By Frank Sabatini Jr.
As the name implies, you can bet Flour & Barley is loaded with gluten. And beer.
The sleekly designed restaurant, located in The Headquarters at Seaport, replaced Pizzeria Mozza earlier this year with a complete makeover commissioned by Block 16 Hospitality. The Las Vegas enterprise operates several high profile eating and drinking venues in Sin City, including Flour & Barley’s flagship kitchen at The LINQ Promenade.
With a slate of tempting brick-oven pizzas in place, the dough is made with high-gluten All Trumps flour favored by East Coast pizzerias. And the “grandma-style” meatballs derive their suppleness from pieces of bread in the meat mix — exactly how my grandmother made them religiously for Sunday dinners.
There are also several pasta dishes, plus sandwiches using chubby ciabatta bread, and a humungous beer selection spanning 12 taps and more than 130 bottled choices. It’s a celebration of wheat and grains that becomes obvious the moment you unfold your red-and-white checkered napkin at a marble-top table while gazing at the open kitchen and dizzying beer list.
In spite of its sleek design, Flour & Barley’s bill of fare mimics that of mom-and-pop Italian restaurants, where dishes such as chicken parmesan and bucatini alla Bolognese join forces with classic pizzas flaunting pepperoni or fennel sausage or fresh basil.
The menu, however, flirts with modern times, as in the “Bianca-style” pizzas capturing ingredients like Fontina cheese, Brussels sprouts, broccolini and pancetta bedded over garlic cream sauce rather than traditional red sauce. In addition, a bit of solace is provided to gluten-intolerant patrons in the form of sprightly salads, such as the “autumn greens” that titillated us with the lovely inclusion of roasted butternut squash.
There’s also an appetizer of artichokes fried in chickpea batter, which was satisfying thanks mostly to a hunk of prized Robiola cheese centered on the plate. The soft, buttery curd is imported from Italy’s Lombardy region and combines the milk of cows, goats and sheep. Outside of those gluten-free choices, patrons can opt for the house burger without a bun or caponata-style salmon sans the lemon-caper sauce.
After the salad and artichokes, we directed our appetites to the meatballs, served three to an order in a pond of tomato sauce that was bright, but a little too clean for my taste since the meatballs aren’t braised in it for any extended period of time after baking in the oven.
The pizzas are 11 inches in diameter and yield six slices. We chose the mushroom pie from the Bianca category with the expectation it would taste wildly earthy, given its crowning of truffle cheese, truffle oil, and roasted mushrooms.
The fungi flavor was actually tame, but we weren’t let down after factoring in the fresh arugula on top, the roasted tomatoes embedded into the smoothly melted cheese, and the desirable elasticity of the pizza crust, which sported a thin, crispy veneer.
Our favorite in the meal (aside from dessert) was ziti alla vodka, even though I’ve yet to ever taste the vodka in this common dish. The pasta tubes were cooked a notch past al dente, exactly how they should be. And the sauce wasn’t overly creamy, thus giving a voice to the fennel sausage and red bell peppers strewn throughout. A few dashes of crushed red pepper made it all the better.
Gelatos are made in-house. And they’re fabulous if you like Mexican chocolate or pistachio or the combination of lemon and olive oil.
But the winning dessert after we sampled them was the chocolate tart flecked with pine nuts and dried cherries, which were juicier than they were dry. Whoever in the corporate kitchen came up with this dense, chocolate creation deserves a high-profile pastry award.
Flour & Barley is open for lunch and dinner. The menus for each are similar. It also offers happy hour from 3 – 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, when select beers, wines, cocktails, appetizers and pizzas drop down in price by about 40 percent.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.