Preseason is upon us. It's time to limber up, evaluate new talent and scout the places we'll visit for food and drink before, during and after football games this fall. An intriguing addition to that roster is Barcadia. Conceived as a combination arcade and bar, it quickly, if somewhat unevenly, became a restaurant as the original sideline in food grew into a larger part of the game plan.
The setting is man cave writ large, with garage doors open to the sidewalk, flat screen TVs mounted over copious beer taps, pin-up girl posters and ranks of vintage arcade games. It's the natural habitat for the sort of blustery dude food that happens to pair well with the giddy nerves of game day.
Fried cheese curds, for instance, arrive as a reef of puffy, golden batter encasing ropes of gooey cheddar. There's no bread to act as intermediary; it's just you, a basket of free-form fried cheese and hopefully some backup. Then there's Billy's fried PB&J, which transforms the innocent lunchbox sandwich into something akin to a giant, tempura-battered beignet. Wraps and basic sandwiches on multigrain bread aren't too exciting by comparison, but the Manager's Special is an impressively rendered deli classic with at least an inch of hot pastrami stacked on marble rye, and blue cheese ripples over glistening hunks of seared, medium-rare steak packed into a short, crusty loaf with caramelized onions for another standout special.
Barcadia's kitchen is run by Nick Hufft, a New Orleans native who made his name in Baton Rouge on burgers served from a food truck called Curbside. Naturally burgers are the main act here, too. The Flagboy burger adds a disk of fried cheese and the Brian sports pork belly preserves, which is like crumbled, candied bacon. The basic American cheeseburger is the most satisfying, since it so clearly demonstrates solid fundamentals. There's the sear and loose inner crumble of its patty, the ample but not overflowing juice and the glossy, slightly sweet bun. At its best, this is a burger lover's burger.
What could go wrong? The problem is that Barcadia has felt like two different operations, depending on the hour. At lunch, it resembles a tightly run gastro pub, albeit one with a Galaga machine in the corner. But at night, bigger crowds arrive, the party amps up and the food appeal plummets. During successive evening visits, thrown-together burgers and gummy fries that looked like they'd been left out in the rain conspired to make this a lunch-only stop for me.
Barcadia seems to be absorbing the lessons of its own extended preseason, however, and management reports that a bigger menu, more dining space and additional kitchen staff are on the way for the fall. There's lots of potential here, so I'm pulling for Barcadia to make the turn in the regular season.