You can smell Barcelona Wine Bar’s Harrison ovens when you enter the restaurant. The charcoal wunderkinds, which function as grill-oven hybrids, emit a smoky scent that makes everyone in the restaurant — whether in the dining area or at the jam-packed bar — thankful for its open-kitchen concept.
And, boy, is that open kitchen bustling. Although only one weekend old, Barcelona’s Charlotte location has touted 1.5- to 2-hour wait times every evening since it quietly opened its doors on Thursday.
“It’s the Barcelona way to roll things out slowly,” said General Manager Josh Grogan of the restaurant’s attempt at an under-the-radar start. That, of course, didn’t quite happen, but if you’ve been following the hype of South End’s “Design District,” that’s to be expected.
The area just off the Rail Trail has welcomed a number of high-profile newcomers over the past few months—namely, multi-state sugar empire Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams and Atlanta-based Tex-Mex restaurant Superica. Barcelona, a wine-and-tapas concept out of Connecticut, is the 16th of its kind in the country and the first in North Carolina. It’s also the only Barcelona, so far, to have those Harrison ovens.
That’s not to say the brand opens the same Barcelona in every state. “It’s not our concept to say, ‘This is Barcelona in a box,’” Grogan said. They try to make the restaurant fit into its neighborhood and city. Local talent Chef Nicolas Daniels, formerly of Loft & Cellar, mans the kitchen, and the restaurant has ample first-come, first-serve patio space that’s meant to reel in 20-somethings as they leave neighboring Sycamore Brewing. A Barcelona representative also hand-selected local drafts (read: drank her way through Charlotte breweries) to make sure craft beer drinkers would feel at home.
Yet it’s the signature Barcelona-isms that make the restaurant what it is. Among them: 400 wines by the bottle and occasional tokens for free tapas given out in a spirit of goodwill.
Then, in true tapas tradition, there’s the restaurant’s focus on shared experiences, which culinary director chef Larry Baldwin said is best navigated by starting at the top of the menu and working your way down.
Meat and cheese come first: Open the meal with Spanish delicacy jamon mangalica, or cured Hungarian pig, paired with North Carolina-made Snow Camp, a creamy soft cheese made from goat and cow’s milk. It’s served alongside bread from Nova’s Bakery. “We always say that the jamon and manchego open the door for people because they’re quintessentially Spanish,” Grogan said.
After that, move on to tapas. Of the far-ranging selection, Baldwin recommended the oysters because they’re cooked using the aforementioned Harrison oven, and that flavor is not-to-be-missed. When set on the table, you can smell the same backyard-pig-roast aroma that you did when you entered the restaurant — this time coming off three breaded Massachusetts oysters.
The final stop on the menu is the paella, a savory rice dish served with a variety of seafood. Grogan said this choice is for everyone, but it’s especially good for dates since it’s meant for two. For the meat averse, there’s also an entirely vegan vegetable paella, which is topped with cauliflower, collards and mushrooms.
Beyond food, Barcelona’s bar-goers will enjoy a plentiful menu of wine flights, sangria and nine craft cocktails (the Barcelona Gintonic is their take on a G&T). The restaurant and the bar open at 4 p.m. every day, and Grogan said they plan on being a late-night hub for many people.
“Our philosophy is we’re open until the last guest leaves,” Grogan said. Wine and tapas until 2 a.m. it is.