It was a cold January Sunday and I’d decided to return to a trusty ole’ mainstay for brunch: Barrel, located on Pennsylvania Avenue on Capitol Hill. We’d been invited to revisit the trusty brunch spot, as it’s been quite a few years. (Read my original review here.) I had the original HBIC, Cindy Sue, in tow, and we were meeting our married friends, Josh and Mike, for brunch. Barrel was the perfect spot for a cozy brunch that I knew would treat my family and friends right.
Stepping into Barrel is like stepping inside a whiskey barrel in that it’s dark, wooden, and filled with a plethora of whiskey options. There’s a long, wooden bar that runs the length of the restaurant with a chalk board listing all of the beer specials alongside. The adorable and slightly disheveled waiters and bartenders all wear plaid—and all appear just a bit hungover, but in a good, casual way.
The restaurant was bustling on this particular Saturday, as it’s a great place to gather a group, drink a fair bit of booze, and stay awhile. The atmosphere is laid back yet lively, and the music varies between classic rock and country, fitting given the cozy pub style.
There are two bottomless options: champagne by the bottle, served with OJ, cranberry, and seasonal syrups, which on this occasion was a delightful ginger pineapple. There’s also a barrel of Old Fashioned, a liter barrel of Old Overholt and bitters, with syrup and an ice cube for $60.
You can also opt for the house cocktails, like a classic daiquiri, milk punch, and a corpse reviver. We sampled the Spritzness, crafted with gin, champagne, sugar, Aperol, and lemon. It was light, lovely, and perfectly effervescent. While I consider myself to be an expert on Spritzes, my mother is a know-it-all when it comes to Bloody Marys. She requested her Bloody Mary extra spicy and she reports that it was well executed. Barrel makes their mixes in-house—and offers a great, classic Bloody packed with flavor.
We began with house made biscuits accompanied by burnt honey butter and the most delicious, thinly sliced ham. Served hot, these biscuits are a great, dense, and moist treat.
We also ordered the mac n’ cheese, which was an absolute home run. Served in a ramekin, these spiral noodles were covered in melted, gooey white cheese and topped with bread crumbs. This had to be one of the better macs I’ve sampled in all my days of brunching and Southern fare.
The menu is filled with hearty Southern fare—this is not a place to visit if you’re trying to eat light. There ain’t nothing light about it. The fried chicken and waffles are definitely top on my list for our best dishes of the year—it’s hard to beat this classic take on the Southern dish.
We shared the shrimp n’ grits, which is a no-brainer at a Southern joint. The grits was smooth and creamy, with sizable shrimps and Calabrian sausage. The dish was crafted with piquillo peppers and plenty of garlic, which packed in the flavor.
Keeping on the shrimp train, we also ordered the BBQ shrimp. The New Orleans style BBQ shrimp is a shareable dish: a bowl of enormous BBQ shrimp stewed in a gumbo-style sauce, topped with scallions and served with an enormous chunk of crispy bread. Our one complaint is that the bread was too huge and dense to divvy up and share.
Another shareable, and vegetarian, dish is the cauliflower migas—roasted spicy cauliflower served in a skillet with chilies, peppers, currants, basil, and egg. It was packed with flavor and spice—and absolutely delicious. This is a great, hearty option to have on the menu for vegetarians.
Barrel keeps it classic and hearty, offering a egg-cheese-and-ham sammy, served on an impossibly perfect, hot, buttered bun. You literally cannot ask for more in a sandwich—and it comes with an overwhelming serving of crispy New England style potato chips.
After brunch, we rolled home to take naps, drunk on mimosas, and full on hearty Southern fare, hospitality, family, and friends.
The Bitches say: A. A reliable mainstay with hearty Southern fare, chill vibes, and a great bottomless deal. It’s the perfect place for a boozy group brunch that lasts all afternoon (just head to the bar downstairs). Or, go home and take a disco nap—you’ll need it after all that food.
Barrel serves brunch Saturdays and Sundays starting at 10:30 a.m. (202) 543-3622