When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Barrelhouse Location: 2050 North Alma School Road, Chandler Open: Almost two months. Eats: American Price: $11 to $30 per person
Barrelhouse is the kind of place where the dishes and the drinks feel like one kind of restaurant but the restaurant itself feels like something different altogether.
From sommelier and spirits guru Kenta Usuzawa (Tapino, Petite Maison, Tottie's Asian Fusion), the "American kitchen and cocktails" spot opened almost two months ago at the northwest corner of Warner and Alma School in Chandler.
As you might expect from a man with booze in his background, the drink menu is solid and offers a thoughtful selection of 12 wines by the glass (some from Arizona wineries), nearly 20 craft and local beers on tap, and signature cocktails.
A good thing, since most of the dishes seem perfect for pairing with them.
Like the drink offerings, the food menu, from chef Larry Shore (L'Auberge de Sedona and House of Tricks), is a mindful mix of mostly familiar American comfort food fare in the form of small plates, soups and salads, flatbread pizza, sandwiches, and entrees.
The sweet pasilla chili shrimp ($9.50) appetizer could probably do without the intensely sweet tortilla slaw, which seems like overkill considering the perfectly grilled jumbo shrimp tinged in a chile glaze and its surrounding luscious sweet corn butter sauce are flavorful enough on their own.
If there is not too much toasted garlic mayo on your Barrelhouse version of the BLT ($9), you'll taste some nice pieces of fatty and salty pan-fried smoked pork belly (instead of bacon) plus tomatoes and watercress on pieces of toasted potato bread.
But a better option, for now, might be The Hunter's Burger ($12.50).
Starting with a decent grass-fed chuck patty (cooked correctly to medium-rare, as requested) and piled high with tomato herb cheese, grilled onions, maple bacon, and wild mushroom au jus, this burger delivered on texture as well as flavor (a little too much mushroom au jus, but not a deal breaker) without obscuring the taste of the beef. Each bite was meaty and earthy bite with just the right amount of salt from the bacon.
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To make the most of your burger or sandwich meal, opt for the very good (and not-that-petite) petite house salad, chock-full of fresh veggies and housemade croutons instead of fries.
With a moniker that refers to a bar, saloon, or juke joint, Barrelhouse's food and drink offerings seem cohesive and comfortably fit its concept -- something that can't be said for its somewhat stark and confusing interior. Featuring white-paneled walls, a dark concrete floor, graphic artwork of cacti, a vintage sofa lounge area, and '80s-style décor items, the restaurant's atmosphere seems to be fighting itself over what it wants to be. Not a problem if you're paying $7 for fast-casual lemon pepper chicken. Problem when you're paying $9.50 for an appetizer and $12.50 for a hamburger in a table-service restaurant that wants you to hang around for cocktails.
Barrelhouse's food and drinks are on the right path. I'm hoping its interior can catch up to them.