Sunday, May 24, 2009

Lunch at The Barn

The Barn restaurant has always been one of those places that seems to create a lot of buzz about it. It's far enough away from Akron that it isn't casually suggested as a place for lunch or dinner. That is, unless there is buzz.

"Last weekend we just up and decided to travel all the way to The Barn for dinner. What a wonderful experience we had!"

It has been at least two decades since I have eaten here and since this was on the way back from my trip to Wooster to visit Lerch's Donut cart, I decided to take advantage and stop in for lunch. The Barn happens to be located on Rt. 585, just south of Smithville. From the road, the first thing you'll notice is the sign:

From what I remember twenty years ago, it used to just be literally, "The Barn". Now it seems that they've built an entire complex. Apparently, you don't just go for the food, but the entire Barn "experience".

To the right of the restaurant is a pretty lake with swings and tables and such:

To the left is the gift shop. Behind the gift shop are a toy shop and an Amish furniture shop:

And finally, the restaurant itself, in all it's glorious barn-ness:

To get to the front door, one must cross over a small covered wooden bridge with a lovely artificial stream running under it out to the lake:

Once inside, the first thing that struck me was how kitschy it is. Or unique. Or quaint. I suppose different people would have different reactions depending on their own personal taste in decorating. Walking past the cash registers, where of course they sell various restaurant products to go, I was finally seated at a table near a window.

The menu was fairly straightforward. Here is the front side with the daily specials:

And the story of The Barn on the backside:

While you are free to order completely off the menu, there is also the all-you-can-eat salad and soup buffet as well. You can also add this buffet to any item you order off the menu. I opted to stay with something simple, a sandwich and a side. The menu consisted of burgers, sandwiches, sides, and several entrees. And of course, there was the buffet to consider as well.

Here is another example of the kitsch I was mentioning earlier. I asked for water and this is what my server brought me:

Cute. Kitsch. You be the judge.

Looking over the menu, I noticed they had a sandwich called the "Chippy". Not sure if this was simply ham sliced very thin or the chipped-chopped ham I remember from my youth (Isaly's, anyone?), I decided to ask my server. Indeed it turned out to be just very thinly sliced regular ham. I decided to go with the Chippy, and as all sandwiches are a la carte, I ordered a side of onion rings to accompany my sandwich.

Here is the sandwich I received from the kitchen:

And another shot showing the sandwich's layers:

A couple of thoughts about the sandwich. First, the ham was nice. It wasn't too salty and it balanced well with some of the other flavors on the sandwich. Second, the special "sauce" that the menu alluded to also added a nice bit of balance. Fattiness, sweetness, and sourness. At first I thought it was simply mayonnaise. But after tasting it a little more closely, I detected both sweet and sour. And then I discovered some chopped up pieces of what at first looked like cucumber. It was at that point I had my eureka moment and realized that the special sauce is probably mayo combined with finely chopped sweet pickles (which, while being sweet, also have an acidic component to them). Unfortunately, my server was not helpful in confirming my theory as she had no idea what was in the sauce.

The one thing I was a bit disappointed with was the amount of meat you got on the sandwich. At nearly $5 for the sandwich alone, all you received is a single layer of pretty thinly sliced ham. And like I said before, while the ham itself was tasty, there just wasn't enough of it.

The onion rings seemed a little pricey as well at $3.10. However, what you get is a true side, meant to be shared with other diners:

These had been nicely fried, crispy and not oily. They were seasoned properly, but the actual onion inside the batter was rather anemic, not like the nice fat rings you get at the Hamburger Station. When my server came by to check on me, she confirmed that these are not made in-house and are just fried from frozen. I would have gladly paid the $3.10 for half the amount I received had they been homemade and nice and thick. And as you can see from the first shot of my Chippy sandwich, they garnish every sandwich plate with a single lone onion ring. You would think that if you are going to use a product to garnish every single sandwich plate that leaves the kitchen, it would be something that is representative of your food philosophy. Which, on second thought, might have been what they were doing after all.

And while there was a separate dessert menu on the table which I did check out, I wasn't all that interested in dessert. It mostly consisted of various fruit pies and dumplings. I didn't bother to ask if the pies were made in-house or not, but I do know that they are available for purchase when you go and pay your bill.

I'm conflicted about The Barn restaurant for several reasons. The food wasn't terrible. The food wasn't great. And I suspect that if you are into salad and soup buffets, they may be able to satisfy your craving. To me, however, the entire experience, from the various shops, to the merchandise and food products available inside the restaurant for sale: it just all felt a little too commercial for my taste. In a way, the shopping experience is designed to elevate the eating experience you have at the restaurant so that if one is not so good, the other will more than make up for it.

Would I personally choose this restaurant as a destination type of place? No, probably not. Then again, I'm not really into the gift shop / toy shop / Amish furniture experience that a lot of people absolutely cherish. Would I stop here if I happened to be driving by and needed a bite to eat? Yeah, probably.

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