Open since 1992, Barley's Brewing Company began producing great local craft beer before there was a great local craft beer movement. Back then, Barley's set up shop around the Arena District well before there was an arena.
Open since 1992, Barley’s Brewing Company began producing great local craft beer before there was a great local craft beer movement. Back then, Barley’s set up shop around the Arena District well before there was an arena.
Persisting through all those years of wavering economic times and fickle dining and drinking trends is no small achievement. Recent visits showed Barley’s successful formula of serving old favorites plus new flavors equals an establishment now performing better than ever.
One constant is the long and narrow interior. Featuring a large, convivial bar, it’s the same old wood and padded booth look that has put Barley’s pub-loving customers at ease for decades. There are several TVs, but this is a brewpub, not a sports bar.
So sip a beer or three, because they’re terrific (glasses are $5.50 to $6.50; samples are $0.75). Unlike many in the contemporary craft beer camp, Barley’s produces brews that are balanced and distinct — not gratuitously hoppy and odd. Ranging from its perennially popular Scottish ale to a hefeweizen with more orange than clove character (Blood Thirst Wheat) to an IPA with locally grown hops (Blurry Bike) to an imperial brown ale with chocolate and vanilla notes (Chupacabra), there’s something for every palate.
Barley’s food menu, which leans toward the hearty and beer-friendly, groups its greatest hits with newer, more ambitious dishes. From the former, Barley’s Unconventional Wings (12 for $14) are duly famous.
Earning their “unconventional” label honestly — they’re grilled, not fried — the ungreasy flappers soar above most others. If you enjoy a smoky and tangy sting, try the chipotle sauce. If you enjoy devils dancing on your tongue, target the fiery, but fun-for-hot-heads “gates of hell” sauce.
Mildred’s Sauerkraut Balls (4/$5) are another longtime staple. I don’t know Mildred, but I like the way she rolls. Her crispy and pickle-y, sausage-and-cheese-enriched orbs are the kind of simply pleasurable snacks that make the beer here taste even better.
If you want to have a ball with fewer carbs, the large Turkey Spinach Meatballs ($8.29) are filling, not heavy. Leavened with herbs and lemon (citrus-kissed meatballs are becoming trendy), they’re paired with a spicy tomato sauce that clashes with — rather than enhances — their good flavor.
The tomatoey Pale Ale Chili ($4.59) is a harmonious blend of black beans, ground beef, sausage, green peppers and black pepper. It’s meaty, zingy and deeply satisfying.
Barley’s exhibits patriotism by taking burgers and hot dogs seriously. Both come with a side, like fries crispy enough to provoke a little flag waving on their own.
The burgers get a backyard-style grilling that imparts a smoky crust. For something rich, try the brunch-worthy Sam I Am (Ohio cheddar, pesto mayo, seared deli ham and a fried egg, $11.59). For something leaner, opt for Barley’s almost classic Turkey Nut burger ($11.79).
Barley’s juicy and garlicky, mammoth all-beef hot dogs embrace a more-is-more toppings strategy. The indelicately named Bay of Pigs is a Cuban sandwich-riffing extravaganza dressed with tender pulled pork, ham, a fried pickle, Swiss cheese and spicy mustard. If you want to go to hog heaven, consider this your $10 ticket.
If you want to pig out in less junky style, the bone-in IPA Brined Pork Chop ($19.49) is pricey, but thick, tender and skillfully grilled. Gilding the lily is a zesty and pulpy barbecue sauce sharpened by horseradish-spiked mustard. On the side are herb-buttered broccoli and intense cheese grits.
Those great grits form the basis of extremely flavorful Shrimp and Grits ($15). Distinguished by a boozy broth, Cajun spices, sautéed onions and chilies plus Texas toast garlic bread, the dish is delicious enough to become a new Barley’s favorite.
Photos by Meghan Ralston