August 2009 Issue
Adam Welly, owner of the Wayward Seed Farm in Marysville, considers himself as much a professional eater as a farmer. So it was a shock for his progressive tastebuds when a few months back he dined with a group of restaurant traditionalists. “They ordered an appetizer, salad and entrée, in that order,” he says. “That’s not how I eat — it’s no fun.”
Diners at Barrio, Columbus’ newest tapas venue, would agree. Opened in May and housed in the shell of a former downtown Wendy’s, the restaurant specializes in small plates with Latin American (mostly Spanish and Argentine) roots.
The structural transformation from burger joint to neighborhood hot spot alone is enough to make hipsters’ mouths water. Gone are the plastic booths and trademark foil wrappers, replaced by two floors of industrial-looking space with floor-to-ceiling open windows that let the gregarious scene spill out into the street.
To order, you might want to follow Nelly’s lead and leave the traditional model at home. The menu is divided into hot and cold tapas, with each plate substantial enough for two to share. Flavors are as spirited as the atmosphere, and servers are polite and well versed in the food, so if you, like 90 percent of diners, have never heard of menu items such as chayote (it’s one of Barrio’s most common questions, our server said), don’t deny yourself the experience because you’re too shy to ask. (Chayote, we discover, is a pear-shaped gourd that’s grown in tropical climates.)
The menu is a list of lively combinations, and in total we tried seven before surrendering. Among our favorites were the house salad — greens tossed with avocado-orange vinaigrette and mixed with pepitas, manchego cheese and red pepper, and tender lamb rib chops piled on top of pinto beans and spinach with a Rioja (a Spanish wine) glaze. Given bigger stomachs, the grilled octopus with bottle rocket greens, mango and jicama and the quinoa salad with almonds and romesco sauce would have been given a shot.
And for traditionalists (if you’re still reading): Barrio has you covered with a short menu of lunch- and dinner-size portions of paella, flank steak and a delicious braised pork shank with pickled cabbage and black beans.
BARRIO RESTAURANT, 185 N. High St., Columbus, 43215, 614/220-9141. barriotapas.com. Tapas $5–$15; large plates $15–$33. Handicap accessible