When I first heard of Barrel, I thought I had it all figured out – its very name is the sacred aging vessel for America’s spirit and the menu offered fried chicken with bourbon peach jam. It was Southern and clearly where I needed to be. When I first sat down for a meal at Barrel last week, however, it was nothing like I had expected, but absolutely everything I could have hoped for.
Barrel opened its doors in 2014, introducing DC to the casual side of whiskey culture it seemed to lack. A never-pretentious, rustic, neighborhood bar with the latest last call, Capitol Hillians know they can always come here for a good time and a full glass. Executive Chef Garrett Fleming, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, is a perfect fit; who better to capture the essence of laid back, Southern cuisine than a Lowcountry cook?
When our conversation drifted toward this subject, however, Garrett’s answer surprised me: “Southern” is merely Barrel’s theme. He had no plans to pigeonhole the dishes there.
“Southern culture is more than fried chicken,” Garrett said. “It’s a culture of old world influences, of history and of preservation.”
His explanation, combined with a thorough re-read of the menu, was a revelation. In addition to a fried chicken biscuit, the menu also offered chicken pho, Jagerwurst sausage and pasta – all of it made in-house. While traveling, Garrett studied the cooking of other cultures and looked for common themes they shared with Southern culinary staples. Just as port cities like Charleston had old world influences in their cuisine, Garrett brought the entire world to his.
The result? A beautiful blend of dishes that both preserve the South and venture across the globe.
Starter: Chicken Pho with Poached Chicken, Toasted Garlic, Beet Greens and Chili
Entrée 1: Jagerwurst Sausage, Baked Vietnamese Eggs and Roast Garlic, Toast and Horseradish Mustard
Entrée 2: Smoked Chicken and Fontina Stuffed Sausage over Greens
Entrée 3: Tagliatelle Alla Carbonara, Poached Egg and House Smoked Bacon
Sweet Finish: Waffle with Ginger Cream, Apples and Bourbon, Basil and Pop Rocks
The best part? This is only the food on the first floor. What lies below at Barrel and where is the booze? Stay tuned for part two of this #UrbanBourbon adventure in Eastern Market. Until then, get your butt to Barrel and treat yourself to Chef Garrett Fleming’s divine culinary creations.
Update: check out Part II of this series on Barrel.
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