My girl friends from college remain some of my dearest friends to this day. Last weekened, my friend Steph drove up from Raleigh, NC, to visit me for the weekend. We had an epic weekend of too much wine at Bar Barcelona, too much dancing at Las Vegas, and not enough sleep.
We met up with another friend we’ve known for ages, Lauren. Both my Southern belles are married, yet still oodles of fun. Appropriately, we convened at a Southern restaurant, Barrel, on Capitol Hill.
Barrel is an upscale, cozy bar centered around Southern food and whiskey. The space has wooden stools and benches, with chalk boards, light-up signs and a vintage feel. A masculine whiskey bar with dim lighting, Barrel is a great spot for happy hour or a cozy brunch in the corner. While the decor was nothing unique, the restaurant gave off a cool vibe that I really liked, as I’m partial to masculine whiskey bars.
We all had several rounds of the Champagne Supernova, which was the perfect brunch cocktail. The cocktail was made with cava, sorel, orange juice, Burlesque bitters, and brown sugar. It was sweet yet tart. The cocktail reminded me of an Old Fashioned, but with bubbly rather than whiskey. When the time comes, it will be a strong contender for best brunch cocktail of 2015.
There are quite a few unique cocktails on the “brunch bar” menu: a Stizel Fizz, made with Bourbon and lemon, a Mark it Zero, which coffee liqueur and small batch Bourbon, as well as the Chavele, a cocktail made with a heavy lager, Poblano sauce, and tomato juice. There are also about 50 types of beer on the menu.
The menu rotates seasonally. Barrel serves Southern comfort food that is local and fresh. Everything is made in-house from the biscuits to the jam to the house-cured meats, which I found incredibly impressive given that it’s a small, single restaurant with one chef in the kitchen. Everything we ate was delicious, but very, very heavy.
We began with a few items from the small portion of the menu: the biscuits with burnt honey butter and ham as well as the house-smoked bacon. Both dishes were delightful and perfectly Southern: greasy, buttery, and delicious. The plate of biscuits was served with two spreads: the burnt honey butter, which was fluffy and smooth, and the ooey-gooey Blood Orange jam. There were two types of homemade meats: a country style ham and a thin ham that was similar to a proscuitto.
We also ordered appetizer special: a sticky cinnamon roll. This was probably the best cinnamon roll—or breakfast pastry—I’ve had in recent memory. The roll itself was moist, hot, and laced with cinnamon. The sugar glaze was thin and covered the entire roll—it was pure heaven.
We also ordered the chicken biscuits, which were the same biscuits and jam served with the appetizer. Naturally, the biscuits were delicious. The chicken was moist and good, though I wish there had been a tad less breading.
The waiter discovered we were Bitches, so he sent out a few more plates, two of which were creamy pastas topped with a poached egg. The first pasta, the Tagliatelle, had us all reaching for second helpings. The Carbonara pasta was thin swirls of perfect pasta. The dish was topped with a poached egg, house-smoked bacon, and Parmesan shavings. We dove our forks into the bowl, and swirled the pasta, creamy sauce, and eggs creating a delicious bite each time.
The next two dishes were good, but very heavy. The second pasta was an enormous platter of gnocchi stuffed with fondute, a creamy type of cheese. It was topped with poached eggs, mornay cream sauce, chunks of bacon lardons, and green chard. It was similar to the Tagliatelle, so I’m not sure Barrel needs both on the brunch menu. The gnocchi were far larger than normal gnocchi, and beautifully done.
When the Jagerwurst arrived we couldn’t help but giggle at the phallic plating of the entree. The two eggs were baked in roasted garlic and herbs, served aside thick, buttery toast with a Jagerwurst perched atop, balancing atop the toast and between the two eggs. The sausage was really good—with Horseradish mustard encased within the meat itself.
By the end of the meal, we were impressed by the restaurant’s capacity to make this much variety of cuisine in house—and this good. The pastas, the pastries, and the meats were all really amazing. We were equally impressed by our own levels of gluttony—this was a lot of really heavy, really buttery food. I’m sure we all ingested several sticks of butter a piece that morning. And we weren’t upset about it.
Steph and I went home to watch Shark Tank and take a solid nap. Lauren also cuddled in for a much-needed nap—serious brunching is exhausting.
The Bitches say: A-. Barrel is delicious, hearty Southern food in a cozy, cool ambiance. We wish there were a few light options on the menu, is all.
Barrel serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 a.m to 4 p.m.
613 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.