Ohio Ole! Barcelona Restaurant and Bar, 20 Years of Authentic Spanish Cuisine in German Village
Showcasing Ohio-grown foods while staying true to Spanish flavors takes commitment, one the German Village favorite—Barcelona Restaurant and Bar—knows all about. Owner Scott Heimlich, executive chef Jacob Hough and Barcelona’s staff rely on a diverse network of local suppliers for traditional Spanish ingredients, capturing the best of Ohio and deftly using it to transport diners into an authentic Spanish culinary experience. It’s a strategy that has been working for two decades, as they celebrate 20 years of service in 2016.
“We are honored to continue to be a destination both for Columbus locals and visitors to the city,” says Scott, as he points out that the space has housed a restaurant for more than 100 years. “We feel a sense of pride in that heritage. What we do and how we do it adds value to the German Village community.”
Jacob creates new lunch, dinner and tasting menus every two to three weeks as the seasons evolve or new ingredients become available. On the day I visited this marriage was evident in the ensalata de tomate with classic summer flavors of tomatoes and peaches with lemon basil ricotta.
With no formal training in Spanish cooking, Jacob completed his education at the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute and worked at two other restaurants before coming to Barcelona as a line cook. First as an apprentice then sous chef to his predecessor, he studied flavors and techniques for seven years before taking over as executive chef in 2013.
He has continued the restaurant’s signature traditions, like their bread that is made daily from a 20-year sourdough starter affectionately known as “Wanda.” Served warm, it accompanies a house-made tomato relish that is addictive yet simple. Tasting as if it had been simmering for hours in a cramped kitchen overlooking the Balearic Sea, this house favorite is actually a basic combination of tomatoes, olive oil, basil, garlic and chili. Everything except the olive oil can be sourced from Ohio farmers.
Jacob credits Scott with building a culture of teamwork throughout the business. Scott gives the chef team total autonomy in sourcing and menu planning, even allowing for last minute adaptability. For example, if a local farmer or producer shows up at the back door with something unexpected, the chefs can look, taste and quickly incorporate it to fit the day’s specials and menu.
Scott’s interest in using local produce comes naturally—his parents are the owners of Heimlich Family Farm in Caledonia, Ohio, and supply much of the restaurant’s produce. “When you use local sources,” he says, “you get to know the people behind the products. You have confidence in the quality and freshness of the product and you channel money back into the local economy.”
A culture of fostering positive, trusting working relationships and educating the staff permeates throughout the restaurant. Many of the kitchen staff are involved in apprenticeship programs. The wait staff tastes all the new dishes together with the chefs and they discuss the techniques and flavors as a team. Servers are required to participate in frequent tastings with wine vendors where they learn about grapes and growing methods and over time build invaluable expertise. These tastings are “price-blind”—the servers taste and rate their favorites without knowing the cost of each bottle. The manager then uses their feedback to build one of the most diverse wine lists in the city with more than 260 different selections.
These partnerships in building the food and wine menus are palpable when standing in the kitchen in the midst of a busy lunch rush. There is a notable sense of calm camaraderie and partnership. I ask sous chef Patrick Marker about the lower-than-average turnover among the staff. “This is a different atmosphere than other places I’ve worked,” he says. “As a team, Chef Hough and Chef [Todd] Elder and I work hard to lead by example. We disagree privately and present a united front. Since it’s a nice place to work, the staff stay longer than average and over time we become a family.”
The sense of partnership extends to the restaurant’s many local suppliers. The chefs have longstanding relationships with the farmers and have a deep understanding of the challenges unique to small local businesses.
Becky Rondy is president and co-owner of Green Edge Organic Gardens in Athens, Ohio, and has been supplying Barcelona with a variety of organic vegetables since 2006. She says that the chefs “understand that produce is seasonal, availability comes and goes and we are dependent on unpredictable factors like the weather. But, nonetheless, they are always interested in what we have and will adapt the menu accordingly.”
Becky can be confident she can call on Barcelona every week. “They are part of the backbone of our supply route—local people buying local products and building long-term relationships that can survive fluctuations in availability.”
The list of local partners is diverse. Microgreens are sourced from Watersong Provisions, fruit comes from Lynd Family Farms and Catanese Classic
Seafood in Cleveland supplies perch and walleye from Lake Erie. Daisyfield Brand Products supplies pork from Sandusky, Ohio, and the chefs speak with particular pride about sourcing meat from Blue Ribbon Meats, Inc. in Cleveland. They visited several local slaughterhouses and chose Blue Ribbon, which is part of the Ohio Proud program. Manager Dominic D’Andrea points out that Jacob and his team chose a local meat supplier that is not only known for quality, but also shares the same values.
“Our meat is still traditionally hand cut to order, and we supply only independent, local businesses that serve their local community. A longstanding relationship with local restaurants is the core of our business,” says Dominic. With this partnership, Blue Ribbon has been able to continue to keep its operations small and centralized to the state of Ohio and thus maintain quality.
Matt Borth is the Columbus sales representative for Catanese Classic Seafood. “Chef Hough and his staff are pleasant and easy to work with,” he says. “They take the time to talk with me about the products and understand my business and my values.”
Long-term relationships between restaurants and small businesses are critical for places like Catanese. The Barcelona chefs have helped Matt connect with other local accounts and served as an invaluable reference. “Referrals like that open doors for small businesses that would otherwise go to nationally known suppliers,” he explains.
While Barcelona is locally focused as a restaurant, certain key ingredients, like the Serrano ham, Basque peppers and some olives, are imported from Spain. Yet even this decision is made with a local focus in mind. “We import our Spanish ingredients from a small, Ohio-centered importer, Agora International Foods in Cleveland,” says Jacob. “We have cultivated a great relationship with the owner, and he understands our menu and the value of sourcing directly from the areas of Spain we feature. Having a partner here in Ohio is critical for helping us find rare and interesting meats and cheeses.” Signature dishes such as the Vieiras seared scallops, a customer favorite that popular demand has kept on the menu, are all unquestionably Spanish.
Yet look closely at the menu and you will find that even the paella, for which they are justifiably famous, has local elements. “Paellas are hard to find elsewhere,” says Jacob. “Ours are authentic and the core of our menu.” The sofrito base takes more than an hour to make. It simmers on a traditional open flame. During any lunch or dinner service, there are up to six or eight pans of paella going simultaneously. Local peppers, onions and tomatoes come together with imported calasparra rice.
From their small, intimate family of chefs and staff to their status as a beloved Columbus fixture to the Ohio growers, farmers and producers that make up their supply chain, Barcelona and its people are an example of the power of a local food community. “The team at Barcelona,” says Matt, “is helping keep Ohio’s food economy inside Ohio.”
Barcelona Restaurant and Bar; 263 East Whittier St., Columbus, Ohio 43206; 614-443-3699