Denton Diners May Not Be Adventurous, but Barley & Board Is Taking Risks Regardless

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Barley & Board rolled out their new, fall-inspired dishes last week. The additions bring seasonal twists on menu favorites and introduce some new globally inspired signature entrees. Executive chef Chad Kelley presented the dishes to a small group of press earlier this week in the restaurant's intimate private dining room while sharing his thoughts on both the promise and the challenge of a seasonally inspired menu. Kelley is no stranger to menu change (at past restaurants, this was a daily occurrence), but admitted that audience matters. While the area’s dining options continue to diversify, Kelley knows the Denton crowd might not be receptive to certain “adventurous” choices, even though the dishes would seem mainstream in other markets. “It’s a challenge for us,” he says.“We’re educating ourselves, we’re educating our staff and we’re educating our guests.”

He’s also hoping to bring diners a new appreciation for certain foods and flavors to which they might be averse. The buratta cheese appetizer received a seasonal update with the addition of a fresh beet salad, chives and crushed walnuts.

“Food is such a memory-based item,” Kelley says, suggesting the somewhat common aversion to beets is less about the beet itself and more about the memory of poor preparation. The shredded raw beets in the new buratta are lightly dressed so their earthiness is delicate, a great texture against the buttery cheese.

While introducing their new flatbread, Kelley admitted he was bemused by the the moniker bestowed upon them by early reviews: New American cuisine. “What even is that?” he jokes. “An upscale TV dinner?”

Because it lacks a true definition, he sees this as an invitation to borrow and re-invent from a variety of cultures and cuisines. Their new flatbread dish is influenced by the spices of Northern Africa and India; its execution wanders far from pizza and more closely resembles an uttapam. The base is an earthy garam masala ricotta. Once baked, it takes on a texture not unlike hummus, but cleaner. It’s topped with roasted cauliflower florets, pickled onions, capers and baby kale that's been tossed with a fiercely bright and subtly sweet lemon dressing. This is definitely not the dish you’d expect to find at a restaurant touting “New American cuisine."

Another welcome surprise is the vegan pan-Asian noodle dish. The soba-dass noodles combine yellow curry spices with coconut milk, bok choy, enoki mushrooms, fried chick peas, acorn squash, green onion, chopped cashews and sliced chiles atop a bowl of warm soba noodles for an extremely colorful plant-based, gluten-free entree.

Their updated turkey sandwich plays it a little safer, sticking to what Kelley describes as “the down and dirty turkey sandwich.” Luckily for us, we’re not stuck eating our in-laws’ over-cooked leftovers. He brines the turkey with added lemon, honey, thyme and bay leaf before it’s roasted and carved, so the thick slices are sweet, juicy and aromatic. Add smoked bacon, cranberry mostarda, arugula and gooey Havarti and you have even more reason to give thanks.

The Reuben sandwich is another instance in which chef Kelley, AKA the brisket whisperer, took Barley & Board’s meat game to an 11. For a private craft-beer tasting event earlier this year, he cooked lean brisket sous-vide for 36 hours and paired it with a Texas twist on mole sauce. To make their house-cured corned beef, he didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but he certainly tinkered with the rims a bit. He cures certified Texas Angus beef for about a week before it’s slow simmered and carved into large chunks, instead of the mound of thinly sliced meat in a traditional Reuben. Purists might be turned off by this presentation, but the depth of flavor you catch in a mouthful is intense. The only disappointment was the bread, a toasted run-of-the-mill marble rye that paled in comparison to its well executed filling.

Look out for a few more additions in the following weeks. There’s talk of a chocolate board; truffles, spreads, etc. served charcuterie-style for a large group (or one very dedicated chocoholic). We also sampled some upcoming craft cocktails that are sure to be a hit. The Alpine Kiss features gin, Bénédictine, agave syrup and lemon. Served on ice with a sprig of singed rosemary for garnish, it’s a refreshing and herbal concoction. The Opera House (so-called because its color resembles the Opera House building across the street) is a tad more glamorous: Hendricks gin spiced with jalapeño & rosemary simple syrup shaken with St. Germain, a splash of cranberry and a touch of lime essence. Warming and woodsy, it's everything we want from a cocktail on a cool autumn evening.

Barley & Board, 100 W. Oak St., Denton

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