The Barn has been a fixture on Harford Road in Carney since the 1980s. It holds a special place in the hearts of locals thanks to its reputation as a fun place for sports, music and drinks.
Now owner Bob Rush wants to add an item to that list: great food. The Barn's dining experience isn't yet perfect — it still has a few service and kitchen kinks to work through — but it is off to a good start.
Rush was the original owner of The Barn, but sold the restaurant in 1994. It closed last July, then, with the help of his children, Rush stepped back in. He renovated the space and reopened — with a new menu — in April.
Scene On a recent Wednesday night, The Barn was hopping. On the main level, the large and loud Tap House was packed and downstairs, the bare-bones Crab House was nearly full. After a brief deliberation, we ended up in the basement, even though we didn't plan to order crabs; the full menu is available downstairs, too.
Drinks We started with summery cocktails — an orange crush ($8) and a Porch Pounder ($8). The crush was bright, citrusy and fizzy, while the Porch Pounder, a mix of sweet tea vodka and cranberry juice, was fruity and slightly bitter.
After ordering, we regretted our decision to sit downstairs, wondering if the awkward, though friendly and well-intentioned, service we received had something to do with our location. Our waiter seemed puzzled that we weren't ordering crabs and the meal's pacing was off: Drinks took a long time and our appetizer arrived at the same time as our entree.
Appetizer Fortunately, that appetizer was a good one. A trio of sausage sliders ($9) paired rounds of Roma's Old Bay sausage with crunchy slaw and a sliver of pickle. Set on sweet buns, the sliders were a spicy, fun showcase for local products and flavors.
Entrees Though well-conceived, entrees were a mixed bag. A seafood club ($17) stacked a crab cake, bacon and shrimp salad on thick slices of white bread. The shrimp was well-seasoned with Old Bay, plump and tasty, but the crab cake had been fried about a minute too long, leaving the outside slightly burnt and the inside dry.
A side order of fries ($3) — ordered so we could try the Pilsner honey mustard usually paired with pretzel-crusted chicken tenders — was a bright spot. Thick-cut steak fries were crispy on the outside and pillowy in the middle. The beer gave the mustard a slight edge, keeping the honey and spice in check.
Scallops ($19), served over black bean and corn succotash, were seasoned properly, but needed a hotter pan for searing. Inside, they were just right - tender and springy - but we missed the healthy crust that a good sear provides.
The succotash added appealing texture and great flavor - it was spicy, sweet and hearty - but the salsa verde, promised on the menu, was missing. The dish's presentation also disappointed. The scallops and succotash were plopped on a small plate without much organization. Presentation isn't everything, but the dish deserved a less sloppy hand.
Dessert The chocolate trilogy dessert ($6), a stack of frozen chocolate and cream perched on a round chocolate biscuit, was airier and easier to eat than we expected. Its sweet chocolate flavor came through, but we were pleasantly surprised that the dessert was light, rather than heavy and rich.
Service By the end of our meal, our waiter seemed to have hit his stride, delivering dessert and our check speedily as requested. But that didn't completely salvage our impression of The Barn's service as disjointed.
Bottom Line The restaurant has been reopened since April, but may still be working out kinks on the floor and in the kitchen, especially now that crab season is in full swing. The Barn is already packed with locals; hopefully with a few more weeks of experience, that popularity will be even more well-deserved.
Back story: A longtime Harford Road mainstay, The Barn recently reverted back to its original owners, the Rush family. Part crab house, part tap house, the restaurant brings great-smelling crabs and an approachable, locally driven menu to the Parkville-Carney area.
Parking: Lot on side
Signature dish: The sausage minis, three sliders made with Roma's local Old Bay sausage on glossy buns, each topped with a light slaw and a round slice of pickle, are a spicy, tasty way to kick off dinner at The Barn.
TVs: 24 total, including twenty upstairs, two downstairs and two in the bathrooms
Where: 9527 Harford Road, Carney
Contact: 410-668-2276; http://www.thebarnbaltimore.com
Open: Tap house: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily; Crab house: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m Monday-Friday; 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday
Credit Cards: Visa and MasterCard
Rating: 2 stars
[Key: Superlative: 5 stars ; Excellent: 4 stars; Very Good: 3 stars; Good: 2 stars; Promising: 1 star]