crudite, great house-cured olives, pickles and fruity pimiento cheese dip.

There are tables in the rowdy bar too, but if you prefer the dining room, the section in its rear is quietest. My favorite spot here is the bar-and-TV-equipped, partially heated patio overseeing the "smokehouse" facilities.

Food-wise, this proudly self-sufficient operation - butchering and baking are done in-house - wisely nails several classics, scoring high with an aggressive-yet-nuanced, and not too creamy Caesar salad ($5). Similarly, the commendable French Onion soup ($8) featured restraint on its cheese cap and a deeply developed beef broth sweetened with onion.

Thumbs up for the nicely browned Broiled Chesapeake Crab Cake ($15), too. As close to the genuine article as any I've tasted near Columbus, it was almost all sweet crabmeat and authentically ate as rich as peanut butter.

Expertly fried Spicy Sauerkraut Balls (7 for $9) with house-made sausage and a whisper of horseradish were another winning starter. However, The Barn's underwhelming BBQ Ribs appetizer ($12, with crispy steak fries) exhibited a quality consistent with other "smokehouse" fare I sampled - they weren't smoky. Neither were the otherwise delicious, properly fatty and thick-cut slabs of Beef Brisket ($19) piled high onto garlicky Texas toast and served with sweet and zesty collard greens.

Steaks are touted here, and both my T-Bone ($42) and Filet Mignon (8 ounces for $39) were juicy, flavorful, decently crusted and perfectly cooked to temperature. Served with roasted shallot bulbs as sweet as candy, plus a side like real mashed potatoes (rich and good, but actually whipped) or faultless roasted vegetables (herby and buttery), my expensive steaks were satisfying if not earth-shattering.

Also simple was the Roasted Half Chicken ($18). Served with Thanksgiving-worthy stuffing and gravy, the bird's mild seasoning belied technique resulting in crackly skin and moist meat.

Try to save room for dessert (a Herculean task). Because both the tart-fruited, dense and intense apple pie ($7) and the light and lovely coconut cake ($7) were first-rate.

Cameron Mitchell bashing is nothing new, and The Barn's unadventurous menu won't change that. But if you eschew "foodie"-speak, seek pampering plus retro dishes - and don't mind the cost - The Barn can be fun.

Photos by Tim Johnson

The Barn at Rocky Fork Creek

1370 E. Johnstown Rd., Gahanna