Every time I begin to write an article about a Fernando Martinez restaurant in Louisville, I think about the movie “Groundhog Day”. It feels like I’ve written this article before because I honestly haven’t come across one of his restaurants that I don’t enjoy. The fact that this makes my third article in as many years would lead one to believe that the Martinez clan is doing something, if not everything right within their restaurants. Nobody has opened three consistently successful restaurants of differing concepts within three years in Louisville ever, and I think it’s actually four in three years for Martinez, but I still haven’t made it to Artisano yet. Already winning at tacos, tapas, and burgers; Fernando, Christina, and Yaniel decided they would bring us their take on a southern smokehouse with their newest venture, Red Barn Kitchen. Red Barn Kitchen has taken over the building in Lyndon that formerly housed a long time neighborhood watering hole, Joe’s Older Than Dirt. Now the dirt is gone, and the barn is legit.
It’s definitely cleaner than any barn I’ve been in, and while the majority of the building’s layout has remained the same, the whole place seems completely different. If you ever had the pleasure of visiting the the former establishment, you will notice that they removed the front bar to make room for a nice, welcoming entrance and dining room seats. The red barn doors add a little color pop to the muted blues, grays and whites that make up most of the decor. The whole place is so much brighter than that building has ever been. It’s inviting. The accents and decorations are great; a kind of modern country with Mason jar chandeliers. I’m a fan. Outside on one of the largest patios in Louisville, everything feels brand new. New tables and chairs, new paint, new life. There is an obvious amount of work that has gone into making this restaurant look and feel right. That’s a key part of creating a restaurant and making it successful. You can’t just take the old building and bring new food to it, no matter how good the food is. You have to create an atmosphere consistent with your offerings. That has most certainly been achieved at Red Barn Kitchen.
Before we get to the actual kitchen, let’s talk about the bar, or the “beverage kitchen.” That’s where I sat, and my service was perfect. However, a quick survey around the Red Barn Kitchen allowed me to notice the shear number of uniformed servers in the house adorned with plaid shirts, some of whom I recognized. Everyone was working. I doubt that service would be any less than great if you sat at a table instead of the bar. Ryne was very friendly, helpful, and attentive. Adorning the wall behind the bar is a smattering of different bourbons arranged in a manner that feels southern. Is that weird to say? It feels southern? You can just feel what they were going for so much that even the way they present their bourbon bottles matches the look and feel they wanted to achieve. Draft beers are plentiful. There are delicious craft brews that really run the gamut of flavors. If you have a flavor, you will find something you like. While I was sitting there, I also witnessed the fresh creation of their sangria and an RBK frozen cocktail that I was told is comparable to a Gimlet. Good deal. My water glass was never empty, and I managed to enjoy an IPA while I was there as well.
Now, the real kitchen is something to sing about. I was able to consider absolutely everything that is offered by the kitchen on my visit, not just food items. I am talking about serving trays, presentation, napkins, silverware, sauces, ramekins, whatever. All of this stuff matters to a degree, and if it’s done properly the smallest things can enhance your dining experience. The silverware is stashed in Mason jars that are easily accessible whether you’re at the bar or at a table. Sauces are stored in squeeze bottles and brought to the table after you order. Napkins are presented in the good ole form of a brown paper towel roll, which is also on the table. I ordered the brisket sandwich. I knew the brisket would be some of the best in town, and I wasn’t wrong. The brisket sandwich showed up on an aluminum oven pan lined with wax paper. The fries were obviously seasoned and that massive stack of brisket was piled high upon a potato bun. The brisket was super juicy and you can tell just by looking at it that there is a lot of time and love that goes into smoking it. The bartender told me that he really liked the Alabama White BBQ sauce with the brisket. This is a sauce that is not presented to you in bottles, but he thought it was important enough to make a special trip to the kitchen to get a ramekin for me. It was definitely delicious. I dipped the brisket in it a couple of times, and I dipped my fries in it the rest of the time. It’s a fantastic concoction, mayonnaise base with some vinegar, spices, and I swear I tasted some dill in this particular recipe. It was fantastic. In fact all of the Red Barn Kitchen sauces are delicious:
- Carolina Vinegar
- Carolina Mustard
- Bourbon BBQ
- Western Kentucky Vinegar
- Alabama White
I’m typically a huge fan of Carolina Vinegar sauce, so I tried it next. Balanced flavor with the right amount of tanginess from the vinegar=awesome sauce. I would have to say that I loved the Carolina Mustard probably the best. It has a nice kick to it that blends well with the touch of sweetness. I got three quarters of the way through my meal when I realized I hadn’t tried the Bourbon BBQ Sauce yet. I like traditional “red” BBQ sauces pretty well, but they’re not always that interesting. There is nothing traditional or ordinary about the Bourbon BBQ sauce at Red Barn Kitchen, though. The spice comes through perfectly. You can actually taste the peppers that they used to create that kick, and the rest of the flavors fall into place. I look forward to trying the rest of the menu, and I will certainly be back for lunch again and again.
Look, I like what Fernando and his team do. That’s not a secret. Mainly, I like what they do because it tastes delicious, but also because I’m amazed at what they’ve done for the Louisville food scene. If it wasn’t delicious, I wouldn’t eat it, and I certainly wouldn’t write about it. I encourage you go to Red Barn Kitchen and see for yourself!
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