Some local diners might say that the Treasure Valley needs another pub concept like Boise needs more squirrels.
Pubs in various incarnations that serve local craft brews and $15 burgers are just about everywhere these days. Do we really need another such place?
No doubt, the bar definitely has been raised when it comes to upscale pub grub around these parts.
So, how does a new bar and grill separate itself from the competition? Aren’t all finger steaks and burgers created equal? And surely, beer lists are heavily scrutinized for their use of local and regional brews.
That being said, Meridian newcomer Barrel 55, at the corner of Eagle and Ustick roads, strives to take its food and beverage program to a hyper-local level in the suburbs with a profusion of Northwest-inspired dishes.
Owner Cliff Rogers, who also owns and operates the Barrelhouse Pub & Grill in Garden City, saw a need for dishing up food that’s sourced locally (as much as possible) and maintaining a constantly changing list of 32 or so handcrafted brews from this part of the country.
Located in the former On the Border spot, the décor is pleasant with a homespun feel. Exposed brick walls and river rock accents speak to a rustic sensibility. The trophy elk racks that hang on the wall and other Western touches ( such as the ornate cowhide stools in the entry way) let diners know they are in Idaho — juxtaposed with modern art paintings placed here and there.
I like that the dining room doesn’t have televisions, which clearly keeps the focus on the food and drinks. No worries for those looking to catch a football game, though, because there are plenty of flat-screen TVs in the adjacent bar area.
Executive chef Gavin Haley, who also oversees the kitchen at the Barrelhouse, has come up with an appetizer list that favors shared plates.
For example, the beer-spiked fondue ($10) is a great way to commune with dining partners. Expect to receive a Sterno-lit pot brimming with fragrant cheese fondue (made with Gouda, cheddar and smoked blue cheese) with a backbeat of garlic and white wine. It comes oven-charred Brussels sprouts and bite-size pieces of Acme Bakeshop focaccia for dipping in the velvety fondue.
Add to that some candied peanuts ($4), a bowl of sweet and spicy roasted nuts (sticky-good thanks to a liberal dose of real maple syrup) flecked with crunchy bits of bacon and fresh thyme. The candied nuts play well with a stubby pint glass of Uinta Baba Black Lager ($5), a bold, coffee-dark brew from Salt Lake City that contains smoky notes.
The jalapeno popper egg rolls ($7) aren’t overly exciting, but they’ll definitely have folks quaffing beer to cool down their palates. Two golden-brown egg rolls (cut at a sharp angle so scooping the tangy avocado sauce is made easy) encase blistered jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese, black beans and chopped red bell pepper.
Idaho is known for its finger steaks. Apparently Barrel 55 is still fine-tuning its buffalo finger steaks ($13). Bison meat doesn’t have the high level of intramuscular fat that beef does, so overcooking the protein can be a problem. That was certainly the case one evening when I received a wire-rack cone filled with ale-battered, breaded buffalo sirloin strips that were nearly as tough as rubber bands. The bright blueberry-jalapeno dipping sauce couldn’t really help these tough morsels of meat.
A grilled artichoke appetizer ($8) alone won’t fill diners up, yet it’s a good accompaniment to other shared plates on the table. A quartered and grilled globe artichoke, with a pronounced garlic kick, gets served with clarified butter perfumed with lemon and fresh thyme.
The beer-friendly appetizer list also has a crunchy, beer-battered fusion roll ($12/Barrel Roll) filled with peppery cream cheese, smoked prawns and roasted red peppers. It’s well-intentioned nosh yet the creosote-thick imperial stout-peppercorn reduction was too bitter and overpowered the other flavors.
Barrel 55 offers a lineup of beer-friendly sandwiches and burgers.
The prime rib sandwich ($13), a French dip-inspired creation made on a chewy ciabatta roll, boasts shaved ribbons of pinkish, smoked prime rib, grilled onions, gooey gruyere cheese and a liberal smear of creamy horseradish sauce. The sandwich, served with crispy, hand-cut fries, came with Cabernet-infused au jus for dipping.
Another good pick is The Burger ($13), a grilled, half-pound Kobe beef patty (nailed at medium in temperature) plopped on a shiny Acme Bakeshop brioche bun with beery cheese fondue, lettuce and tomato. The cheeseburger, which came with fries, is on par with most burgers dished up at other upscale pubs around the Valley. The price could easily get pushed over $15, though, once wild boar bacon and a fried egg get added on.
Salmon ($19) is roasted on a fragrant cedar plank with charred baby carrots and asparagus, adorned with a large dab of citrusy dill puree that looks like pesto. It’s a good dish, but the salmon was a little on the dry side. Other entree choices range from pasta dishes to maple- and coffee-braised bison short ribs.
Barrel 55 is headed in the right direction with its food. The menu surely has enough nuance to keep food snobs interested. Now it’s just time to work out the kinks.
Statesman reviewers pay for their meals and attempt to dine anonymously. Email James Patrick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Address: 3004 N. Eagle Road, Meridian
Phone: (208) 514-4620
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.
Menu price range: appetizers $4-$14; salads and flatbreads $10-$13; burgers and sandwiches $12-$16.50; and entrées $14-$37.
Libation situation: A rotating draft brew selection that spotlights more than 30 handcrafted beers from Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Utah and California. Besides suds, there’s a thoughtful wine list that favor Idaho, Oregon and Washington labels, as well as a full-service bar that turns out craft and classic cocktails.
Kid friendly? Yes. There’s a separate menu for the wee ones.
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Opened: July 2016