By Matt Starlight
Whenever a new bar opens its doors, it’s a good idea to establish exactly what kind of watering hole the neighborhood is in for. Is it a dive? A nightclub? A sports bar? Unfortunately for the categorizers of Baton Rouge, our newest addition to the Capitol City’s lively scene is something of an amalgam, an anomaly, or just something different than what we’re used to. Now enriching the humble Northgate community is Barcadia. And based on what we’ve seen so far, it’s going to draw crowds and praise alike.
The old Curbside Burger Truck may ring a bell for some of the more dedicated foodies of Baton Rouge, reminding them of the fact that they probably haven’t seen it for some time. Before it was put out of commission, the truck used to cruise the streets of the city offering a tasty variety of burgers and fries to college students who flocked to it like children to the ice cream man. You haven’t been able to get your fill from the delectable vehicle because the mind behind Curbside, Nick Hufft, actually took his talents to the first Barcadia in New Orleans to run the kitchen, which has seen phenomenal success in the Warehouse District.
Now, us BR locals are fortunate enough to have one of our own at the location formerly known as the defunct Serrano’s. What now resides on that prime chunk of real estate is a tasty new restaurant and bar that’s packed with mega Jenga, Connect Four, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and other games that could bring a nostalgic tear to your eye for the price of a quarter.
Stroll through the doors off Highland into the newly renovated barcade, and the first thing you’ll notice is that there are absolutely no remnants of Serrano’s. None. There are no more obtrusive four-foot walls that block your path. No more overcrowded bar on the back wall. No more sickly yellow wallpaper. The energy has been completely revamped and much for the better.
You’re greeted with rustic wallpaper and pipes, blinking lights, and a very impressive collection of bars, the main of which spans nearly the entire length of the restaurant. There are 50’s style pin-up girls on the walls, vibrant picnic tables, a beautiful wait staff, and a playlist that would please Jack White and Deadmau5 fans alike. There’s enough seating for the lunch crowd, but enough room to keep the night owls happy as well.
While this initial description may seem to pigeonhole the kind of crowd you may find, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Like a game day tailgate, Barcadia draws a unique and well-mixed group of patrons. Here, you’ll find college kids, businessmen, beer snobs, sorority girls, sports fanatics, gamer nerds, and more, and that makes this place a refreshing change of pace from the normal segregation you may find in Red Stick.
Of course, none of the vibe would matter if the menu wasn’t up to snuff. Simply put, there’s a reason why the original food truck was so successful; these burgers are that reason.
“I knew that if I was going to make it successful,” says Executive Chef Nick Hufft, “you have to have the best product on the market.”
It’s clear with a bite how much effort is put into the burger, but even clearer after listening to him describe it.
“That was the model from day one. We’re going to source it locally if we don’t do it ourselves, we’re going to do as much as we can in house. That’s how the business grew.” says Hufft. “Fresh cut fries. A bakery baking for us specifically. We were grinding our own meat. The theory, process, flavor profile, seasonings, and texture of grinding our own meat. A lot goes into that burger. Most people say ‘Oh, a burger is a burger.’ A burger is certainly not a burger. There’s alot that goes into it.”
Available for your enjoyment is a plethora of tasty burgers, wraps, sandwiches, salads, and appetizers. The menu shows its Big Easy roots with options like shrimp po’ boys, the OMG Shrimp, and chicken and andouille gumbo, but it’s appeal stretches far beyond that. This joint first thrived on their burger reputation and continues to live up to it with the Classic, with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and house-made pickles; the Green Chile Cheeseburger, with pepper jack cheese, fire roasted green chilies, applewood smoked bacon, honey gastrique tortilla crisps, and cilantro crema; The Smokin’ Joe[l], with sharp cheddar, applewood smoked bacon, PBR braised onions, hickory smoked sauce, and many more.
One fine aspect of the restaurant that wasn’t a part of the original truck, however, is beer. The drink menu is on par with most local pubs you’ll find, save for maybe The Bulldog. Still, even though you won’t be having that random bottle of suds that your indie pal keeps telling you that you have to try, you’ll find enough of a selection to get a buzz on without getting bored. It’s got your classic Miller, Budweiser, and Coors, but it also includes local favorites Abita, Parish, NOLA, and Lazy Magnolia, all at pretty reasonable prices. You might be happy to learn they also serve Anchor Steam, Stella, and New Castle. And if beer isn’t for you, they’ve got plenty of bartenders and a full wall of spirits to choose from.
Of course, the biggest way Barcadia sets itself apart from the crowd is the games. Take a lap around the bar and you’ll find enough classic arcade and analog games for a full on childhood flashback so vivid it’ll have you humming the Hey Arnold! theme song. Pacman is there. Duck Hunt is there. Mega Jenga is there. Tekken is there. Air hockey is there. Connect 4 is there. Playing these classics on an actual arcade machine, even pushing the quarter through the slot, conjures up memories of simpler times. Come for the food and drink; stay for the games.
Barcadia is a welcomed step in the potential revitalization of Northgate. As of now, the restaurant scene there is great. It’s got new additions Chipotle annd Five Guys to accompany classic staples Roul’s Deli, Chimes, Cane’s, and Louie’s. But apart from the Library, the Chimes/Varsity, and the generic Buffalo Wild Wings, Northgate isn’t exactly a beer lover’s hotspot. However, it has the location to become LSU’s second Tigerland if the right businesses are willing to occupy the space. It’s a short walk for nearly anyone who lives on campus and would allow drunken students to avoid some busier streets, maybe even cut down on DUIs and other accidents. Barcadia doesn’t have too much pub company in the strip apart from the previously mentioned, but this barcade has the potential to draw people away from Tigerland. From there, other bars could capitalize on their success. Northgate doesn’t have a Reggie’s or a Fred’s to lure so many students, but Barcadia could serve as the beginning of it’s transformation into a new night scene for LSU. And with businesses folding in the neighborhood, prime real estate is up for grabs. Turn those spots into new bars, and we’ve got something going. LSU can be better. It’s a stretch, but Barcadia may be able to show just how much potential Northgate really has.
Revitalization of neighborhoods aside, Barcadia is an absolute winner and a gift to the LSU student body. Affordable drinks, delicious food, and all the games you could want are now just a few steps off campus. Unlike it’s predecessor, Barcadia seems here to stay, so check it out any night of the week if you’re hungry, thirsty, or hankering for some classic good times.