Steak and bourbon at Cameron Mitchell's The Barn
Anyone who knows me knows I am a bourbon girl. So when I heard Cameron Mitchell's new restaurant, The Barn at Rocky Fork Creek, would have an area called the Bourbon Lounge, I was intrigued. When I heard they worked with distillers at Woodford Reserve to blend their own barrels, I got giddy.
In truth, the Bourbon Lounge is simply a separate bar area at the Gahanna restaurant that opened yesterday-but it lives up to its name. Bottles of Woodford line the overhead shelf that wraps around the four-sided bar. Order a barrel aged Manhattan-there are three from which to choose-and it will be poured directly from a large barrel branded with the base liquor. There's a choice of Jack Daniels, George Dickel Rye or Bulliet, or for $15 you can get a flight and sample all three.
But the Bourbon Apple Punch ($10) is where my sights fell. It blended The Barn's Double Wood Barn Private Selection (my favorite of their two Woodford blends, it's smooth and with just a touch of honey-like sweetness, easy to sip on its own) with apple brandy, a sweet allspice-like syrup, lemon and bitters. This is a refreshing cocktail with some weight that I'd reach for in the fall.
If you can't already tell, the bar program is one of my favorite things about CMR's newest restaurant. The other is the atmosphere. Even after a three-hour dinner, we found ourselves relaxing in the Bourbon Lounge and tempted to grab a seat in the handful of soft-seating areas or on the white porch chairs out front. That was Mitchell's intention. He wanted The Barn to feel warm and inviting-a place where guests could show up in a pickup truck or a Tesla. And, for the record, both were in the parking lot at Saturday's soft opening.
The host stand feels like a hotel check-in counter, long and staffed with a gaggle of smiling faces. Behind them is the main dining room-a lofty barn-style space with tan wood, tiered chandeliers, flannel carpeting and red sliding barn-style doors. Kudos to Mitchell for keeping the decor simple and letting the space speak for itself. The large back patio will no doubt be a hot spot for diners in warmer months. Half of it can be enclosed with built-in heaters; the other half is open with soft seating around a fire pit and an outside bar.
While the kitchen is open around the corner, it's not the showpiece of the restaurant. One of the coolest things to discover is a glass-windowed room just outside the kitchen where you can stand and watch meat being butchered, seasoned and aged before it heads for the smoker out back.
We were sat in the whitewashed Florida room with a perfect view of that stonewalled smoker-the first one CMR has ever had. At one point, we watched a chef pull tray upon tray of smoked meat from its revolving shelves inside. Barbecue was definitely on our must-order list. We opted for The Barn's BBQ Ribs ($12), an appetizer portion that could be a small meal on its own with steak fries and the house barbecue sauce. The ribs were good, and practically fell off the bone before you could bite them.
It's a big menu with a wide-ranging price point, from a $14 burger and $18 fried chicken, to $48 filet and $75 chateaubriand for two. While the stars are intended to be the barbecue and steak, don't overlook the seafood. A large broiled crab cake starter ($15) slathered in tangy remoulade was a table favorite. As were two 6-ounce Lobster Tails ($48) served with a side of succotash and drawn butter. The 14 ounce Ribeye ($42) is exactly what a steakhouse steak should be-a tender center with a charred, flavorful crust.
The only disappointment was the Five Finger Pork Chop ($28) I ordered, because it had come straight from the apple-wood smoker. Though the flavor was great, and the barbecue reduction both tangy and sweet, the meat itself was dry at the center. A cut that thick is no doubt tricky to cook, and my hope is this was part of pre-opening kinks that need to be ironed out.
Whatever you do, save room for dessert. At $7 each and portions big enough for four people to share easily, this is probably the best deal on the menu. Here, it's all about cakes, pies and ice cream. Fans of coconut shouldn't hesitate to order the Coconut Cake, buttery cake soaked in coconut with whipped cream icing. But my favorite was the Frozen Mudd Pie-a tower of chocolate, vanilla and coffee ice cream with an Oreo crust, layer of chocolate brownie, crushed peanuts on top and hot fudge.