Many Louisvillians already knew that Barry’s Cheese Steaks and More in Okolona, which recently celebrated four years in business, offered up one of the best cheesesteaks this side of Philadelphia. I was waiting to find out.
A couple of months back, I stopped into the nondescript, lime green spot for lunch on a Saturday afternoon only to be greeted with a 45-minute wait for food; I had an appointment and had to move on.
But my return trip this week yielded the desired results, and now I know firsthand where to go in Louisville for a Philly steak (although Spinelli’s makes a darn good one, too).
Interestingly, while I was there, owner Barry Washington made his way around the small restaurant, shaking hands with customers and asking if they were doing OK.
When he got to me, I struck up a conversation that involved him pointing to an unused food truck in the parking lot bearing the name El Chapo’s Tacos. Behind it sat a smoker.
Washington said he “got a good deal” on the food truck, bought a pickup with which to haul it, and hopes to have it upgraded and repainted for Thursday and Friday service, featuring an abbreviated menu. This is, in part, to lighten some of the crowds that can make a trip to Barry’s a little hectic.
Meanwhile, he said the smoker will be a permanent fixture to add jerk chicken to the menu, along with the usual steaks, burgers, wings and sides.
As I said, Barry’s can be a bit hectic — “It’s tough, man,” Washington said when I told him of my 45-minute swing and miss — but when you walk in, you typically are greeted by one of the busy employees. There was no line, but just as I approached the counter, a call-in order jumped in front of me.
When my turn came, I first said I wanted six wings, and before I could finish, the order-taker said, “What flavor?”
I quickly adjusted on the fly for my sandwich and simply ordered the number from the menu board behind the counter rather than describe what I wanted. It turned out to be the right play. I thought I heard someone say there was a 25-minute wait for food, so I settled in at one of the seats along the lunch counter that faces Preston Highway.
My wait was more like 15 minutes, and I watched people come and go, always getting a greeting and later a farewell with, “Have a great day!”
When my name was called, I collected my tray of food at the counter and quickly noticed it was steaming hot. Yes, when you get food at Barry’s, it’s fresh.
I had ordered the spicy garlic and herb wing sauce, and these whole, medium-sized wings were wet, with a pool of the sauce in the bottom of the cardboard boat they were served in. The sauce wasn’t anything that would open your sinuses, but the smooth, garlicky flavor pleased my palate.
I noticed the wings were fried crispy, but inside they had less “pull” than many — which is to say, I didn’t have to wrestle with any of the flapper pieces, a reason some people order all drumettes in chain wing joints.
But after two wings, I decided to move the main feature in my meat-with-a-side-of-meat lunch: the 6-inch, hot pepper cheesesteak I’d driven the 20 minutes to try. With one bite, I knew that the famous Geno’s and Pat’s in Philadelphia would be put to shame by the sandwiches Barry’s serves.
In fact, I mentioned that to him when we spoke, and he said, “They’re all hype.”
This sandwich was all meat, gooey white American cheese, onions and a blend of banana and jalapeno peppers. It was packed with ingredients in a squishy soft bun, and after just two or three bites, I had the juice running down my hands. One drop made it all the way to my elbow.
I destroyed the sandwich and had to take the rest of the wings home; and in case you didn’t already pick up on it, my cheesesteak was worth the wait.
Another interesting note is that Barry’s touts itself as a Christian-based operation, and the spirituality is all over the walls in the decor. It also is evident in the friendliness of the staff. It goes back to Washington’s jaw-dropping journey to where he is today, from Philadelphia to Michigan to Louisville, where he settled in 1997.
Barry’s Cheese Steaks and More is located at 7502 Preston Hwy. Hours are 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Note that the restaurant will be closed Dec. 22-27 to observe the Christmas holiday.