Corner Pocket—Barrel + Rye

May 2015 View more

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Cozy is a double-edged sword in the restaurant business. While many diners prefer the cocooning intimacy afforded by a small, tightly packed room to the cacophony and booming echoes of a warehouse setting, the trade-off—if all is well in the kitchen—can be interminable weekend waits for those scarce available seats. Plant your buzzy hole in the wall on a highly visible and heavily trafficked downtown corner and the problem only multiplies.

NMAG0515_TableForTwo_Barrell and Rye-020_800pxBut the “problem” as it relates to the glorified elbow hallway of Barrel + Rye on Geneva’s pedestrian-choked Third Avenue is certainly only applicable in the best sense of the term. While the moniker suggests folks who know their way around the customer-facing side of a bar, it’s another pair of concepts that proves they’ve done their economics homework as well—supply + demand. By our count, there were maybe 50 chairs to be had (including the 20 lining the bar), all of them full on a chilly and sleepy Sunday night, which is perhaps why our waitress recommended an early arrival on Fridays and Saturdays to avoid the routine 90- to 120-minute waits. Two thoughts: (1) yikes; (2) totally worth it.

Coming Through the Rye

NMAG0515_TableForTwo_Barrell and Rye-069_800pxThe upside of this scarcity, of course, is a very warm and inclusive atmosphere for those lucky enough to secure a coveted spot at one of the handful of tables lining the windows and softly lit by a variety of vintage Edison filament bulbs. Those bulbs aren’t the only things striving for a homey retro vibe, with the manually typeset food and drink menus—hole-punched and mounted on separate clipboards—also lending an air of conspicuous yesteryear to the proceedings.

NMAG0515_TableForTwo_Barrell and Rye-059_800pxWhat isn’t small is the selection on the drink menu in particular, where the massive slate of available scotches, bourbons and ryes reads like an alcohol-soaked novella or a wino’s Christmas list, with plenty of craft beers, wines and not-kidding-around cocktails to round things out. On the food side, the net isn’t cast quite as wide, with the focus mainly on sandwiches, burgers and salads. That may sound boring on paper, but in practice it is anything but.

Lock, Stock and Barrel

We started with a shareable plate of cheese curds, a deep fired Badger State staple here rendered lighter and creamier by the brie at their molten cores, served alongside a peppery apricot jam. From there we diverged to opposite corners of the menu. My companion opting for the greenery of a large chopped salad stocked with grilled chicken, pancetta, scallions, pasta, feta cheese, chopped romaine, red pepper, avocado and tortilla strips in a light vinaigrette.

NMAG0515_TableForTwo_Barrell and Rye-022_800pxMeanwhile, I headed straight for the precipice of utter indecision among the many tempting sandwich descriptions. On the verge of pulling the trigger on a pork burger with bacon and barbecue aioli, unless I switched to the four-cheese grilled cheese with avocado, I pivoted suddenly to the Southern—a gorgeous brioche bun barely able to contain its contents of spiced fried chicken, smoked gouda and a fried egg, with just a splash of maple syrup to complete the indulgence. I also staved off another tough decision by answering an “or” question with a “yes” and getting both the crispy batter fries and decadent baked mac and cheese as side items.

Sated almost completely by my Dixie breakfast on a bun, I nevertheless managed to find a small pocket of available space for a few bites of chocolate stout brownie with caramel bourbon sauce, thus transforming myself into the gastro equivalent of Barrel + Rye’s business model—warmly filled to capacity.

Barrel + Rye
477 S. 3rd Street Geneva


Photo by Greg Shapps