In 2012, Claudio and Silvy Ridolfi opened Cotto at 51 Bank Street where Tappo used to be. This quickly became a go-to spot for people who wanted some pizza, some Italian . . . and well, of course, some wine. Seeing this success, they recently took over the former spot of Patrizia’s, a few buildings over on Main Street. Like Patrizia’s, they have pizza, but they also focus on smaller plates, burgers, and their beer list. And, with this new concept and location, Barrel House was born.
Well, we finally had a free weekend, so we rolled on down to Stamford to try it out. We went on a Sunday night around 6:30. When we arrived the bar was fairly active, but there were only four tables seated for dinner. Our server seated us immediately . . . but—unfortunately—that was pretty much the last immediate of the night.
Starting off, we tried to decide what to drink and, oddly enough, went with some wine and cocktails rather than beer. That said, you might find the tap list of 20 brews interesting because there is a major focus on European and foreign beer. Getting our drink order in wasn’t as easy as deciding on our drinks, though. After about 10 minutes, our server finally came by (after Kristien signaled for him) admitting and apologizing that he had totally forgotten about us. Are we that forgettable?
When our drinks arrived we quickly forgot about the delay, especially with the nice choice of a Super Tuscan and the Hibiscus cocktail, which had a floral undertone and a juicy, tropical taste going on. Also, there was a nice balance of sweetness with the punch of tequila. The Figs and Honey we later ordered was decent, but there was an imbalance in flavors. The drink was a bit too sweet and you didn’t get too much of the whiskey coming through.
For our dinner, we decided to go with some small plates and a pie. We started with the octopus which came out in a few big pieces, nice and char-grilled, smoky, and the perfect texture, which is never easy for octopus. It was served with spinach for some color and some tomato to give it a little acidic kick. This was the only standout dish of the night, because unfortunately things went downhill from there.
The next dish was the Brussels Sprouts. We could tell, just from appearance, that these wouldn’t be a favorite of ours. They looked soggy and a bit yellow. We would say that what we saw matched what it tasted like. They tasted soggy and overboiled, with only slight grill marks. That beautiful crispiness we’ve come to expect wasn’t there in the sprouts. But, it was there with the smoky bits of bacon mixed into the dish, so that helped. The Parm also helped to bring out some rich and fatty flavors, but all around this wasn’t a dish we would order again.
Up next we had the meatballs. You must always order meatballs when doing a review because this gives you a clear evaluation of the true “Italianness” of the restaurant. We were excited and ready to dig in, but the meatballs were lukewarm. So, we sent them back and a seemingly new batch came out to us from the kitchen. They were definitely hot, so we pushed our forks down to dig right in. Immediately, we could tell these would be too dense and chewy because we had to put down a great deal of pressure to break apart the meatballs . . . again, our suspicions were correct. They were rough, rubbery, and had way too much meat. We felt guilty because we didn’t want to eat anymore, but we didn’t want the food to go to waste so we trudged through each bite. The sauce had nice flavor to it, but was too thin and soupy for our tastes.
Then, at least 20 minutes passed with us waiting for our pie, with the server no where in sight. At this point there was only one other table in the restaurant. Finally when we saw him come out of the kitchen we signaled for him and asked how the pie was doing. Then, he admitted that last thing you want to hear when waiting for your food, “Oh no, don’t tell me I forgot?!” Well, 10 minutes after that we finally got the pie. The sauce seemed to be the same from the meatballs and the toppings of hot sopresatta, olives, and cherry peppers were arranged nicely to make a solid Diavola pizza. We liked the burst of saltiness that came from the olives and the spicy kick from the meat and cherry peppers. It all mixed in very nicely. Now, onto the crust. It was definitely light and fluffy and had that nice chewiness to it, but it was a bit flimsy. What we mean by that is that there was no crispness, no crunch, and no hold. Also, Dan felt like salt was missing from the dough, making it bland and a bit of a chore to eat. As for char on the bottom, there was a small amount, but maybe not enough. Was it good? Sure. Was it great and something we’d order again? Probably not.
We were very excited to try Barrel House and do think it has some good qualities. The cocktails were good, we really enjoyed the octopus, and thought the pizza had nice flavor. But, with service being so spotty (we did get half-hearted apologies), dishes coming out cold, and food being lackluster at times, we probably won’t be back.
Here’s the deal. There are so many Italian restaurants and pizza shops now. So, to stand out and be successful, you really have to be great. And, yes, we know that beer is more popular than ever, but we feel like people are looking for more exciting tap lists now than what they offer. Barrel House definitely has a lot of work ahead of it if it is going to survive the tough market of Downtown Stamford.
Address: 249 Main Street
Phone: (203) 890-9922