The Barrelhouse opened its doors as Dubuque’s newest featured foodie attraction on December 29, 2016, yet the building it calls home is anything but new. The late 18th century four level Romanesque style corner building, stately towering along the spine of downtown, gazes over the Mississippi River. Once vital to the heartbeat and arterial flow of the Dubuque commerce system during the Industrial Revolution, the corner of 3rd and Main has now sparked a renaissance, which is attracting an impressive number of visitors.
Our experience began with parking our automobile (which we would rank on the convenience scale as “awesome”) in the Barrelhouse’s conveniently located parking lot. Stepping through the entrance we immediately felt the transition from past to present in a modern, fresh, vibrant atmosphere. The red vestibule, contemporary lighting fixtures, and twelve wall-mounted flat screen televisions integrated with the original Italianate columns, an exposed brick wall, wood flooring, and tables to create a nod to the past with an eye toward the future.
As we gave our name and requested a table for two, we were greeted with a warm smile and not at all surprised to hear that there would be a brief wait due to the overwhelming number of patrons in the establishment, which seats 250. We were led to a waiting area with plenty of stools two and a half steps away from the bar where multiple bartenders took orders and served those enjoying enticing beverages. While waiting we could see the action taking place all around us: greetings, hugs, conversation, whispering, and laughter. Servers passed by with delicious-looking entrees that ignited our growing appetites… when I heard the almost musical words… “Richard, table for two…” We were at the server’s side before she had the opportunity to repeat the phrase.
The time had come to open the menu and begin the journey. Our server introduced herself, also with a welcoming smile, and assisted us in selecting our drink orders before we attempted to finalize our decisions for the main event.
With a focus on classic grill cuisine, the Barrel House menu offers a little bit of something for everyone. For those who wish to imbibe, there is a long list of classic wines, signature mixed drinks, as well as an assortment of domestic and craft beers. The Barrel House also shakes things up a bit (both literally and figuratively) with creative combinations, such as the melon-flavored version of the Moscow Mule, the Pink Bikini (a fun beverage of melon, citrus, and Muscato), and the Tipsy Coffee (Rumchata, Absolute Vanilla Vodka, and milk).
The first glance at the appetizer menu suggested a wide variety of long-standing favorites, such as barbecue wings and onion rings, but upon further inspection we discovered some intriguing twists. For example, the onion rings are served with Barrel House’s signature boom boom and Wasabi sauce. After a cheerful debate, we opted for the Southwest Chicken Egg Rolls – crispy flour tortillas featuring smoked chicken, black beans, corn, jack cheese, red peppers, and spinach. We were served these along with a sweet chili sauce and, upon first bite, we knew this was just the beginning of more deliciousness to come. Individual flavors, such as the cilantro, came through on this starter.
Honestly, we had a most difficult time choosing our main entrees. There were so many selections, from specialty tacos and quesadillas, to salads and wraps, to pub burgers and pizza. Ultimately, though, we opted for the Chipotle Steak Burrito and the Cowboy Burger, both of which were recommended to us by our server.
The Chipotle Steak Burrito, a flour tortilla stuffed with chipotle lime steak, Mexican rice, and cheese topped with Baja enchilada sauce and cheese, was served with chipotle sour cream. Once again, the flavor of the steak itself came through exceptionally and the side of Mexican rice offered the perfect mix of comfort food meets spicy.
The Cowboy Burger, served along with craft beer fries, was a terrific blend of double burger, Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce, and cheddar cheese all on an onion bun.
The menu lists eight premium pub burgers, all consisting of two quarter pound, 100% black angus patties, seared to secure the flavor, and served with barrel fries, homemade chips, crispy skins, or coleslaw. You can upgrade to sweet potato waffle fries or craft beer fries for 99 cents. A few of the premium burgers include: the Burgundy Mushroom & Swiss Burger, which features mushrooms sautéed in a burgundy wine sauce and finished with melted Swiss cheese; the dangerous Diablo Burger, a smokin’ hot burger basted in sriracha sauce and served with jalapeños and pepper jack cheese; and the Great River Stout Burger – perfectly seasoned burger patties covered with onions sautéed in Great River Brewery Stout and mustard, and topped with Black Forest Ham and Swiss, served on a pretzel bun.
A couple other Barrel House favorites include their fish and chips. One half pound of Atlantic haddock loin cut, battered, and fried to a golden brown and paired with fries, slaw, and house made tartar sauce. This is a keeper. As is the Boom Boom Chicken Enchilada, which features three flour tortillas loaded with boom boom tossed chicken, pico de gallo, cheese and then topped with cheesy enchilada sauce and sour cream. Boom boom – out go the lights, amigo!
Being cheesecake lovers, we decided to end our culinary odyssey with the key lime cheesecake, a subtly flavored but richly textured dessert that put a sweet topping on an already scrumptious evening.
Regarding a personal high priority of ours, we are extremely happy to note that at no point in time, before, during, or after our meal, were our glasses empty. Our drinks were continually filled as were our stomachs.
During our post-meal conversation, we enjoyed the pleasure of a visit from General Manager Mike Bries, who was stopping at tables checking with his guests and asking about their experiences. Mike has an impressive record rich with experience in the restaurant business and was the number one pick of The Barrel House owner Michael DeWitt and his partner Jimmy Holt, who continue to see their vision manifest into reality as The Barrel House in Dubuque became the fifth in operation. Other locations can be found in Davenport, Moline, and Silvis. The first Barrel House, aptly named Barrel House 211, as homage to the tradition of brewery barrels, opened in 2011, coincidentally at 211 East 2nd St. in Davenport, IA. Mike Bries expressed his excitement about having such a tremendous flow of patrons after only being open for five weeks. He described the experience as a welcome challenge and unbelievable “organized chaos.” I have the feeling Mike and the excellent Barrel House team has their work cut out for them as word gets around
I certainly cannot neglect to mention the many unique special features that Barrel House in Dubuque offers the community, such as:
- Sunday brunch with self-serve buffet line and multiple specialty feature stations, depending on your taste that morning. These include prime rib carving, omelet creativity, and an eggs Benedict masterpiece
- Appetizer prices which are slashed in half daily between 9:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m.
- A revolving and ever-changing featured Soup Of the Day
- For the burger fanatics who are as creative as they are passionate … it’s BYOB: Build Your Own Burger time with a host of choices when it comes to patty size, bun, cheeses, and toppings
- Take out is available for when you’re on the run so you can take care of business and still enjoy The Barrel House from a distance
- Five Star Rewards Membership Program – redeem accumulated Reward points for prizes.
- Special event planning and coordination is available by calling (563) 639-8794 or emailing Barrelhouse211Events@gmail.com
Yes…we were hungry so we went to The Barrel House at the corner of 3rd and Main and we’re glad we did. We will go again.
The Barrel House
299 Main St.
Dubuque IA 52001
Hours of Operation:
Monday-Saturday 11:00 a.m.-2:00 a.m.
Sunday 9:00 a.m.-2:00 a.m.
Sunday Brunch 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.
Kitchen: Up & Running until 1:00 a.m. daily
Dress Code: no code necessary, no username or password…just casual and fun
Payment options: cash, debit, and major credit cards accepted, ATM readily available