Bar Food for ‘Mericans
Barley Room has a cure for the hangry
Even before entering The Barley Room, I could hear twangy music seeping onto the outdoor patio from inside. The music was considerably louder after pushing through the door with a loud classic rock band singing in gruff, inarticulate voices. The dimly lit restaurant displayed multiple TVs tuned to either basketball or baseball games. Voices, musical instruments and television ads clashed into a loud, yet static-y background noise. In the center of the reasonably-sized room was a long bar separating tables from booths, and above each booth were mirrors decorated with different beer logos. One word came to mind within three seconds: American.
When my date and I made our way to the booth, we immediately ordered drinks. I decided to reject the $12 “New” Fashion (when did the Old Fashioned get old?) and ordered a whiskey-ginger instead ($5). It was refreshing and delightfully strong, instantly soothing my hangry nerves. My boyfriend ordered a La Cumbre IPA ($5.50) from the draft beer menu, which also offered a local Bosque Brewing Co. selection along with Guinness, Blue Moon and other run-of-the-mill beers.
Hipster chalkboard-style signs were scattered along the walls advertising the beer selection. After taking in the somewhat overstimulating environment we realized that our waiter had failed to bring us a menu. I was so content with my beverage that I didn’t notice, but was irked upon realizing we probably could’ve ordered already. We were given one menu which was really a clipboard with browned, crumpled pages held together by a brass clamp at the top.
We chose a half order of buffalo chicken wings ($5.99) to split as an appetizer, and I ordered the classic Barley Room burger with fries ($9.99). My boyfriend ordered the patty melt and onion rings ($9.99). The wings arrived surprisingly quickly; they only took about five minutes. Six decently sized morsels of chicken glazed in buffalo sauce sat steaming on a white dish while our mouths watered. The first bite was a little piece of heaven. Warm, succulent meat fell effortlessly off the bone as buffalo and ranch sauces dribbled onto my plate. My lips stung slightly from the heat of the sauce, though my boyfriend was unimpressed by the level of spiciness.
Our entrées appeared as I was attempting to clean my saucy fingers with a napkin. My plate held a burger with the top bun flipped open revealing tomato, pickle and four perfectly sliced rings of red onion on one side, and a juicy looking hamburger topped with a slice of melted cheddar on the other. I ordered the meat cooked medium, and it was neither too dry nor too rare. The meat sank between my teeth, complemented by crunchy red onion, surrounded by a spongy bun. Gooey cheese meldded with the beef creating a dense and savory combination of flavors. I couldn’t help but close my eyes and thank whatever food gods might exist for sending down such a delectable meal.
The fries did not disappoint. Crispy on the outside with enough flexibility to bend softly as I dragged them through ketchup, they were a delight to my taste buds; I was reluctant to share. My boyfriend’s patty melt on marble rye bread was no match for my burger, but it had its perks. The onion rings were deep fried to oily, crispy perfection and I was impressed with the onions lack of stringiness. I usually find onion rings to have a consistency somewhat like celery, with threads hanging out of the breading. These, on the other hand, were what decent onion rings should taste like.
We left happily stuffed with the next day’s lunch in to-go boxes. Despite the noise on a Saturday night, The Barley Room offers a mean burger.
For the second visit to The Barley Room, my boyfriend and I brought a couple friends along, and we all split an appetizer of potato skins ($7.99). Filling as can be, the crispy outer skins complemented the soft potato and melted cheese well, and tasted even better topped with chunky salsa or sour cream. It was relatively busy for a Tuesday night but significantly quieter, this time with a solo female acoustic vocalist on stage as opposed to an entire band. We all ordered drinks—two La Cumbre IPAs and two “Titos Mules” ($9) from the cocktail list. The mules turned out to be much weaker than my whiskey drink from the previous dinner, tasting a bit watered down.
One of our friends from England ordered the fish and chips ($12.99), another ordered the ABQ turkey sandwich with sweet potato waffle fries ($9.99), and my boyfriend got the Santa Fe chicken sandwich ($9.99). I wanted to put the menu to the test so I ordered enchiladas ($8.99) with wavering confidence on how New Mexican food from a bar/grill kitchen would taste. We all tried the enchilada plate and came to the conclusion that the dish was something like your white grandmother would make. Canned green chile tried and failed to mix in with soupy refried beans. Bland chicken was mashed inside three rolled tacos and topped with a thick plastic-y layer of cheese.
The fish and chips also failed to impress. Three pale fillets and a pile of french fries were no match for our English friend's expectations; I believe his comparison included the words “freezer fish.” My boyfriend’s Santa Fe chicken sandwich contained a slice of ripe avocado, an oversized piece of moist chicken and strips of crispy bacon. A soft, buttery bun held the ingredients together effortlessly. If I ever return to this joint, I know what I’ll be ordering.
Prices were one thing I was not impressed with: My drink was more expensive than my meal. By the end of the night we each spent around $20 not including a tip for pretty generic bar food that, according to one of my friends who teaches, is something you could easily get for $4 in a school cafeteria. The mediocre American food was not terrible but it was much more satisfying when I was exhausted and deliriously hungry.
5200 Eubank Blvd NE
Hours: Mon-Sat: 11am-2am Sun: 11am-midnight