Our Gourmet: Concord's Barley House goes from bucket list to must-go-back list
After hearing many great things about The Barley House in Concord, it quickly rose to the top of Our Gourmet's bucket list. And a long-awaited visit to the downtown restaurant did not disappoint.
It also sparked a heated debate between OG and The Dining Companion about how to "taste test" a burger, but more about that later.
Between the warm welcome from the staff and the décor, you instantly feel at home when you walk into The Barley House. We were immediately greeted and seated in the dining room that overlooks the heart of the downtown and the State House. The tavern-like setting manages to feel casual, yet look upscale.
The menu is sizable but not overwhelming. Luckily, I had already decided I was going to have a burger, given the accolades the burgers at The Barley House have received over the years, so my focus was on trying to choose a starter.
Despite the warm weather, the Pumpkin and Apple Bisque ($5), which was the soup of the day, caught my attention. The bisque, decorated with a sweet swirl on top, appeared deceptively simple, but was complex in flavor. While some restaurants like to go heavy on the sage or other spices in what is a typical fall dish, that was not the case here. Any spicing was a nice secondary note allowing the pumpkin and apple to shine. I surprised myself by finishing the bowl of bisque. It is one of the best soups I have had in a long time.
TDC chose the Guinness Brats ($10), two house-made pork sausages served on a bed of lettuce with beer mustard for dipping. TDC raved about the sausages being extremely flavorful and juicy. They were cooked to just the right temperature and tenderness, and he especially enjoyed the beer mustard sauce, which added a spicy gourmet kick. TDC wanted to save room for the rest of the meal so he set one of them aside, but he had a hard time staying away. He kept going back to it even through the dessert course. When it comes to sheer flavor, ballpark sausages have nothing on these, he told me. I'll have to take his word for it as they were kept far out of my reach on the other side of the table.
When it came time to order dinner, I was all set to order my burger, or so I thought. The Barley House offers many types of burgers: everything from the Dublin Burger (peppercorn charred, whiskey gravy, creamy blue cheese, crispy onions) to the BBQ Bacon Bison (all natural bison, sugar coffee rub, barbecue sauce, house-cured bacon, cheddar cheese). All of the choices on the menu sounded delicious, but I opted for the House Burger, a basic burger to which I added cheddar cheese and bacon ($10).
Why would I pass up all the toppings The Barley House is famous for? As far as I'm concerned, the best part of the burger is, natch, the burger. All of the burgers The Barley House makes are ground fresh daily in-house using all-natural, premium Angus beef. Quite simply the better the ingredients, the better the finished product, so in my mind why mask the flavor of the beef with sauces and vegetables?
TDC's feet were firmly planted in the other camp. He was incredulous that I didn't choose one of the burgers with the various toppings. When dining out, he contended, it's always best to choose what that particular restaurant is known for.
After a lot of back and forth, nothing was settled, and the Great Burger Debate of 2013 ended in a draw.
No matter, I was the clear winner. The burger meat was tasty and cooked to the perfect medium I requested. I wish it had been seasoned more, but the house-cured applewood bacon helped in that respect. The hot fries served in a metal cup aside the burger were a nice complement, as was the chipotle ketchup.
TDC opted for the Irish Whiskey Steak ($20), which was cooked medium rare, just like he ordered it. The meat was cut into steak-tip-style slices and served on top of mashed potatoes with green beans on the side. TDC particularly liked the accompanying whiskey peppercorn sauce, which he used to dip the steak and mashed potatoes in.
For dessert, with each us back in our respective corners, I chose the Crème Brulee ($7), warm vanilla custard with a caramelized sugar top, from a list of about seven choices. It was sufficiently sweet and a nice way to end the meal.
For dessert, TDC had the Brownie Sundae ($7). The sundae is packed tightly into a wine-style glass to the point that it looks like it's going to burst when you dig in with your spoon. This mashes the brownie, chocolate syrup, vanilla ice cream, into a succulent swirl of brownie sundae goodness. Both of us made good work of our desserts.
Overall, between the food, atmosphere and service, it was a great dining experience. Our server was right on top of things and didn't blink when TDC insisted on keeping his sausages throughout the meal. He also gave us a $5 coupon for next time because he thought we waited too long between our appetizer and dinner courses.
Once on the bucket list, The Barley House is now on the must-go-back-to list. And next time, I may even get a burger with a bunch of toppings, and not just to avoid an argument.