It's Just Brunch: Barrio

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

With a food document like a heavily stamped passport, Barrio - one of our best new restaurants -seems to have traveled around a map of the Spanish-speaking world in order to cobble together its fusion-tinged menu.

That might sound like the kind of bit-of-this/bit-of-that strategy that often results in a disappointingly loosey-goosey cuisine, but in fact Barrio's brand of creative borrowing more frequently produces tightly focused, brashly flavored food. Over a few recent Sunday afternoons, I discovered that Barrio's dinnertime blueprint for Spanish-influenced success translates seamlessly to the lively plates that make up its impressive brunch, too.

To start off your Barrio weekend capper, try a liquid pick-me-up to rouse your fatigued (at least if you're like me) Sunday brunchtime palate. I recommend one of the place's not-too-tart, not-too-sweet mimosas concocted with a blood-orange puree and cava, that pleasant Spanish sparkler.

Sip on that fizzy winner and take in Barrio's distinctive ambience. Weather permitting, you'll likely be treated to big, open-windowed views onto Downtown High Street along with the soothing breezes that can accompany that; music-wise, expect something savvy in the low key of, say, Lily Allen.

Checking out Barrio's intriguingly smart and unusual space, you'll see two stories of stark, white painted brick, lots of dark wood, an uneven and disconnected wooden-plank ceiling and a huge communal Amish-made table in the swanky bar area. Believe it or not, this place made its hot and juicy journey to vivacious and good looking by beginning as a lowly Wendy's burger barn.

Barrio's brunch menu is cleverly scaled back to a manageable dozen or so items. As expected, those choices span the Spanish-speaking part of the globe from Spain to Peru to Mexico to places in between, best described as "the land of Barrio."

Barrio's rich yet refreshing Ensalada de la Casa ($7) might take fans of the defunct restaurant Tapatio back home again. Made with romaine lettuce, pumpkin seeds, red peppers, manchego cheese and an interesting avocado-orange vinaigrette, it had plenty of verve, color and texture and was definitely reminiscent of Tapatio's well-loved house salad.

The fried Empanadas ($8) were filled with plenty of crabmeat and were a nice, if tiny, starter. Three teeny pockets arrived with a sweet corn salsa and a citrusy smashed avocado that was about halfway to guacamole.

In order of preference, the three excellent Ceviches I tried were: whitefish bursting with grapefruit juice and fresh cool mint; chopped shrimp soaked in a tart and zesty tomato sauce; and tuna dunked in a soy-based spicy marinade.

I could have chomped on the championship-quality Chilaquiles ($10) for days. Oh wait, I did. Scrambled eggs and freshly fried flour tortilla chips were amazingly graced with a feeds-four amount of stewy pulled pork in a head-snappingly bold and spicy tomatillo-spiked barbecue-like sauce.

The tantalizing Torta Espanola ($8) was like a rich and slightly spicy frittata wearing a festive dress. Its creamy and cheesy egg mass was sheathed in green and red peppers, thin slices of potato and a romesco sauce.

While the Paella Mixta ($15) was a bit greasy, it was certainly full-flavored and each bite seemingly brought up something interesting and different from the preceding one. Firm, fat, saffron-scented grains of calasparra rice supported little squid rings, plenty of chorizo, some chicken thigh meat, peas, peppers, and two or three pieces each of clams, mussels and shrimp.

There's lots of good reasons to visit Barrio (hell, I haven't even mentioned their truly tremendous, hand-cut $6 fries sprinkled with garlic and super-size served in a huge bowl with a sweet and creamy aioli) and the relaxed, delicious Sunday brunch is certainly an easy way to get to know this attractive addition to Downtown dining.


185 N. High St., Downtown