185 S. High St. Columbus, OH (614) 220-9141
Owner Jeff Mathes envisioned a restaurant concept that would be a first-of-its-kind in Columbus when he developed Barrio, which opened in March. White collars, students and downtown visitors alike can appreciate the casual yet classy vibe that the restaurant exudes. Not in any way, shape or form resembling the Wendy’s that formerly resided at the same location, yet with hardly an air of downtown exclusiveness, Barrio is fresh, fun and relaxing for all. Mathes sums up the Barrio vibe as “polished casual with an international flavor.”
It’s the type of place where you wouldn’t be out of place showing up in sandals and a linen shirt, and during your time at Barrio, you might just forget that you’re on High Street in favor of a much more Latin locale. Mathes’ only struggle is making the downtown lunch crowd embrace the idea that Barrio serves traditional South American/Spanish tapas, not the soup and salad combo that lunch-break America is used to.
Mathes’ mantra: don’t do anything that’s been done before, which means Barrio diners are treated to bona fide originals. A wide choice of tapas (small, savory Spanish dishes), served fria and caliente, and larger dinner plates complete the menu. Fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats and breads blend together flavors of sweet and spicy, a marriage found in many of Barrio’s dishes, and the seafood gives no hint that Ohio is most definitely land-locked. And by not doing anything that’s been done before, Mathes has created a restaurant that is completely different from his other, Italian-themed eatery, Due Amici. “I didn’t want them to be at all the same,” Mathes made sure to state.
Barrio is impossible to miss on the corner of High and Spring. The two-story building is open and airy with a dark, wooden interior and simple, square features. The architecture conjures Frank Lloyd Wright’s philosophy that form should follow function. All straight lines and earthy tones, the simplicity of design translates to the wonderfully simple blend of few, but flavorful ingredients in Barrio’s dishes. Mathes aims to bring the flavors of Latin America without abusing them. Simplicity reigns at Barrio, through the food, atmosphere and architecture.
Barrio is open seven days a week for brunch, lunch and dinner. Always bustling with activity, it’s recommended that you make a reservation ahead of time, which can be done online.
A lounge area is slated to develop on the second floor, where soccer aficionados can kick back and catch a game of Spanish futbol. And on Barrio’s two-year plan: a walk-out, roof-top patio also on the second floor. In the meantime, look for an open-air, ground-floor patio to extend onto the sidewalk in the next few weeks.
Imagine six courses of Barrio’s best, each paired with a hand-selected bottle of Argentine, Chilean or Spanish wine; a warm, summer breeze blowing through the restaurant and Caribbean tunes playing subtly in the background. Mathes and general manager Morgan Wiland treated us not only to a Latin-infused meal, but a bit of South American hospitality that is rare this far north of the equator.
The meal began with marinated olives, Tuna Ceviche (a mix of tuna, a generous-sized plantain chip with squash and popcorn) served with fresh bread, and a glass of Madema sauvignon blanc from Argentina.
Next up, Poblano soup accompanied by a watercress salad and a glass of Apaltagua pinot noir from Chile. The soup was bold, infused with the mild spice of poblano, and complemented well by the tenderness of the watercress greens.
The third course: bacon wrapped dates and grilled octopus with Callia Torrontes, an Argentine white. The savory bacon, wrapped around a soft, sweet date, left all members of the dinner party speechless. And the octopus: it was simply grilled, giving it a soft, but not chewy texture.
Rounding the halfway point, we were on to Hanger steak and caramelized provolone cheese accompanied by a glass of Chilian Calcu. The steak: so soft, it barely required a knife. The provolone was served with lightly toasted ciabatta and chips, a tapa that’s so good, it’s worth giving up your summer diet.
For the main course (if there was such a thing) the Paella Mixta and Ancho Roasted Chicken with a glass of Botani Moscatel Selo from Spain. The paella blended rice, seafood and meat into a phenomenal dish that could rival the most authentic Spanish paella. The roasted chicken was so tender that it fell right off the bone. Served with whipped sweet potatoes, spinach and dates, the flavor profile was incredible.
We ended on a sweet note. Panqueques and Tres Leches Cake paired with Osborne Amontillado, a medium sherry from Spain. The first, a crepe filled with dulce de leche and topped with a generous dab of whipped cream; the latter, a dense yellow cake, soaked in three different types of cream. A glass of light and fruity, but not-too-sweet sangria served as the perfect cap to a South American feast.