Barrel 21 Made Some Changes and You'll Love Them

On August 2, Barrel 21 reopened after a two week hiatus and came back with a new menu and new chef. Already fairly new on the scene (Barrel 21, located just in front of Otto's Pub and Brewery, originally opened just over a year ago), the restaurant is changing a few things to make their dining experience shine and their drinking experience as amazing as dining at a distillery can be. So what's different and why do you need to add this to your Happy Valley bucket list this fall?

We had the opportunity to chat with proprietor, Roger Garthwaite and get answers to the most obvious questions:

What led to the change?

After gathering feedback from our guests over the past year, we decided to make some changes including menu design, service style, beverage selection including an updated cocktail menu and improved wine list, and put staff through advanced training. The restaurant now has a more approachable menu complete with everything from small plates starting at $5 to full entrees. Guests will now experience a more welcoming, friendly and well-trained service staff in the dining room and behind the bar.

Guests coming back for first time since the reopening should look for a paradigm shift at the most fundamental level of what we are doing. Barrel 21 used to feel stiff, stuffy, and frankly, a little pretentious. We aim to be more inviting and friendly with a welcoming atmosphere where guests can come back time and time again for the same great experience. The menu will rotate with the seasons giving guests something new to look forward to as produce comes in and out through the year.

What's new?

In the kitchen, the food is highlighted by elegant simplicity featuring classic preparations with a twist.  For example, local heirloom tomatoes are used to make a caprese salad with creamy burrata cheese instead of mozzarella. There is also a creamy pesto pasta made with seasonal basil from our own garden and Fasta Pasta's Lasagnetti (a cross between lasagna and pappardelle noodles).

The current Charcuterie and Cheese Plate features some of local cheesemaker Goot Essa's very best cheeses and three different salamis made by the PSU Food Science Department's Meat Lab (one will be made with Otto's Night Owl Coffee Stout in the next few weeks).

Tell us about the new chef.

Chef Mohr is also executive chef at Otto's and is very proud of everything that he and his staff have done over the past year-and-a-half to bring improvements to food quality, improved techniques, speed of service, and sanitation. He also has an extensive background in fine dining and upscale casual dining over his 20-year career. He graduated from Penn State and The Culinary Institute of America and has a great background in classic culinary technique, but he also follows food trends and stays up to date with the latest in the food industry today. The key is to find the balance between the old and the new and I have every confidence that Chef can do that extremely well and seamlessly.

Why should we try or revisit Barrel 21 this fall?

The obvious reason, is that we are the only local restaurant distillery, and it has spirits like you can't get anywhere else. You can try a flight of the four spirits that are currently being distilled at Barrel 21 -- Apple Eau de Vie, White Rye, Vodka, and Light Rum – or a specialty cocktail including local favorites B21 Rum Punch or Lemon Summerthyme. Not a big fan of liquor? Their new, greatly improved wine list features a great selection of different wines by the glass, along with the Otto's beer that everyone loves (at the same price as Otto's). It truly is a win-win.

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