And so it was with expectations of rustic charm and salivary glands working overtime at the prospect of authentic down-home cooking that I packed up my family and headed to Campbell’s Barn in Amelia to sample their version of cowboy cuisine.
The barn that houses Campbell’s restaurant has been a long-time fixture on state route 125 for Eastsiders. Built nearly 20 years ago, it was originally launched as a reception hall and later used as a dance studio. As a previous patron of both of these former establishments, I was more than a little curious as to the transformation that would be necessary to convert the large, open building with extremely high ceilings into a dining room.
Give the owners a B for their success in bringing the barn down to size, although the open dining area had a bit of a cafeteria vibe going on. Lowered ceilings and divided walls were used to create a separate bar and several semi-private dining areas. The décor is what you’d expect: country casual, complete with horseshoes, lanterns and kitschy signs. Large quilts draped from ceiling beams helped to both occupy the expanse and muffle the intense reverb that naturally occurs with a floor, ceiling and walls made entirely out of pine planks.
We were promptly escorted to a table for four. Our waitress was quick on her feet and extremely personable. She quickly attended to our beverage requests and patiently allowed me to pick her brain about offerings on the menu.
She was brutally honest about her opinions of dishes, which I always appreciate. For example, when one thinks, “country atmosphere barn dining,” pan-fried chicken has got to be pretty high on the list of anticipated dishes, right? It was first on mine. As I prepared to order the chicken, she immediately let me know that their Fried Chicken ($9.95) is made to order so it will be fresh and therefore requires about 15 minutes time to prepare.
Now, the fried chicken-loving goddess in me is always willing to wait 15 minutes for authentic pan-fried chicken.
She will not, however, wait 15 minutes for chicken soaked in the deep fryer, which, the server informed me, is how Campbell’s prepares their bird.
After taking a moment to shake off my disappointment, my family of four and I awaited our order as we tasted the Sampler Platter ($11.95). I am never one to balk at paying the price for good food, but I felt this dish was overpriced for what we received. For twelve bucks we got four chicken wings, half a quesadilla and a soft pretzel. The chicken wings were decent, but the quesadilla lacked any unifying substance and the soft pretzel was underwhelming.
Looking forward to sinking our teeth into some meat, my husband was presented with Pan Roasted Rib Steak ($14.95) and I with Prime Salad ($8.95). I’m sad to report that both were a disappointment. The rib steak was a very low quality piece of beef and was overcooked. The same was true of the meat on my salad, which I would liken more to beef jerky than the slow roasted prime rib promoted in the menu.
Incidentally, the menu is a little bit of a train wreck. There are a lot of offerings but nothing on the menu feels distinctive, nothing that screams, “This is what we do and we do it very well!” Are they a chicken joint? Obviously not. Are they a steak house? Uh, not really. Salads? Eh. Pasta? Fish? Rueben? Meatball Sub? Liver? Yeah, they’ve got all that — plus the kitchen sink, too.
Of all the items that graced our table, the kid’s meals, Chicken Fingers ($3.95) and a Jake Burger ($3.95), probably were the best. The white meat chicken fingers were very light and juicy, and the option to add celery sticks with ranch dip as a side dish choice was a nice break from french fries.
Speaking of sides, the waitress mentioned their regular patrons keep coming back for their side dishes like jalapeno cheddar potatoes, sweet potato fries, onion rings and garden variety cold salads, a la carte priced at $2.45. My daughter sampled the creamed corn, which was very good, but it would not be the salvation that would keep me returning to this restaurant.
When the waitress returned, I solicited her opinion of the desserts. Chocolate or peanut butter cream pie? “It’s not like homemade or anything.” Hmm. Sundae-By Way of Mexico? “Yeah, that’s ice cream with caramel topping.” Is the blackberry cobbler homemade? “Well, I think they used to make it that way.”
We gave the Cheesecake with Chocolate Topping ($3.75) and Blackberry Cobbler ($2.95) a chance. Neither was homemade and it showed. The cheesecake might have been OK minus the heavy dose of Hershey’s syrup, but the cobbler had a thick, syrupy sauce with an undercooked crust that screamed “food supply warehouse.”
The whole scene was a little amusing because I recently read a review of Campbell’s Barn on roadfood.com where the writer “unequivocally” recommended the restaurant and proclaimed its blackberry cobbler “the best I have ever had.”
Campbell’s Barn is not the best I have ever had. In fact, I’d like to recommend the Bob Evans across the street.
Go: 1836 State Route 125, Amelia
Hours: 4 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday
Entrée Prices: $5-$21
Red Meat Alternatives: Varied
Accessibility: Fully accessible
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