A destination date night doesn’t require a drive into the Metroplex. In fact, for residents in Hopkins County you don’t have to hassle with that eastbound commute nightmare that is driving west on Interstate 30 between Sulphur Springs and Mesquite.
This weekend my wife and I had the opportunity to travel east to the bustling little town of Winnsboro, Texas for date night. We enjoyed the hospitality, drinks and southern food flares of one of the town’s staple restaurants.
Opened in 2017 by Susann and Nancy Briggs, Barrel House is now located just west of downtown Winnsboro in an old machine shop. The main dining room features an open kitchen and large bar, and was already on a waitlist when we arrived at 6:00pm for dinner. There is nothing quite as scary as an empty restaurant on a Friday night, and we found the exact opposite upon our arrival. Large groups of families gathered ’round tables pushed together to accommodate their size, while couples and smaller groups of adults were enjoying their meals and cocktails when we were ushered to our seats by the cheerful hostess. She informed us that our server Travis would be taking care of us for the remainder of our date night evening.
Travis’ Christopher McCandless vibe set the tone for a laidback dinner as he rattled off the evening’s specialties, a starter featuring hand-rolled Philly cheesesteak egg-rolls served with Shiner Bock beer cheese sauce, and the entrée special for the evening was a smoked prime rib served with homemade garlic mashed potatoes and your choice of the standard green vegetables, grilled asparagus or steamed broccoli. I went for the specials and the wife ordered honey glazed salmon served with sautéed baby spinach and garlic mashed potatoes.
While awaiting the starters I ventured over to the bar. Travis had informed me that the bartender Jake made a fantastic smoked Old-Fashioned featuring Rittenhouse Rye. Rittenhouse’s sweet dark berry, caramelized banana and toasted marshmallow tones play perfectly with the smoked glass and torch-kissed orange peel adding a smooth, pleasant finish on the palate. Jake’s knowledge of cocktails and accommodating nature leads to a comfortable bartender-customer interaction and ads to the overall laidback feel of the establishment.
We felt the same southern charm from the restaurant’s manager, Maddie, as she made her way around the restaurant floor speaking with guests and “touching tables”. We find ourselves in the middle of one of the most difficult times in America’s history for hiring and retaining quality restaurant staff. Although the Texas Restaurant Association reports that 91% of restaurants have positions they cannot fill, Barrel House appears to be bursting at the seams with attentive, lively staff enjoying their jobs and taking care of guests.
Manager Maddie was inquisitive and visited with us a few times throughout our experience and mentioned in passing that, “this is my favorite job I have had in my whole life. We have an incredibly gifted team and amazing owners.” It is a breath of fresh air when you encounter individuals doing what they love.
We were also visited by Chef Jason Loban. Loban, originally from Grapevine, Texas is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu and has previously worked at the prestigious Cowboys Golf Club in Grapevine as well as Arrowhead Golf Club in Littleton, Colorado. He moved to East Texas several years ago to help open the newly remodeled Sulphur Springs Country Club. Chef Loban enjoys combining the elements of traditional Texas bbq into the menu, and a new smokehouse and outdoor concert venue is currently under construction directly adjacent to the main restaurant building and its patio dining area.
The overall dining experience was incredibly enjoyable. As my wife and I fought over the last of the Philly cheesesteak eggrolls, our main courses were served. Her fish was seasoned well and not overcooked as is the customary treatment of salmon in the small-town bar and grills we are accustomed to frequenting.
My prime rib was a slice of delicious medium rare, with a peppery, red oak smoked bark that added a complexity to the flavor profile that had my palate trying to figure out what all was used in the beef’s rub before it was smoked. Hints of garlic, salt, and black pepper were prominent, while the au-jus served alongside was most definitely flavored with fresh rosemary and thyme.
No date night dinner is complete without the finish of a sweet dessert, and as we devoured Barrel House’s signature fried bread pudding, my wife’s reflection on our experience is best summed up with her ecstatic proclamation, “We have to come back with our friends!”
Because she’s right. Everything that is good is best when it is shared with others. So next date night, we’ll gather more people.
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