Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Barley's Pizza or hardware and feed

Barley's Pizza is one of the first restaurants I found while researching Knoxville on the interwebs before moving here. I was focused on priorities; in that case, Belgian beer available in bars. As it turns out Belgians are not the reason to go to Barley's, but there are many good ones!

The history of Barley's as a local chain is actually part of what makes it interesting. Starting in the nearby and truly hip Asheville, NC as a pizza joint and later micro-brewery, they expanded to the nearby lands in the hope of pushing good pizza and beer on the masses. The full history is on their website, and an interesting read, but what makes it interesting to me is what happened to their microbrew. Highland Brewing, also out of Asheville, actually started in the back room of Barley's and has blossomed into a quality brewery. Suffice to say, as I'm not reviewing Highland at this point, that their Kashmir IPA and their Oatmeal Porter are both delicious. I would love to say the same of their Mocha Stout but, since it isn't sold in Knoxville, I can't sample it. In fact, neither is the Kashmir, but I've had it in NC while visiting family and it is high quality.

Since Barley's is one of my standby "I don't want to cook tonight" haunts I've been there many many times with lots of folks. The service is consistently good. Certainly, I've had a few nights where the small tip reflected the service, but that happens so rarely that it never makes me hesitant to go back.

Barley's beer list is substantial, both on tap and in bottles, and has in fact introduced me to some beer I would never have tried otherwise. Depending on the server and the current beer selection they may or may not have an up-to-date beer list that matches anything resembling reality. That's fine, just go the bar, read the chalkboards behind it listing the beers or look at the taps. The high-gravity beer list (beers 7% and stronger) is not terribly impressive but that's a function of Knoxville and its available selection combined with an incredibly high beer tax rather than Barley's itself. For me the standby beer is Rogue's John's Locker Stock, or just Locker Stock, which is a brewer's special of sorts that rotates constantly. The Locker Stock is often fabulous and never bad, and it's to the point that unless I have a hankering for something else specific I just order it and then ask what it is right now.

Pizza is definitely the star of the menu and many of the off-the-menu pizzas are simply amazing, or compose your own. The wife and I tend to stick with a vegetarian, hold the mushrooms (allergies, I love them personally) and add ham on sourdough crust. It's not very vegetarian but it is delicious. Every other pie I've had has been equally good, and to start the hummus is pretty delicious, as are the chips and queso. For those not interested in pies, the sandwiches, including the Sunspot Burger, are delicious, as are the accompanying fries.

Since Knoxville passed the indoor smoking ban Barley's is even more pleasant inside in the evenings, but during the summer months it is worth braving the smoke to enjoy the inviting patio where you might even see the Barley's hawk that lives on the roof. The upstairs bar has a different selection of beer as well as billiards and other bar games. There is an entire subset of Knoxvillians who only go upstairs, and another set who only go downstairs. Investigate both for yourself and report back!

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