Joco Diversions

Barley’s Brewhaus continues to push the envelope of suds and grub

These days, it’s common to go to a restaurant and see a long line of beer taps behind the bar.

But back in 1995, when Barley’s Brewhaus opened in an Overland Park strip mall, the craft beer boom was just beginning to bubble. So Barley’s, which had 99 beers on tap and 50 more in bottles, really stood out.

“At the time, there was nothing like it,” says Chris Sutton, the CEO of KC Hopps Ltd., the company that owns and operates Barley’s. “It was a pioneer for taphouses in Kansas City.”

In the 18 years since, Barley’s Brewhaus has added more beers — now the bottled beers total 99, too — and a location in Shawnee. A third Barley’s at 5041 W. 135th St. in Leawood is scheduled to open in mid-June.

The food menu has also evolved. Barley’s still serves traditional brewpub fare such as cheesy potato skins, giant pretzels with whole-grain mustard and half-pound burgers cooked over a hickory wood-fired grill. But Ryan Sneed, corporate executive chef at KC Hopps, has found ways to push the bar food envelope.

Recently Barley’s Brewhaus added a “micro plates” section to its menu. Each micro plate costs $2 and contains two or three bites of more experimental dishes, such as crispy pork belly with sweet and sour chili sauce or Brewhaus meatballs with creamy polenta and parmesan fondue.

Sneed’s favorite micro plates are the salt-roasted poached beets, served with tangy goat cheese and crispy rosemary leaves, and the smoked trout and pears. The pears are sliced and grilled, then tossed with flaky trout and arugula leaves. A citrusy vinaigrette melds the sweet and smoky flavors.

“It’s really nice and light,” Sneed says of the latter micro plate, which is also available in a larger, shareable portion for $7.

If you’re counting calories, Barley’s also has an under-600-calorie portion of the menu that features ancho-honey glazed salmon with sauteed spinach ($15), wood-grilled petite filet mignon with whipped cauliflower ($14) and a kale salad ($8, or $13 with grilled salmon) with cherry tomatoes, carrots, blueberries and quinoa.

Those looking for something more indulgent won’t be disappointed: Barley’s Brewhaus also serves deep-dish Chicago-style pizza ($19), Boulevard beer-battered fish and chips ($13) and a po’boy sandwich ($11) stuffed with housemade kielbasa or spicy serrano sausage.

I tried the golden pan-roasted chicken breast ($13) served in a buttery sauce with crispy smashed Yukon potatoes, and sweetened the deal with a slice of Black and Tan cheesecake ($6). The swirled cheesecake was topped with chocolate sauce made with stout beer.

“We love to do a menu that revolves around the beer,” Sneed says.

Customers at the original Barley’s Brewhaus seem to revolve around the beer, too: On a recent Thursday evening, the bar and the patio were packed with people enjoying beer and a bite to eat. The crowd was a mix of families, friends meeting for happy hour and couples. The neighborhood pub feel was enhanced by the bar’s dark wood furniture and retro brewing signs.

On June 17, the 119th Barley’s location will host a backyard barbecue-themed beer dinner. Sneed is still working on the menu, but he’s thinking the first course will be a BLT slider made with house-cured and smoked bacon and local heirloom tomatoes. The chef is also experimenting with beer can chicken, Kool-Aid pickles and a fresh spin on ramen noodle broccoli salad.

Sneed says he wants the beer dinner to reflect the vibe that Barley’s Brewhaus has cultivated over 18 years — comfortable, not pretentious, with a big focus on the beer.