Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sam's Town pt. 1

In 2005 I was pretty much convinced that The Winking Lizard was the best place in town. An absurd amount of beers available with a decent quality bar food menu. This is what appeals to a 20-something guy living in Coventry, just a stone's throw away from the Cleveland Heights location. It was simple and a basic introduction into the world of craft beer at a price that was pretty reasonable, and the food was good enough to sop up the alcohol and prevent the world from spinning out of control. When I was leaving town in 2007, my roommate at the time had mentioned this place that popped up on W. 25th called Bier Markt. But it was too little to late for me because I moved to Las Vegas shortly thereafter and never got to experience it.

While I was in Las Vegas I somehow managed to raise The Winking Lizard to a biblical status. Nothing could compare. When I spoke of it, I talked about a epic food menu and a beer list that no one in culture-starved Las Vegas could begin to understand.

Flash forward to 2009 and I make my return trip home. Within days of my arrival I find myself bellied up to the bar ready to enjoy this "mythical" meal of great beer and food. When I go to order I realize how badly out of proportion I may have made this place out to be. Sure, the beer list is good but it hasn't really changed in the few years I've been gone. Plus the more standard fare of Budweiser, LaBatt, Miller, Guinness (Don't get me wrong. I love it; it's just standard.) and Heineken are now littering this once outstanding beer menu.

But never mind. Surely the food will be as good as I remember. It wasn't. The wings that I had so fondly immortalized were now, again, standard. Inconsistent quality of meat, uneven sauce distribution, and a increased price point soured me on what I once thought to be the "best wings IN THE WORLD."

Now this is not intended to be a knock on the Winking Lizard, as much as it is a knock on my own head. I still go there and still very much enjoy the place, I just see it in a different light now.

Meanwhile: In 2005 Sam McNulty opens Bier Markt, a Belgian style bar that has a wide variety of unique brews that are not always the easiest to find. Of course "2005 Moving to Vegas Me" could not be bothered with this, so I missed the boat completely. Then sometime in 2007 Sam opens Barcento a wonderful new restaurant with the help of newcomer chef Jonathon Sawyer (you may remember him from such blogs as ... this one) who takes the concept of bar food and throws it out the window. On top of that it is located RIGHT NEXT DOOR to Bier Markt, turning the two of them into "Super Restaurant." Again 2007 me was too busy preparing my self for two years in the desert that, again, I could not be bothered.

When I returned in 2009 I kept hearing things from friends about this place called "barchendo". They would say things like "have you been to barchendo?" or "when should we go to barchendo?" So finally I met a friend of mine there and I was quickly surprised by what I had been missing. First, that I was incorrect on how it was pronounced and spelled. (This is also coming from a guy who thought a Rum and Coke was really called a "Roman Coke." [Seriously. Say "Roman Coke" in a bar and no one will correct you].) Second was the fact that I had stumbled into one of the finer drinking and dining establishments in the city.

The "bier" menu is a trip across the globe to the country of Belgium, where the monks must be drunk off their collective asses 24/7 because they make some damn fine beer. Chimay Blue, Delirium Tremens, and La Fin Du Monde are pretty much old hat, compared to what Bier Market has on their list.

Ales, varying from dubbel to tripel are pretty common on the menu, but the fact that they sometime delve into quadruple makes the drinking experience unique. On top of all that, they pour the most perfect Stella Artois that you can imagine. (Water spritz the Stella glass, pour the beer with a nice amount of head, remove excess head with knife, and repeat when empty.)

All that beer can make you work up an appetite and luckily Barcento is right there to the rescue. Gone are the days of wings and potato skins, now there is a wonderful assortment of originals that feel like they should have been in my life much sooner. Perhaps a nice assortment of meats and cheeses presented with house-pickled vegetables for starters? Then a stunning array of pizzas that range from the traditional to the wild. (Pancetta, provolone, eggs, black pepper anyone?). There are, of course, mussels in a Belgian beer sauce with butter. That is never a bad thing. But the thing that most people talk about are the frites.

Now you will hear me talk about "best thing in Cleveland" a lot in this blog, and this is one of those moments. Pommes Frites, for those not experienced, are french fries. But not your ordinary fries. These giant "steak fries" are cooked to perfection and served wrapped in a cone made from the menu. I am not sure what they are cooked in but I am willing to go out on a limb and say it is some kind of fat (duck, goose, etc). What I do know is that they are seasoned with lots of garlic and rosemary. On top of that? Three dipping sauces of aioli and ketchup that add flavor but do not take away from the fries themselves. I am not kidding when I say that I have had entire meals and am full to the point of uncomfortableness, but I will still go back and grab just a few more fries because they are just that good.

So the combination of great food and a unbelievable beer menu (plus there is a wine menu of about 100 wines if you're so inclined) makes this a place not to be missed. However, there remains a downside to this greatness. The weekends are NEVER the time to go. Barcento might be ok, but getting a table can take a while and Bier Markt can get crowded to the point that it is uncomfortable. This place is good enough to warrant those kinds of crowds but you will find yourself happier going during the week or off hours. (The kitchen is open until 2AM 365). Also keep in mind, their happy hour specials apply to some of the more popular food items, fries being one of them. So take that into consideration when you are planning your trip but by all means PLAN A TRIP.

Then in 2011 Sam did something else... (To be continued)

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