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Restaurant review / Barker Brewing Way out in the country, a no-frills beer and barbecue haven

BARKER – The only reason I had ever gone this far out in the county before was to chase cagey Chinook salmon up Keg Creek. I never even gave a thought to eating locally back then, so engrossed with the chase were we.

That was all of 30 years ago, and I’d have been doing the very same thing a couple weekends back had it not been for such lousy conditions. It was a nice enough day for a ride in the “country,’’ though, and this time we were hungry – and looking. And boy, did we ever find.

Barker Brewing is the real deal, a beer-and-barbecue joint of the highest order. It’s no-frills “pig-outtery” in all its smoky, sticky-fingered glory, with plastic utensils and Brawny napkins on the table, blistering blues rock on the sound system and brash brews fresh out of the still (or whatever it is they make it in) in the glasses.

Shoot, if I knew they cooked (and brewed) like this in these parts, I’d have made such trips a regular tradition long ago.

As it is, my daughter wants to move into their broom closet and work for beer and brisket.

Craft breweries are the up-and-coming thing, it seems, but it’s been hit-and-miss when they branch out into cooking. Not so at Barker Brewing: their food is every bit as good as their beer – maybe even more so, if judging by a teetotaler like me. Head Brewmaster/Smokemaster Greg Goodlander does it up right on both ends, with small-batch concoctions that keep folks coming back for more. And more.

They’ve only been open for a few weeks, and already he’s upgrading to a bigger smoker in order to keep up with demand.

Judging by the popularity of his beers, their three-tank brewing system will soon outgrow its usefulness as well. The beer is sold only on-premises right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them shipping it out in the near future.

Based on the size of their portions, I also would suggest perhaps opening a boarding house nearby, where folks could rent a room and veg out after eating to capacity and beyond.

Barker Brewing is just a little place, tucked comfortably in between the local sheriff’s office and Barney Fife’s bachelor pad in the “metro,’’ as barkeep Bill Smith calls it. It’s actually housed in the Birds Eye company’s former migrant worker cafeteria building on East Avenue. There’s a long oak bar, several tables and a television on the wall. And that’s about it. They don’t want any distractions from the real attractions.

And there aren’t any. The menu consists of three meal options (barbecue brisket, $14.95; barbecue ribs, $13.95; pulled pork, $11.95). There are another half-dozen sandwiches ($5 to $10) and a couple appetizers. The meals come with a choice of sides that would be top-shelf main courses at many places – fantastic barbecue baked beans, creamy Smac ’n’ cheese, cornbread, Slammin’ slaw, garlic potatoes, smashed potatoes and a cucumber and tomato salad. That’s it. What more do you need when it’s all homemade and all this good?

Oh, and then there are the hand-crafted ales, featuring Niagara Pale Ale, which is Barker Brewing’s version of an American pale ale; Dirty Blonde, a twist on a blond ale with a hint of citrus; Golden Hill Wheat, a German-style ale with notes of banana and clove; and Three Sisters Stout, a sweet milk stout with chocolate and coffee undertones. The beer connoisseurs of our group (my wife and daughter) assure me they were all delightful, in their own distinctive ways.

In fact, Meagan, freshly home from an extended stay in Germany, confirmed the Golden Hill Wheat was authentically German in every way. My wife was convinced she would not like the Three Sisters Stout, but noted that by the end of our meal it had grown into her favorite. “It’s great!’’ she said. “Tastes like fresh-ground coffee beans.’’

They were able to sample each with the $5 “Flight of Four,’’ which offered a smallish glass of each. Barker Brewing also offers a few “guest taps,’’ along with soda and a selection of wines from nearby Schulze Vineyards & Winery.

We started out with an order of the soft pretzel sticks ($6.95), which were served with a homemade pale ale beer cheese and mustard. Well, let me tell you, that homemade cheese was as good as anything on the commercial market today, and I should know because I’ve tried them all.

“I would buy stock in that cheese,’’ Meagan said. “It needs to be bottled and sold – to me!’’

The smoky aroma hit about a minute or so before the meals actually came through the kitchen doors, rousing the senses in anticipation. They did not disappoint.

The brisket offered four nearly foot-long slices, tender and tasty. The meat had just enough marbling to grab and hold the smoke, without getting the least bit chewy. It took the barbecue sauces offered – one sweet, the other hot – with ease, benefiting equally from each. Simply superb.

The St. Louis-style ribs – a hefty rack with a dry rub – came out blackened and literally falling from the bone. Again, the sauces were a perfect complement. This was backyard barbecue at its finest.

Meagan’s pulled pork literally covered the plate, a mammoth portion and extremely tender. Our sides just rounded things out perfectly – crumbly sweet cornbread with sweet butter, thick and creamy mac ’n’ cheese with a nice flavor, the smashed potatoes and those fantastic, tomato-ey sweet/hot, thick barbecued beans – luscious.

The slaw wasn’t bad either – crunchy, fresh and “yummy,’’ according to the girls. “The perfect amount of sauce,” said Meagan, “not dry or saturated.”

I tried to get the bean secret from the barkeep, but he wasn’t budging – where’s Duke, the Bush’s beans dog, when you need him?

We were so stuffed that we had to take a bowl of the chili home. I was told that it goes on and off the menu due to uneven sales. It was made with a dose of the stout beer and the tips of the briskets. I found it to be a little harsh at first, but the taste grew on me as I ate it later. It was really good with a hunk of buttered bread to dip in it.

With the likes of the late Johnny Winter and Albert Collins tearing it up on the sound system (not so loud as to interfere with conversation, though), Barker Brewing will probably be a popular spot with the biker crowd once word starts getting around. As it stands, it’s been drawing folks from as far away as Rochester, as Smith tells it, including folks out for weekend trips down the Niagara Wine Trail.

It’s counter-service only, and they also offer takeout – as well as growlers to go – so you can take the party home, if you’d prefer.

Either way, it’s like the sign on the wall says: “Beer (and BBQ) – it’s what’s for dinner.’’

All I know is, I have to get out to this end of the county a little more often.