Review: Barleygarden Kitchen gives the people what they want


As far as collaborations go, the idea of one between local butcher and craft beer proprietors just goes together as well as sausage and ale, doesn’t it? The affair behind Barleygarden Kitchen and Craft Bar in Alpharetta’s Avalon development has just such a natural balance to it.

Kraig Torres, owner of Hop City Beer, has built a reputation for sourcing excellent and impressively large selections of craft brews at his package stores and beer bar in Krog Street Market. For his first restaurant, he’s tapped Kevin Ouzts, whose butcher shop the Spotted Trotter has earned a reputation as one of the most discerning in town, to sort out the kitchen.

In the cool long downstairs bar, you’ll find 60 taps packed with beer both local and regional: Scofflaw, Monday Night, Pontoon, Three Taverns, Cigar City, Burial and so on. The rooftop bar offers an unusual, beer geek-friendly selection of European taps. To go with the beer, you’ll find a menu of options sourced from the Spotted Trotter, including hot dogs crafted from Georgia hogs, and pastrami cured from excellent beef. Ouzts has written a simple menu of sandwiches and bar snacks, the best of which make use of his own wares. This is very much Ouzts-the-butcher, and not so much Ouzts-the-chef, the ambitious meat-centric mind who created outlandish dishes at the now-defunct Cockentrice in Krog Street Market.

When that restaurant opened a couple of years ago, John Kessler, writing in this paper, praised Cockentrice’s “carnivorous intensity,” and wrote of meats “maxed out with pungent flavors and presented in ways you’ve never seen” and ingredients that “bond with an electric charge.” It closed roughly 18 months later. As an outside observer, it wasn’t hard to guess why: Krog Street Market was full of customers buying pints from Hop City and burgers from Fred’s and dumplings from Gu’s. By and large, they weren’t headed to that development for a full-service culinary experience.

For a critic like myself, who longs to be served dishes from chefs cooking not just with their hands but also their head and their heart, it has been painful for me to watch over the years a fair number of chefs in Atlanta be served the same lesson that Ouzts apparently was. Simply put, there is a modest audience in this town for food that is individual, born of the mind of a distinct chef. Ouzts’ Cockentrice belongs to a group of Atlanta restaurants that never found the audience they deserved. The late Angus Brown and Nhan Le’s Lusca comes to mind, as does Asha Gomez’s Cardamom Hill. Fine company, if bittersweet.

When a chef emerges from the trauma that is losing that sort of defining statement-restaurant, he or she usually comes bearing another hard lesson: There is plenty of real estate and foot traffic available in this town for chefs willing to flip gussied-up cheeseburgers and spin rotisserie chickens. It’s a conclusion I’d be tempted to call cynical if it weren’t so obviously true.

<<More metro Atlanta dining reviews

The menu served at Barleygarden is, in that way, what people want. A plate of chicken wings comes in buffalo or lemon pepper seasoning. There are fries and aioli that might inspire you to say, “Not bad!” You can get a pretty good bowl of fried cauliflower seasoned addictively with paprika and Parmesan. If I was killing a long afternoon on the patio, I could easily imagine ordering two bowls worth.

Some of the menu (boring salads, forgettable sandwiches) seems to be written in a “no kitchen can screw this up” safety zone, which would be better if it were true. One night I was served a dry, grainy pork bratwurst burger cooked past well done into a zone I’d call oblivion. Not even a heap of caramelized onions, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing could save it.

By far, the best elements of the kitchen here come from the Spotted Trotter’s fine charcuterie. The most exciting option is a build-your-own grilled cheese sandwich that can be filled with a rotating selection of meats including pastrami or chorizo, cheeses, and house-made lingonberry jam or mustard. Order just pastrami and provolone with mustard, and you’ll have a thin but satisfying savory snack. Load it up with the works (three meats and three cheeses) and you’ll have a salty, melty indulgence on your plate.

You’ll notice the menu, not so modestly, also offers “The Best Hot Dog You’ll Ever Eat.” Will that be true for you? I think it depends on what hot dogs you’ve eaten, but it is quite good: juicy, snappy, salty, and meaty enough to balance an ample bun. Loaded up with a mustard seed-laced pickle relish, I’d happily put it in my top five. That “best ever” phrasing is maybe the most ambitious thing on the menu.

Barleygarden is a place that understands its customers. You can order a nice local beer in a to-go cup and wander around the shops of Avalon, ogle the Tesla cars and Apple phones, or linger on the rooftop, nibbling on fries. No need to bother sitting down for fancy food.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Food

The best way to grill a burger keeps it off the grate
The best way to grill a burger keeps it off the grate

I used to have a sociological hamburger theory. Growing up in Philly and Michigan, I thought a hamburger was big and fat, the type my mom made, the kind (amped up in size and quality) made famous at the 21 Club in New York. My wife thought a hamburger was thin and crusty, the sort she ate at the Diamond Inn, a homey cafe in the small Central Texas...
Deep Roots Wine Market opening tomorrow in Roswell and other metro Atlanta dining news from the week
Deep Roots Wine Market opening tomorrow in Roswell and other metro Atlanta dining news from the week

Here are the stories that made a splash in the Atlanta food world this week.  Deep Roots Wine Market & Tasting Room is set to open tomorrow in Roswell. Deep Roots features wines exclusively from California with a range of price points. Owner Dana Gurela, a certified California wine appellation specialist and sommelier, will be often be on hand...
AJC EXCLUSIVE: Iconic restaurant Busy Bee to open a second Atlanta location
AJC EXCLUSIVE: Iconic restaurant Busy Bee to open a second Atlanta location

Do you love Busy Bee Cafe’s famous fried chicken but hate the sometimes multiple hour wait for a table? Then you’re in luck — the iconic Atlanta restaurant is slated to open a second location early next year. Located at 111 Trinity Ave. in downtown Atlanta, the second Busy Bee’s menu will offer all of the favorites...
Take a look at the new Atlanta Cousins Maine Lobster location
Take a look at the new Atlanta Cousins Maine Lobster location

Cousins Maine Lobster has operated two food trucks in Atlanta for the past few years, but the eatery’s first brick-and-mortar location made its debut at Lenox Square this week. We got a peek at some of the dishes on the menu and talked to co-founder Jim Tselikis (who you might recognize for his stint on TV’s “Shark Tank&rdquo...
Atlanta native thinks Southern food can be vegan -- and flavorful, too
Atlanta native thinks Southern food can be vegan -- and flavorful, too

As a child, Atlanta native Jenné Claiborne was a super-picky eater, yet she loved being in her grandmother’s kitchen. She baked mud pies and cakes in the mailbox and started cooking at age 7, making “the perfect kid-friendly recipe” of Sichuan chicken for her single mom. Though Claiborne trained to be a professional actress...
More Stories