As fans of bourbon and barbecue, we like the premise of Barrel & Bones, the new smokehouse and cocktail spot in The Colony. We first spied the restaurant last year when we were checking out The Shacks at Austin Ranch across the street. The food and drink photography on B&B's Facebook page had our mouths watering, and we anxiously waited for news of the grand opening.
That opening came in early November, but our initial visit during the soft-opening phase left us a little underwhelmed. The full menu wasn't yet available, service was a bit spotty and the food we tried didn't impress. After a few months of operation under the restaurant's belt, we headed back to see how things are going.
The younger population of the Austin Ranch area will love having Barrel & Bones in the neighborhood. The restaurant's dining room isn't overly large, but there's a sizable dog-friendly patio, and the bar is heavily stocked with more than 200 bourbons and whiskeys. There's also a plethora of nightly specials, including Mondays after 7 p.m., when the entire food menu is half-off. The laid-back atmosphere is exactly what Barrel & Bones is going for, as witnessed by a press release that touted Barrel & Bones as the alternative to the "hoity-toity places up around The Star."
Perhaps we are hoity-toity and never knew it, but there are still kinks to be worked out when it comes to service. The staff were generally friendly enough, but on our recent visit during a slow weekend lunch hour, we didn't get napkins and silverware until halfway through our meal, and only after flagging down a waitress to ask for them. And our empty trays of food sat in front of us for three visits from our waitress after we had asked for the check.
On the food front, Barrel & Bones has stepped up since our first visit, but the descriptions on the menu don't always match what's being served. We started with a cup of smoked corn chowder ($4), which was a little less chowder and more stew-like, but still packed plenty of flavor. We wished there was a little more corn in the dish, but large seasoned croutons on top were a pleasant surprise and soaked up the soup nicely with each bite.
Patrons in search of barbecue can get Barrel & Bones' smoked meats a la carte by the half-pound, in a plate that includes a side or on a variety of sandwiches that come with fries. (A side can be added for $3.) We opted for a turkey melt ($10), described on the menu as smoked turkey, bacon, Swiss cheese, roasted jalapeño mayo and avocado on a toasted challah bread. Instead of challah, our sandwich was served on two thick slices of Texas toast, and we couldn't detect much heat from the jalapeño mayo, but the smokiness of the turkey shone through. Homemade pickles and pickled onions on each tray were a nice smokehouse touch.
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We also tried the No Bones About It ($14), with brisket, beer-can chicken and sausage served on a challah bun and a choice of one of Barrel & Bones' six housemade barbecue sauces. It's a great way to sample a majority of the Barrel & Bones smoked proteins, none of which disappointed on the sandwich. The toasted bun isn't a traditional challah, and it came branded with the Barrel & Bones logo on top lest you forget where you're dining. The generous portion of meats spilled off the bun and onto our tray; we picked up morsels with our fingers to dip into the B&B special barbecue sauce (made with maple syrup and two whole-grain mustards) or the tangy Texas traditional sauce until our silverware finally arrived.
Service quibbling aside, there's plenty to like about Barrel & Bones. The expansive bar and selection of whisky-based libations is definitely a bonus for the area. While the barbecue may not make the Texas Monthly Top 50, it's definitely a step above most chain offerings, especially on Monday evenings when the menu goes half-price. Deals like that are something even the hoity-toity crowd can appreciate.
Barrel & Bones Craft Bar and Smokehouse, 2801 Plano Parkway, The Colony