The catchphrase “Naughty Ales for Noble Souls” would probably make you think you’re about to walk into a seedy, adults-only kind of establishment, where things just might get a little wild and crazy, right? I thought so too, but Wicked Barley is one of the most family-friendly “breweries” I’ve been in. (I don’t count the time I went to First Magnitude in Gainesville, where the tasting room was littered with children and a pregnant woman, all there for a baby shower. Interesting choice of venue for such an occasion and to bring your under-aged children to, but they offered me chocolate chip cookies, so I was happy.)
I had heard of Wicked Barley for several weeks before it opened. I, for one, was super excited because they were brewing their own beer, and wait for it…were revealing a hard rootbeer (swoon!). Come to find out, that they couldn’t start selling their own batches for some time due to a licensing requirement, so while they were open, they’d be selling other local brews until they could roll theirs out. Fine by me. We visited WB about a week after they opened, so while some kinks were obvious, they were all minor.
I’ll say, too, that their branding is insanely good. From the artwork for each of their beers and merch to their slogan, whoever did their PR/branding work should be paid double. I’ll buy into it based on their creativity alone. Inside, the artwork on the wall is a little strange (two large B&W photos of an old man hang above the hot food line – which I’ll assume is someone related to the establishment, but I really couldn’t say…and there are pictures of people in ski masks with eye and mouth holes ala a classic robbery). Definitely conversation starters, if not confusing aesthetic choices. They have a decent amount of TVs for the sports enthusiasts, and plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. The “bar” area is a bit small, but there is a secondary long hightop of seats for those who can’t belly up directly. The building rests next to a river/stream area, so there is plenty of soothing scenes and sounds if you want to sit outside. I also appreciate that its located far enough down Baymeadows to almost be in Mandarin. I hate having to find parking downtown or in Riverside where many of the other breweries are. This place was calm, relaxed, and had plenty of parking – whether you go at noon on Saturday or nine on Friday. I will say I was a bit shocked when I walked inside, as it felt more like a restaurant than a brewery. They have a hostess who seats you, and many more tables than bar stools. I can’t tell you how many families with small children I saw, which could go to Wicked Barley getting more of a reputation for a brewpub than a brewery.
Currently, WB changes their taps every single night at 9:00pm. I LOVE this idea. This means you can go every single night and get something different. It also motivates people to get their butts in there if they like a certain brew or want to try it. While I love when local places support each other, WB had several brews from other states – including some of the smaller craft ones (so, no, not just Sweetwater). Still, they had a great offering from the locals and the Florida breweries. They even had a cider on draft, which satisfied the non-beer drinker in me. I was stoked to see that they even had a cold brew coffee on nitro on tap. Yes, coffee (no alcohol) on the draft system. More about that later, but more breweries should consider doing this. It’s genius. WB seemed to have the ability to carry roughly 20 different beers on tap – which hopefully means they’ll keep some guest taps when they debut their own brews. I noticed that none of the beers came in anything but a specialized WB glass. Their glasses have a narrow base, with ridges, that leads up to a wider, smoother mouth. I noticed as I drank, that this ridged base helped swirl the beer at the bottom to keep it fresh and tasting great. You can buy their glasses for very reasonable prices, so I’d keep that in mind next time you go. Their pricing is pretty affordable too – most drafts are in the $5-$6 range, with the crazy ones getting into $8 land.
While Wicked Barley is supposed to be a brewery, it wasn’t lying down when it came to the food either. The best word I can think of to describe their food (across the board) is FRESH. Which is quite the compliment in this age. And when you can TASTE that the food is fresh, you know they’ve set a different bar. We ordered the fried pickles with jalapeno ranch to start. They pickle their own cucumbers in house, which is impressive. However, for me, I could have used a bit more punch in the face when it came to the pickling brine and spices. It just didn’t have enough flavor to make me order the pickles again, although again, points for being able to taste a damn fresh cucumber in your food every once in a while. Also, the breading definitely didn’t stick to the pickle, which was disappointing. The breading fell off the pickles a bit as well, leaving a bit of a greasy feeling. However, the jalapeno ranch was just the right amount of heat to make me want to order it with everything. I saw others order the strange but beckoning Garlic Ginger Fries, but it just seemed that everything was thrown into the fryer together, so not much flavor was extracted. Also, I’m still a bit suspicious of ginger with my fries (garlic, you’re always welcome). The house pretzel looked like every pretzel you’ve dreamed of – perfectly mahogany brown, steaming, and soft. The Spicy Asian Chicken Wings seemed to be a favorite too – as I didn’t see one wing with any meat on it head back to the kitchen. When I ordered the same, they honored their promise of being sticky, but it was a bit on the boring side in flavor unfortunately.
The pork sandwich seems simple, but in reality, it is full of flavor. The thyme comes through strong surprisingly (which I appreciated), and there was a bit of heat. The pork was succulent as well. The cheese curds are one of my favorites – a bit tangy, buttery, rich, and crispy. Of course, paired with the roasted jalapeno ranch, you can’t go wrong.
I ordered the Chicken Sausage, which was HUGE. The biggest sausage I’ve seen, and you can definitely tell, again, that they make these bad boys in-house. The chicken sausage had fresh herbs and lemon zest running throughout, making it super light and refreshing. It was served on a bun with lemon aioli (how could you not drool) and topped with arugula and shaved fennel. I couldn’t put it down, but I almost couldn’t finish. The fries were also super fresh and offered the perfect vehicle for more of that amazing jalapeno ranch. For $9.50, that’s not bad. DJ Snuggle Monster was salivating for a burger (when is he not?) and ordered the Smash Burger. He wanted to go for the Wicked Burger, which I also encouraged, but he felt that it had “too much stuff” on it. Fair point, but that’s my mark for next visit. I’m not scared. DJSM was pleasantly surprised with the Smash Burger too – although appearances were deceiving. Upon first glance, the burger looks non-descript. There’s no green to speak of, you can barely see the meat through the bun.However, the burger was delicious in its simplicity. It was incredibly juicy and flavorful, with nothing you don’t need. It’s made with the best brisket there is, so of course it is juicy and flavorful! Honestly, it reminded me of a McDonalds Dollar Menu Cheeseburger. Hold on, hold on. I know you’ll think that means it was crap. But think of that comparison in a good way – it was juicy and salty and had the great fatty mouth feel that McDonalds gives you – but with better quality ingredients and none of the crap. Does that make sense? I’m not sure if I’m doing it justice – so just go eat it and tell me I’m wrong. What a sleeper.
To be honest, everything on their menu sounds and looks delicious. They are doing it right – simple, fresh, and homemade, with great prices. Hello, a Wake and Bake pizza and Chicken without Waffles?! WHAT?!
My only knock is – well – is it really a knock? Our server seemed to require a bit more training, or at least to get a bit more comfortable with the process. He was pleasant and was relatively good at checking on us regularly. He hadn’t tried many of the beers they had, which was a disappointment, but hey, when they change the taps every night, I can see how that would be difficult to keep up with. Also, when I asked if their coffee on draft came with cream and sugar (hello, most coffee – whether its traditional drip brew or cold pressed usually comes with the option), he said he wasn’t sure. If you’re going to offer this on the menu, this should be a standard thing your servers know or know how to answer. When it was delivered from the bartender, the server showed up at the same time and said he hadn’t had time to ask about it. So the bartender said he would bring me some. I ended up getting a shot glass of half-and-half (which is fine), but a teaspoon of sugar in a to-go ramekin. It just doesn’t come off as prepared or well-equipped if they’re going to offer that menu item. I assumed most places had boats/containers of sugar packets… I will say the coffee on nitro on draft was AMAZING. The brewer is Vagabond coffee (locals). While the cold-pressed method of brewing coffee already goes a long way in making a smooth, less bitter cup, the nitro process amps that up even more, and makes the most enjoyable cup of cold coffee you’ll ever drink. I hate black coffee (I’m more of a cream and sugar with a side of coffee girl and/or love me a pour-over, but I’m still addicted), but I could drink a considerable amount of this straight-up black. Even DJSM was blown away (and he never drinks coffee). Again, I’m sure this minor issue is due to just being open and getting some of the kinks figured out. No big deal. Also, I’m sure a good quantity of people order their coffee black, so no harm, no foul.
Wicked Barley just might be my new favorite brewery in town – because they are taking the time to hit quality on every aspect. Their own brews are set for release in September, and I’m sure they will be just as amazing as what they have in place now. Just don’t eat all the sausage before I get there!