Harford Road mainstay is back from the dead, with better food

Institutions come and go in the restaurant business. They get popular, stick around for a decade or more, and then almost always fall out of popularity and shutter their doors. Once they are closed, the old patrons have their memories and late-night tall tales to make the place even more legendary than it actually was. That's the way it should be.

But there's been an upsetting trend of resurrecting said institutions in the hopes of reliving glory days and maybe squeezing a few more dollars out of people hoping to get back a bit of their youth (see Hammerjacks). The new joint never lives up to the old and it ultimately closes again, with the memories of the original institution diminished.

The Barn (9527 Harford Road, Carney, [410] 668-2276, thebarnbaltimore.com) could be the place to buck this trend. Since the early '80s, the Barn was the place to go in Northeast Baltimore for local crabs, sports, and music. But after the place changed hands over the last decade, it closed its doors due to "mismanagement" in July of 2012. Then the original owners took over and created an updated, renovated version of the Barn that opened in April with a new look and a modern menu. Not to worry: They still sell crabs in the basement.

The two sections of the Barn have been renamed "The Barn Taphouse" and "The Barn Crabhouse," in case you were going to mix them up. The interior of the taphouse is loud, really loud. It was busy on the night that we went, so instead of trying to scream over the clamor we decided to sit on the non-smoking side of the Barn's new porch deck.

It was over the noise of the motorcycles ba-ba-bubbing up Harford Road that I ordered my drink. Brooklyn Summer Lager ($5) seemed to be a wise choice for a humid night on the porch. It was light, refreshing, and not-so-flavor-forward as to kill our meal. It went well with the small plates we ordered, starting with the apple-and-bacon chicken wings ($8 for six wings). The wings were slathered in an apple glaze that was flecked with pieces of bacon. The interaction of sweet and savory was surprising, but more unexpected was how well the saucy wings played with the bleu cheese served on the side. They were good in a way that almost made up for their price.

A trio of fried green tomatoes ($13) came out happily burdened with hunks of backfin crab meat on them. They were crusted in a panko breading that would make some of the fried chicken around town jealous. The tomatoes inside were amplified by a lemon beurre blanc underneath. It is this kind of dish that separates the new Barn from its predecessors and makes it a place to go to eat and not just to relive the night that you got hammered and passed out in your car.

The best dish we had was also the best bang for the buck. The crispy shrimp tacos ($9 for three tacos) were made up of two breaded shrimp nestled in a flour tortilla with a mango-lime salsa and topped with orange-jalapeño sauce. The perfectly cooked shrimp were hot and crunchy, the mango salsa and the sauce lent sweetness and heat, and a tiny bit of shredded lettuce acted as a coolant. They were great and we could have eaten them all night if given the opportunity.

The shrimp salad sandwich ($12) was not as successful, only because the salad-to-bread ratio was so off. The shrimp salad by itself was fresh and well-made but the kaiser roll engulfed it, ruining what could have been a good sandwich. The flatbread pizza with pepperoni ($10) was good in the way that the pizza at the roller rink was when you were a kid. It tasted like middle school afternoons and nights spent playing video games with friends. It was not fancy, but the combination of house-made marinara and sprinkled-on dried herbs made it taste like my childhood. It might not be like that for you when you try it, but for me I tasted 1989 and it was rad.

The heat kept us from trying the Barn's desserts. Red velvet cake, mango cheesecake, and the fantastically named "Chocolate Trilogy" were all too heavy to engage with after the food we had. A change to more summery desserts is hopefully on the way. (The Barn does, indeed, have a rotating dessert menu.)

The Barn has made its way out of the grave and is ready to party. If they keep with the small-plate manifesto they have started with, they should well be on their way to being better than they were before and creating memories for a long time to come.

The Barn is open daily from 11-2 a.m.

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