Iron Barley has garnered its share of accolades since opening in the early 2000s, including being featured on shows like Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and Man Vs. Food. The eatery has been on our list to try for quite some time, but somehow we never stopped by for a visit. So recently, we headed down to the South Side to rectify this oversight.
We immediately felt at home in the cozy space, which was equal parts dive bar and greasy spoon, a real neighborhood place decorated with a variety of beer signs, old album jackets and autographed pictures of various high-profile fans. We were impressed with the large selection of beers and whiskeys available, especially local brews. We quaffed a couple of our favorites, The Civil Life’s American Brown ($5) and 4 Hands’ Cast Iron Oatmeal Brown ($5), as we perused the dinner menu.
We started with a cup of the soup of the day, which was Split Pea when we visited ($3). This hearty starter was more stew than soup, chock-full of pieces of sausage and chunks of ham. We bet a bowl of this would’ve been a meal by itself. Iron Barley had a list of daily specials that rivaled the roster of regular menu items, and we were really impressed that such a small kitchen could produce such a wide variety of dishes on a regular basis. The Seafood Paella ($22) immediately caught our attention when our waitress announced it, as it contained barley instead of the traditional rice. We got an enormous bowlful of said grain plus a plethora of jumbo shrimp, mussels, calamari and veggies, and the tender barley proved to be a perfect base for all of that seafood and really held the dish together.
From the All Day Sammiches section of the regular menu, we ordered The Ballistic Elvis ($6). This cholesterol bomb sported the King’s favorite combo of chunky peanut butter and bananas, along with strawberry jam and American cheese stuffed between two pieces of toast. We balked when we first heard the description of this beast because of the preponderance of sweet ingredients involved, but we added bacon to it ($2), and the salty strips helped to balance out the taste. Despite the over-the-top nature of this sandwich, it was a manageable size, and we were actually able to finish it off in one sitting.
To wrap things up, we ordered a piece of the Original Blender Blaster Pie ($4), a sort of chocolate cheesecake, firm from the freezer. On its own, this dessert would probably be a bit non-descript, but it was topped with a strawberry/habanero sauce that brought a lot of complexity to the final product. The little bit of heat from the habanero really made the dish come alive.
Like many of our favorite places, Iron Barley is a bit off the beaten path, but well worth the trip.
Iron Barley, 5510 Virginia, 351-4500, ironbarley.com