Stu Helm, Asheville’s Facebook Food Critic, on The Barleycorn, Imperial Life


By Stu Helm

Hello Asheville!

Well, I had two reviews written for you already – one of Woolworth Walk and one of Tupelo Honey – but then The Barleycorn happened.

THE BARLEYCORN – West Asheville

I might have overlooked The Barleycorn indefinitely if not for Ashvegas reader Briar, who works there and hyped it pretty good during the Free Lunch contest. I didn’t pick her as the contest winner, but over this past weekend, Dawn and I made a last-minute dining decision, and before we knew it, there we were in West Asheville, at the former location of Burgermeister’s, the current location of The Barleycorn.

The decor is nice, and pretty typical of a modern pub: open & bright with exposed concrete floors, vents, and such, with simple tables, chairs, and a bar to sit at. Concrete floors tend to make a place noisy, but we were there at, like, 3 pm, and it wasn’t packed, so the noise levels were fine.

We were greeted by the nice waitress, who told us to seat ourselves, and soon she was at our table, with water, taking our drink order, and answering our questions. We could tell that she genuinely liked the food there, and that’s always a good sign!

I knew what I wanted right away, because they serve one of my all-time fave dishes at Barelycorn, something I almost never see on menus anywhere: Welsh Rarebit!

Welsh Rarebit is basically cheese sauce on bread. Sounds boring — and it definitely has that potential — but at Barleycorn, Maaan, they rock this dish like no other place or person I have ever been to or known. Holy moly it is far from boring and in fact it was incredible.

The cheese sauce was very savory and flavorful, and absolutely the perfect texture and temperature. The bread was, like, a french bread or baguette or something, split in half and toasted just right. It was the perfect crispy sponge for the cheese sauce.

The folks at Barleycorn take it much further than just cheese on bread though, by adding a perfectly fried egg on top, and some very crispy deep fried onions (not too many, just enough!), and then the best fucking part of all: Bacon jam.



When I first read about it on the menu I was halfway skeptical, and expecting something too sweet or too weird for me to really enjoy. Fucking opposite. It was just sweet and weird enough to be the best new thing I’ve had in my mouth since I first tasted Sunny Point’s Shrimp ‘n’ Grits. Holy shit, People. Bacon Jam. It is my new best friend.

The Rarebit at Barleycorn’s has rocketed straight to the top of the charts here at Food Critic Headquarters, and Dawn and I both agree that it is as good or better than anything we’ve eaten in some of the fanciest-pantsiest restaurants in the country. It’s now one of my fave meals ever.

The deliciousness didn’t stop there though!

Dawn got wing dings, and a three veggie sample plate, and I ordered the hanging chicken kebab, with coleslaw and something called “thrice cooked” french fries. After my gripe about anemic fries last week, I thought I’d better try those.

The wing dings were great. Sweet and sticky and crispy and falling off the bone. Dawn’s veggie plate was also outstanding. She ordered it with (the oddly trendy-right-now food item) cauliflower, a grilled veg-medley, and corn pudding.

I’ll start with the corn pudding… OH MY FUCKING GAWD!!! Best corn pudding ever. It was served hot and fresh, the texture was loose and creamy, not blocky and dry, the flavor was intense and sweet, but not intensely sweet, plus it had some crispy parts along the edges that were to fucking die for. We crushed it.

The cauliflower had curry flavors, it was cooked well, and had a nice fresh quality to it. The grilled veggies were likewise perfectly prepared, and we both thought they tasted exactly like summertime. Mmmmmm!!! Summertime.

The slaw was really good too. Not too creamy, not too sweet, not too tangy. The hanging chicken kebab was just as perfectly cooked and perfectly seasoned as everything else. Again, not too heavy on the seasoning, but plenty of flavors, and exactly the right temperature and texture.

The thrice cooked fries? I was too fucking full to really enjoy them! Plus, the ketchup was weird. I think they might put garam masala in it or something. I brought the fries home to reheat, which means they will have been cooked four times by the time I chow them down, so I can’t really judge, except that the two that I ate at the table were a fuck of a lot better than those white worms I’ve been getting elsewhere lately!!! Ew.

All in all: Wow. This was a great dining experience. The waitress, the food, and even Dawn’s cocktail were all top notch.

Thank you, Briar! You sure as fuck did not steer us wrong! We are both big fans of The Barleycorn now, and I will be back for that rarebit as often as I can.

THE IMPERIAL LIFE – Downtown, Asheville

After Barleycorn we went to The Imperial Life (located above Table on College Street) for the first time, where Dawn had a wonderful cocktail and I had a pretty good pot of French press coffee. The atmosphere there is nice, and the bartender was also nice.

We picked it strictly because they were open – it was 4:30ish and most of the similar joints downtown open at 5 pm – but once inside, we were impressed by more than the hours of operation.

The cocktails at The Imperial Life are both creative and traditional, and are made from the highest quality ingredients you can imagine. Dawn’s was made with a very non-junipery gin, fresh grapefruit, pomegranate and other yummy ingredients. She pointed out that the ice-cubes in her drink were extra large and more square than usual. She said that keeps them from melting as fast and watering down the drinks. Neat. I learned something.

We were too full to eat anything, so I’m only reviewing The Imperial Life now as a great little place to grab a fun cocktail after a meal somewhere else, but the menu looked great, so we’ll be back there to sample the eats as well, and I’ll write a full review in the future.

Stu Helm is an artist and writer living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing restaurant reviews strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook in 2013.


Mr. Yuck May 9, 2014 - 6:28 pm

You have all missed out on the LAMB SHANK SANDWICH OF DOOM!

I didn’t have much time and needed to eat lunch. I looked at the Barleycorn menu and this review and nothing quite floated my boat. According to my English ex-mil, corn is for animals with 3 tummies and the Welsh diet is best exemplified by John Cale devouring live chicken heads on stage.

Then comes Barkeep reciting specials and Barkeep dared to utter “lamb shank” and I said “That is it.” Barkeep trailed off a bit but continued with the script about the fancy infused mayo and the greens and I am starting to sprout fangs and a unibrow because I am in a hurry and someone heightened all the unfed parts of me by saying “lamb shank.”

Someone less hungry with more time might have bored the staff with pedantic questions about how the shanks were cooked but I just ate it.

No rosemary in the teeth, no fur, no bones.

Dan March 8, 2014 - 11:56 pm

ate there tonight…the rarebit was fantastic…the bangers- so good! and a great draft selection…thanks for letting us know!

D.Dial March 8, 2014 - 4:43 pm

Great review of Barleycorn….which so happens to reside smack in the middle of my “hood.”

I had the meatloaf sandwich with fries. The sandwich was good and the food was presented very well.

Karen March 7, 2014 - 10:12 am

Welsh Rarebit.
There are no words…………..

Briar March 4, 2014 - 12:04 pm

Stu, I think I’m falling in love with you. I mean, I know you have a lady, and I have a man….that type of human love is not the kind I mean. I’m talking about an inter-galactic, space-odyssey 2020, epic proportions kind of love between two people who agree on food.

Your review is so yummy I could eat it!

Stu Helm March 5, 2014 - 7:28 am

Ha ha! Yes, Briar, it’s true food-love for sure! Thanks again for putting Barleycorn’s on the map for me. I was truly impressed, and I’ll be in often, with friends and family. Hopefully you’ll be around one of those times!

Miss Daisy March 4, 2014 - 11:03 am

Seriously. The corn pudding. For real.

Stu Helm March 4, 2014 - 11:45 am

Unbelievably good. I want some right now!

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