Red Barn Kitchen opened last year in the former Joe’s Older Than Dirt location. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

It seems there’s just no stopping Fernando Martinez. His Ole Restaurant Group last year snatched up the former Joe’s Older Than Dirt location, converting it into the now popular Red Barn Kitchen.

Of course, this adds just one more feather in a cap that already boasts Guaca Mole, Mussel & Burger Bar, El Taco Luchador and others around town. It took me a while to get to Red Barn Kitchen, in part because I thought, “It’s just barbecue. Right?”

Not so fast. Red Barn notes it is “chef-driven” barbecue and Southern fare, and having finally dined there, now I think I know what that means.

Red Barn is cozy, with lots of mason jars. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

First off, if you haven’t been, the place has been deftly converted into a comfortable space with a classic barbecue-joint feel — you know what I’m talking about. Nice, but also with lots of mason jars and a few old signs. I may have even seen some chicken wire.

I stopped in for a late lunch on a weekday, so I was presented with the lunch menu. And still I had difficulty deciding what to order. I had glanced at some online reviews and noted a couple of people mentioned a sampler plate that isn’t on the menu.

When I asked about it, I at first got a confused look, and then was told the cost was in the $45 range and featured enough food for two or three people. Not exactly lunch, so I went back to the menu, finally deciding on a quarter pound of brisket and a couple of sides.

At Red Barn Kitchen, you buy smoked meats by the quarter, half and full pound. You want bread to make it a sandwich? That’s a buck extra. Sides also are sold separately at $3.99 apiece. In other words, this ain’t Mark’s Feed Store.

The sides cost extra, but Red Barn Kitchen doesn’t skimp. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

And when my food was brought to me (quickly, I might add, but I was also the only customer in the place at the time), I at first was dismayed at how little sliced brisket constituted a quarter of a pound. That said, it looked amazing. The sides, by contrast, came in large portions in separate vessels, and that made me wonder if I’d be able to finish the entirety of the meal I’d ordered.

First off, I tried the baked beans, made with the house bourbon barbecue sauce. A nice balance of sweetness and tang awaited me, along with chunks of bacon, onions and tomatoes. The plump beans were different than most of the brown-sugar-drenched beans I’ve had, and also brought just a hint of peppery heat. Nice.

Next, I tasted the braised greens, which were cooked just the way I like them: still leafy and consistent, and not reduced to slime. The requisite spiciness in the earthy flavor was accounted for, and the addition of bacon, onions and chopped garlic made it a side well worth the price.

My only dismay was that two of the leaves were intact and gigantic, so I literally had to cut them apart with a knife. (That’s not really a complaint, just an observation.)

I saved the brisket for last because, well, I wanted to savor it. I had noted one reviewer said the brisket was like “brisket butter,” which I found amusing. And then I took a bite. And it was almost like eating prime rib.

Go ahead and get the full pound. You won’t regret it. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

The smoke was subtle, allowing the flavor of the beef to shine through. It wasn’t overcooked, as some brisket tends to be. The bark was delicious, and the surrounding fat literally seemed to dissolve in my mouth.

Honestly, it might have been the best brisket I’ve ever had. And while the house sauces at Red Barn are all quite good, I barely used them on the meat. (I did, however, splash some of the Western Kentucky vinegar onto my greens.)

Of course, that still leaves an entire menu left to explore, with staples like ribs and pulled pork alongside fried chicken brined in sweet tea, smoked wings, mac and cheese topped with cheese curds, country ham, grits — you get the picture. And be prepared to spend a little extra. My lunch was pushing the $20 mark, and that’s not a cheap lunch, even though the quality seems to justify. Luckily, the sides are easily sharable for two, which helps.

Here’s my advice: If you do try the brisket at Red Barn, just pay the $11.99 for a full pound of the stuff, and you can thank me later. I dropped $7.99 on a quarter pound and still gaze longingly at the pictures I took of it. Next time, that’s exactly what I’ll do. Well, next time I get paid, anyway.

Red Barn Kitchen is located at 8131 New Lagrange Road. Hours are Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-8 p.m.

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Kevin Gibson
Kevin Gibson tackles the 3Rs — retail, restaurants, real estate — plus, economic development. He loves bacon, loathes cucumbers and once interviewed Yoko Ono. Check out his books, “Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft” and “100 Things to do in Louisville Before You Die.” He has won numerous awards for his work but doesn’t know where most of them are now. In his spare time, he plays in a band called the Uncommon Houseflies. Email Kevin at [email protected]