An informative, cheerful bartender settled me into a Firestone IPA, one of more than 25 beers on tap (some soon to come from the in-house brewing operation). I thought about how lucky this no-man’s land neighborhood was to have a new, thriving venue. Until now, the choices basically lay between an upscale taqueria and the Lucky supermarket deli counter.
Unfortunately, the food didn’t leave as much of a good impression as did the vibe. Just about every dish felt too safe, like the kitchen was worried about interfering with all of the fun surrounding the bar list.
The burger appeared radiant, donned with green tomatoes and bursting with juices at first chomp, but there was little flavor to follow. The patty needed to be salted and the cheddar needed to be much sharper to be noticed. Also, I couldn’t discern even a hint of truffle in the promised truffle aioli. It just came across as straight mayonnaise.
Similarly bland was a Cuban sandwich, which was grilled perfectly and had a nice contrast of pork loin and oozy Swiss against a crisp, pressed roll. However, my sandwich had little, if any, of the advertised bacon, and the pickles and mustard had none of the piquantness that made the Cubanos I’ve eaten in South Florida so vibrant.
A smoked brisket sandwich could really have been any protein as it was buried in a bath of barbecue sauce that erred on the side of sweet. A trio of burnt, fatty pork ribs was basted with the same sauce.
While three thin, fried cod fillets were hot and crisp, there was no additional pop added from the ale-based batter. Neither tartar sauce nor malt vinegar was offered, only ketchup, and even a healthy shake of salt couldn’t liven up the fish.
Served alongside was a pedestrian pile of fries that you’ve eaten before at many a midpriced restaurant chain. However, when doused with an assertive gravy and melted cheese curds as a separate order of poutine, these same fries were elevated to junk-food magic.
Along with the poutine, I’d go out of my way to order the housemade sausage again. Coarse with a snappy skin and a good hit of pepper, it made for a stellar lunch one day with a purple cabbage slaw that was just shy of being overdressed with mayonnaise. It was also a midday bargain, considering that it cost $12, including a pint of Anchor Steam.
A fun trail mix was a lively blend of hazelnuts, pecans, raisins and craggly hunks of chocolate sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg. My lunch mate picked up the jar it was served in and drank down the last remaining bits.
I’d like to see Barrel Head take a cue from its Masonic Avenue stretch neighbors, Magnolia and The Corner Store, two similarly bar-centric spots with menus that are by no means adventurous, but where the chefs aren’t afraid to compete with the beverage lists. Until then, I’d gladly pop back in for a sausage sandwich and a mood lift.
Barrel Head Brewhouse
Location: 1785 Fulton St. (at Masonic Avenue), S.F.
Contact: (415) 416-6989, http://barrelheadsf.com
Hours: Noon to 2 a.m. Mondays-Fridays, 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays-Sundays
Price range: $4 to $19
Recommended dishes: Housemade sausage sandwich ($9), trail mix ($5)
Credit card: All major