Restaurant Review: Barrel 44
When I first visited Barrel 44 last year, I rolled away thinking that for a place designated as a whiskey bar, it sure didn't look like one. More divey than upscale and with well-lit taverny high-top tables instead of dark lighting and fancy furniture, the place seemed hard to read as a bourbon-sipping enclave, ambiance-wise.
In the food department, Barrel 44 was easier to get a bead on - it succeeded surprisingly well in executing a small menu that reworked a few simple winners into different and interesting guises.
I recently returned to Barrel 44 to check out how the joint would stack up against my initial reactions. Well, I learned my first impressions of the food were not a fluke. In fact, I'd go so far as to suggest this place might well be the best-kept secret in the Short North - an impression reinforced by its patronage by servers from many nearby food and drink establishments.
As for its "identity," the place hasn't changed much - it's still a rowdy, smallish, unplush bar with yellowish hues and a second, quieter (i.e. less fun), more sit-and-eat type room.
But I'm really warming up to 44's overall vibe - I mean how could I not like a place with lots of great food and drink deals, decent music and a Boilermaker menu?
The clever food list includes small plates (half-priced during happy hour and all night Monday), a few salads, pastas and entrees and lots of popular sandwiches served with big piles of very nice, totally handmade French fries.
From the small plates, the big, crusty-brown and ungreasy Palm Beach Crab Cake ($8) was one of the best in town. Filled with lots of actual crab, it was garnished with a red pepper mayo and a nice little black bean and jicama salad. Also seafoody good were three accurately described Jumbo Scallops ($8) paired with a sort of citrusy caramel sauce.
Meat eaters should definitely target the excellent Beef and Pork Satays ($7). Six extra-large skewers of thin, tender meat were smoky-grilled and served with a neat soba noodle cup plus a racy peanut butter sauce.
Continuing with the biggie-sized good food and good deals, the Asian Seared Tuna Salad ($10) was another hit. Since the sesame-seeded fish was seared and accessorized with a pretty pickled ginger rose plus a seaweed component, this seemed perfectly designed for people who like the idea of but are afraid of full-on sushi.
The 44 Burger was perfect for folks who like handmade patties and deep, dark flavors. Above the sear-crusted meat were portobello pieces with a viscous demi-glace sauce and swiss cheese. The big, bad boy came with those kickin' fries and was a very nice deal ($8).
I was also impressed with the Blackened Catfish ($15). Sided with dense smashed potatoes and properly grilled asparagus were tender and zesty fish cutlets slathered in a garlicky tomato and dairy sauce with seafood in it.
Call it more proof that Barrel 44 deserves a second look.
To read G.A. Benton's blog, visit ColumbusDiningGuide.com
1120 N. High St., Short North
Cuisine: Contemporary American
Price: $$ ($11-$20 per person)
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 a.m. Monday-Saturday, 4 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Sunday