It wasn’t long after Barbaro’s soft opening when snarky sports fans started making equine references. No, Barbaro isn’t a shrine to the late great winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby. No, the restaurant doesn’t serve horsemeat. No, this eatery won’t be put down any time soon.
The brainchild of business partners Charlie Biedenharn, Chad Carey and Erick Schlather of The Monterey, Barbaro re-imagines the casual pizza parlor.* Yes, pies are served here, and I’ll get to those soon enough, but it’s worth noting the amount of work put into the location formerly known as The Foundry. Long gone are the overstuffed couches and yellowy walls. The crimson paint job coupled with the exposed brick walls and dozens of vintage paintings gives the restaurant a lived-in feel. High ceilings with exposed beams along with natural light streaming from the large windows complete the cozy, but airy, lunch space, which turns into an intimate affair at night.
The menu can skew toward the intimidating (when’s the last time you saw canned eels, clams or sardines on a menu?), but all of my visits were met with attentive servers either armed with knowledge or not afraid to run back to the kitchen and check with the chef. Plus: My dining partners weren’t met with glares when they asked for dipping sauces of the tomato and ranch variety.
Barbaro is definitely a place for sharing. I recommend starting with the salads, either the sweet-hot house pickles (or giardinaire), the large chopped salad coated in house-made dill ranch or the light and peppery arugula with sweet lemony vinaigrette and a sprinkle of ricotta salata (ricotta that’s been pressed, salted and dried). My initial visit, near summer’s end, included a delightful tomato and soft tofu salad coated in saba, a fruit syrup similar to balsamic but usually a lot cheaper. The latest menu dropped this salad for a sweet, colorful stone fruit salad with tomatoes, giant clumps of torn mozzarella, lightly toasted fennel and a healthy coating of sherry vinegar. My disappointment was brief.
This is a pizza place after all, so let me get to the point. The house pizzas, of which there are usually six, are made on sturdy Bakery Lorraine-crafted dough and are available in small and large varieties (the small is about 10 inches in diameter and yields at least six slices). The pies veer into the realm of lofty “things I wish I’d thought of that one time I was drunk,” territory, but in a delicious way. A perfect example of this is the smoked mozzarella, Benton’s country ham, hot sauce, red onion and oregano pizza that delivers a salty, savory punch. Was I the only diner that immediately thought of the Selena movie after reading hot sauce on the menu?
A popular ’za seems to be the taleggio, hash browns, kale and honey offering. The taleggio is the first whiff that hits the table, and stays long after the pizza’s gone, but after sampling it twice, I’d hope for a more generous sprinkling of finely chopped kale. Would it drastically change the flavor profile? No, the honey’s got you covered for days, but the nutritious leafy greens might make this and other diners feel better about finishing off most of a small pie.
The latest addition to the menu, an interpretation of clams casino with Benton’s bacon (don’t be surprised by the prevalence of this item on the menu, it’s Carey’s go-to for a reason), white wine, fried garlic and Berberechos or cockle clams, topped with a sprinkle of parsley, is rich and briny. Calabrese peppers add a pleasant kick.
There’s always a build-your-own option for the safe set of eaters out there, $8 or $11 depending on size, and Barbaro offers many toppings priced under $4 (the price is halved per topping for small pizzas).
Fearless gourmands could spend long evenings at Barbaro with the aforementioned canned goodies or conservas (priced for big and small budgets, thankfully), noshing on the cheese plates and ordering craft beer by the pitcher or classic cocktails from the bar. Biedenharn, Carey and Schlather have created a comfortable, yet daring new venture that combines familiar neighborhood pizza place with audacious menu items only intrepid gastronomes will dare eating.*
*The article is updated to reflect partner Erick Schlather's involvement in Barbaro
Best Bets The stone fruit salad, the Gorgonzola, green apple and honey cheese plate, the clams casino pizza, the taleggio hash brown, kale and honey pizza
The Skinny Barbaro combines neighborhood pizza place with out-of-the-ordinary ingredients; patrons decide their dining path. Look for brunch soon, and lunch specials
Hours 10am-midnight Mon-Thu; 11am-1am Fri-Sat; 11am-midnight Sun
Prices $7-$17 cheese plates, pizzas, salads; $9-$39 conservas