For all its ice cream shops and dressed-to-the-nines storefronts, the Shoppes of Avondale along St. Johns Avenue plays the family-friendly card often and well.
That everyone’s-welcome appeal is a cornerstone of Avondale’s brand. But for my dining dollar, I like to also include among my dining options places that look and feel grown up, sophisticated … sumptuous. That adults-only, call-the-sitter date-night spot, if you will. Nearby Orsay and Cowford Chophouse check those boxes.
Now one New York import is playing this new card on the avenue in decidedly Old World style.
Barrique Kitchen & Wine Bar opened Dec. 7 in the space of the former Cowford Traders retail store near the top of the Shoppes. Brought to life by partners from New York and Ponte Vedra Beach, Barrique, which means “small wine barrel” in French, mirrors a tapas-and-wine concept of the same name on Long Island.
Open daily for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, Barrique specializes in modern European-influenced small plates married to a bountiful wine list — 180 vintages available by the bottle, 40 by the glass — and a bevy of creative cocktails. Its corrugated cardboard-backed menu, which changes seasonally, boasts 16 small plates, along with soups, salads, sides, thin-crust pizzas, pressed sandwiches, meat-and-cheese plates and jumbo shot-glass desserts.
The décor resembles a rustic, Old World wine cellar, with lots of wood-plank flooring, brick and wood-plank ceilings, golden wood accents and indirect lighting. A brick arch bisects temperature-controlled wine rooms — one for whites, the other for reds. That arch also leads you to Barrique’s two private-dining rooms, which together accommodate up to 65. Up front, large windows open to the sidewalk and a smattering of umbrellaed tables.
A friend and I caught up at Barrique last Thursday night. After a short wait — probably half the time advertised by our hostess — we were summoned to a petite table up front. I immediately worried that our collective appetite would overwhelm its surface area.
While Barrique’s small plates aren’t sized to the girth of standard entrees, for the most part they felt filling and appropriate, not wispy. Our server advised ordering at least two or three per person to mix and match. Dishes arrive from the kitchen in no particular order.
We began with the Barrique Side Salad ($6), a large, well-dressed compilation of field greens studded with feta, grape tomatoes, cucumber and green beans and tossed in a light white balsamic vinaigrette. It was a light bite with a one-two punch of tang (feta) and crunch (green beans).
Next up was an order of Polenta Fries ($6), a half-dozen golden rectangles dusted with rosemary, sage and Parmesan and artfully arranged in a tin cup with a dipper of light amber honey. While the fries’ on-board seasoning was hit or miss, the honey dipper was a delicious touch.
Our table came with a wire pizza stand, and we used it next for the Grandma Pizza ($12). This thin cracker-crust stone-oven pizza was a flavor delight with lots of fresh mozzarella, basil and crushed Alta Cucina tomatoes, which produced a creamy yet tangy yin and yang with alternating bites.
The Sauteed Mayport Shrimp ($12) plate featured several jumbo white prawns buried in a creamy polenta with a garnish of pancetta, or Italian bacon. Like the Polenta Fries, this downsized-yet-upscale shrimp and grits was slightly uneven on seasoning bite for bite.
The high note on the Sauteed Calimari ($12) was the robust prosciutto Pomodoro red sauce. I would have liked a few more rings on this plate — or bowl, as it was — but with small plates it’s quality, not quantity, right?
For my taste buds, the Goat Cheese Ravioli ($10) hit a home run. We got five half-moon pasta pockets in a herb cream sauce, topped with prosciutto and sautéed spinach. The goat cheese inside was pleasant, not overpowering.
Another winner was the Braised Short Ribs ($15). This melty, fall-off-the-bone arrangement in a cabernet sauce was paired with some very creamy mashed potatoes. I ended up looking for the not-so-small plate version of this one.
One final carnivore-forward plate, the Duck Confit Tacos ($12), starred braised duck and dried apricot with a sweet-and-sour slaw stuffing in five hard shells that were easily one-bite affairs, maybe two.
As mentioned earlier, Barrique doles out eight flavors of dessert, each in tall shot glasses. Our choices, Peanut Butter & Chocolate and Mississippi Mudd, were layered sweet-tooth delights with the textures you’d expect from a conventional cake of the same name. While they are individually sized, I suspect you wouldn’t want to share yours anyway.
Barrique features dual happy hours on staggered schedules with $5 featured wine glasses, $4 mixed drinks and beers and $10 Grandma pizzas. Happy hour is weekdays from 4-7 p.m., with a late-night offering at the bar Sundays through Thursdays from 9 p.m. to midnight. Weekend brunch runs 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with $5 specialty cocktails and a new menu coming soon.
From its menu offerings to its mature décor, Barrique brings an excellent array of tapas and a new brand of sophistication to one of Jacksonville’s most pedestrian-friendly corridors.
Jay Magee is a regular guy who needs a little balance in his life. That means spending as much time in the gym as he does in new restaurants. Find out how that’s working out for him at jaymagee.yelp.com or read one of his intermittent blog posts at jaymagee.com.