Friday, February 09, 2007

Henry’s at the Barn is taking leaps and bounds towards success. The restaurant is a short drive to the west in Avon, and sure enough, there is a blue barn as advertised. Since opening this past November Henry’s has played through with a successful holiday run, and was quite busy for a weeknight in Avon when we where there recently. So much so, if you happen to call, and find the answering machine is on, don’t worry, they really are too busy to answer the phone. With three different dining areas, anyone is sure to find a comfortable seat. We sat in the bar area which is very cosy, the fireplace is within reach of most seats, and the room stays quite, with the dark wood tables, hand picked driftwood, and stone walls. The lighting was quite appropriate in that the fire’s gentle flicker lights up the room, but at the same time our menu was readable without strain. There is a lounge area above the bar, which is donned with plush seating for optimal comfort. The main dining room is nicely appointed and leans to a brighter atmosphere than the bar. The chairs are plush, the room is open and airy. It was explained to me that when the time comes, a wonderful patio is available, nicely hidden behind the barn and guarded by urban forestry from the drudgery of the parked cars.

The kitchen is run by Chef/Owner Paul Jagielski. It is in fact his warm personality that infects the restaurant as a whole, not only the southern delights from the kitchen. I’m a big fan of ‘comfort food’. While that term means something very specific to most people, I think it has a more expansive definition in todays dining environment. I think every good mid-westerner claims meatloaf, or a steak served with mashed potatoes to be comfort food, and why is it comfort food, because is makes you feel happy, warm, and cared for. As the average dinners knowledge of different food traditions and cultures expands, I think it is very realistic to think that food from a different culture, prepared in un-traditional ways may very well induce feelings of happiness, warmth, and caring. Personally I’ve come to find ‘comfort food’ in congee (Japanese rice pudding), braised cabbage, and a quick Elsalvadorian spicy chicken soup with a hard cooked egg. While these are relatively new to me, they are instantly ‘comfort food’. Overnight, Pauls take on low country southern cooking went from completely new to instant comfort food.

We started the night with a plate of pimento cheese which had just enough bite to wake up your lazy taste buds, yet not wear them out. The pimento cheese recipe is a family tradition, as is Pauls famous cocktail sauce. The cocktail sauce is spiked with extra, and then a little more horseradish. Which is quite appropriate because while an almost violently spicy explosion of chilled seafood and cocktail sauce livens up the night, the radish heat quickly fades with the juice of a lemon wedge or either of the two other sauces that accompany a ‘fish bowl’. A fish bowl is playful name for Henry’s presentation of chilled shrimp, crab, mussels, clams, and raw oysters. We found it a wonderful way to open our meal. Light and refreshing, yet we cautiously dabbed at the cocktail sauce and sipped our Chardonnay by the fire.

We shared a plate of Paul’s Shrimp and Grits. This dish was absolutely wonderful, instantly one of my top 5 favorite dishes in Cleveland. The shrimp where clean and tender. The anduille sausage as tasty, and appropriately sliced and portioned. The grits where heavenly, I feat of culinary exelance. The texture is so smooth and velvety without any tacky starchiness, and the flavor of corn seemed to swim elusively though the grits as if only to remind you what is what. Once again, like the pimento cheese, the sauce over the shrimp showed the deft touch of spiciness, just enough to make you warm, but no where near hot. It’s as if the capsicum is teasing your taste buds, drawing you in, wanting more is the only result.

We tried three other warm appetizer, all where very well prepared and presented. The use of long rectangular plates is welcome, and appreciated. Gone are the days of the early 90's where we stacked thing 5 inches high and at the slightest touch with a fork the pile crashes down into a pale tasting mass of un-identifiable ingredients. The scallops are accompanied by a petite blue cheese and sweet potato pie. The combination worked will, the pie was quite tasty and could have easily stood alone as an appetizer in and of itself. The fried green tomatoes where original with the addition of pimento goat cheese, but like all the other fried green tomatoes I’ve had, the breading doesn’t like the skin of the tomato, and that weakness means the tomato and breading usually part ways at some point before entering the dinners mouth. I thought these green tomatoes where rather hard, maybe if we blanched the tomato to get the skin off the breading would stick better and the tomato a little more tender??? Oh, I’m sure someone else would have thought of that by now.

The duck appetizer was a nice earthy piece of duck, paired with corn and an inspired BBQ sauce. The Delmonico came with grits, and to be honest, I wanted more grits. I was not unhappy when the dish arrived. The beef held it’s own under a heavy saucing of Tasso Demi. The greens where tender and flavorful. The grits this time with the addition of Pimento Cheese where a success once again. The variety of flavors on this plate all work together very well considering how good each one stood out alone as well. I think this is true of all the plates we had at Henry’s. Everything was very good alone, and the manner in which they where paired made them even better. This is a rather fleeting achievement, but Paul has done a great job putting the puzzle together.

The staff as a whole made us feel very welcome. The hostess offered to show us around before we decided on enjoying the bar instead of the main dining room. The restaurant manager, Mr. Smith welcomed us personally with a plate of Pimento Cheese. Our server was very diligent, kept our glasses full, and queried periodically about our happiness. I’m not a big fan of using old flatware, it just seems criminal to ask someone to use the same fork for 2 hours over 4 courses and laying the pour pricker on the hopefully microbial free tabletop. Praise the role-ups, and much thanks to Henry’s for having servers replace flatware with every plate. I mean, we had enough linen napkins to sew a small quilt, but it makes for a much more enjoyable dinning experience. Chef Paul was out and about the dinning room late during service on the night we dinned. We had the luxury of learning about the all the personal touches worked into Henry’s. The search for alligator looking driftwood, who is Henry, and Paul’s woodworking craftsmanship on display in the restrooms.

I will return to Henry’s! This is something I don’t often say after visiting a new restaurant. Henry’s has what it takes to be successful over the long haul. The food is superb, and unique. The atmosphere is warming, welcoming, and fun. The vision, and execution of an independent entrepreneur, to open and execute on the level that Henry’s does in such a short time! Cheers to Paul and his staff, good job.

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