Restaurant review: Barrel & Boar Creekside

G.A. Benton

In a primordial era of Columbus dining — the 20th century — good barbecue was hard to find. Actually, any barbecue was hard to find.

By this, I mean any “real” barbecue, whose meat derives flavor from a low-and-slow cooking process rather than just a sauce. One rare such smoked-meat purveyor in the Columbus area back in the day was the restaurant operated by Yoho's Catering, which launched in 1983.

Although that restaurant closed over a decade ago, Yoho's legacy lives on in the Barrel & Boar eateries run by Stan Riley, a longtime Yoho's disciple. The branch of these establishments I'm reviewing this week — the Creekside Barrel & Boar in Gahanna — is the best-looking barbecue restaurant in Central Ohio.

The Creekside Barrel & Boar is huge, too. Its rambling, handsome interior features a large copper-topped bar, several distinct dining sections, brick, reclaimed wood, relaxed lighting, an open kitchen and a spot for occasional live music. As alluring as all that is, the expansive, mostly covered patio is the place to be.

Leafy trees, color-bursting flowers, spraying fountains, tasteful lighting, a dramatic fire pit and a creek where paddle boats sometimes float by lend the patio a resort-like quality.

But Barrel & Boar isn't just another pretty face; it offers a generally well-executed menu that juxtaposes down-home flavors with upscale style. Although occasionally absent-minded — it took multiple requests to get a few items — service always came with a smile.

To limber up the taste buds, 12 Ohio-brewed beers are on tap ($5 to $8.50 a glass). Among cocktails offered — most are made with local liquors and cost $8 — the Gold Rush fashioned with Watershed bourbon, lemon and honey is sweeter than I'd prefer but a solid option.

Soups and salads might seem odd choices at a barbecue specialist, but not here. At least not based on what I sampled: the gigantic B&B Caesar ($7), with a creamy, garlicky, cheesy and pleasantly smoky dressing (unfortunately, my salad was missing its cornbread croutons); and the veggie-packed, clearly scratch-made corn-and-sausage soup du jour ($4) that was terrific, if problematically served in a squat little jar.

A thematically more obvious starter here — the Carolina Hush Puppies ($4) — tasted good, but my quintet of fried cornmeal balls wasn't crisp.

Delving into barbecue, Yoho's The Linden ($13) is a hefty, messy and irresistible sandwich on a stout hoagie roll. It pays respect to the restaurant's origins, but also to famished diners who love a two-fisted, Carolina-style construction of smoky pulled pork, zesty sauce and fresh slaw. Like all sandwiches here, it comes with a side, such as the hearty, vinegar-spiked, highly recommended BBQ Beans with Brisket.

To go whole hog — and cow and chicken — opt for the Ohio BBQ Sampler ($30). Served with old-school garlic bread, it's a choice of three meats and two sides that can easily feed a couple diners.

My table's meat trio: delicious ribs, which are among the best around, offering a “bark,” a smoke-ring and a textbook texture, gently releasing from the bone; moderately smoked, good-tasting, marginally dry strips of brisket; and surprisingly compelling, lightly smoked, sauce-drenched chopped chicken.

Our winning sides were vinegary, pork-punctuated collard greens and the dynamic mac-and-cheese with crisp bacon, pickled jalapenos, plus a rich-and-tangy cheese sauce only slightly compromised by a little grit.

The relatively snazzy Blackened Catfish ($16) is also a success. A tender, spice-crusted fillet rests atop an impressive, polenta-like “black-bean-and-cheddar-grits-cake” sided with seasonal vegetables — I received a nice medley of blistered tomatoes, corn, plus hunks of roasted fresh zucchini and yellow squash all enhanced with herbs, butter and garlic.

For a refreshing finish to a robust meal, pick the delightful Atlantic Beach Pie ($7), a classic North Carolina-style dessert with a lovely, zest-livened lemon custard offset by a buttery, salt-edged cracker crust.

Barrel & Boar

121 Mill St., Gahanna