50 Airport Pkwy
Visited in March 2007
Oaken Barrel was one of the first breweries I ever went to after deciding to make this brewpub thing a thing, so to speak. Located right smack dab on the way from Bloomington to anywhere else I had ever considered home at that point, Oaken Barrel was a no-brainer to stop at a few times. Here’s everything I can recall off the top of my head.
The location was a tad bit corporate feeling – a little too family friendly and a little to well-lit, clean and proper for my tastes. The food was pretty average, nothing that would ever offend the palette but not really anything worth going out of your way for, either. And the same could be said about the beer. Of those that I had, a dry, roasty stout was usually the one I went for when I stopped in.
This brewpub looks very impressive from the outside. It’s part of a strip mall that includes what looks like a comedy club as well as other “Oaken Barrel” dining opportunities besides the main restaurant. The inside is pleasant, but it is not anything special. The restaurant is open and spacious, the bar is U-shaped, long, and well attended, and the tables are plentiful. But the color scheme and décor simply isn’t very imaginative. There are several plasma screen TV’s by the bar, however, so watching a game is a definite possibility.
I have had some pretty solid food here so far. The spicy tuna sandwich was fulfilling and the ribs were very, very good. The meat came easily off the bone, leaving nothing behind, and the flavor was wonderful. The onion rings aren’t anything specials (it’s hard to find amazing onion rings) and the dessert is lacking. They do often have guest desserts from Cheesecake Factory, which is nice, but a truly great place should make their own, I think. And their staple Razz-Cheesecake is nothing special. I wouldn’t order it again.
The beer is also good, but nothing special. The Indiana Amber is my favorite, sort of like a scotch red with sweetness offset by subtle amounts of hops. The Gnaw Bone Pale is great if you like pales, and the Snake Bite Porter is also very drinkable. Last time I was in, they also had a stout called Midnight Rush on a nitro tap, and that was simply to die for. If they had that year-round, I would be stopping in much more frequently.
Update: Revisited in April of 2008. Pulled pork sandwich proved flavorful, tender, but a bit lacking in size. The battered French fries were amazing, however. Do yourself a favor and order these instead of onion rings. Seasonal brews were German-styled Hefeweizen and Lager. I’m sure the Hefe was good, but I’m not a big fan of the style. The lager was excellent, quaffable for anyone who likes alcohol, even Bud addicts. It seems to me that the quality of the brews continues to improve. I’m bumping up the beer a point.