Jorgie Ramos' years in the restaurant business have been hell. Problems began in 2008, when the real-estate market collapsed, forcing him and his father Jorge to sell off several houses they were planning to fix up and resell. "I lost $4 million or $5 million pretty much overnight," the 33-year-old says. "Except for our house, we lost everything."
Following a $6 million bankruptcy, Ramos grasped for a path forward. In 2010, he opened the Joint Bar & Grill in Kendall just off South Dixie Highway. The fare included dishes such as truffle oil fries and barbecue pizza. "It didn't come naturally at first," Ramos says. He was uncomfortable, almost squeamish in the kitchen, he says. He didn't begin cooking and experimenting in earnest until the months leading up to the eatery's 2012 closure.
A year later, he and his father set out on a new venture. They opened what was then called Barley & Swine on the ground floor of a Kendall condominium. But the place was soon hit with a cease-and-desist letter from Barley Swine, an Austin restaurant helmed by Bryce Gilmore, whom Food & Wine magazine in 2011 anointed its best new chef. Ramos changed the name of his place to B&S Gastropub, but later that year, the Texas eatery was back with a lawsuit alleging trademark infringement. Locally, owners of Coral Gables' Swine Southern Table & Bar also complained about the name.
Ultimately, both matters were resolved out of court, but then a construction project blocked the kitchen's ventilation system. "We shut down in the middle of the night and were closed for two weeks trying to figure out what to do," Ramos says. The plan was to open as a sandwich shop, named Barley & Wich, that would avoid the grill and instead offer "slow-braised locally sourced meats and vegetables served on local artisan bread," he told New Times in late 2014.
Barley, an American Brasserie
Construction wrapped later that year, and Ramos reopened this past January as Barley, an American Brasserie, leaving behind "Swine" and, he hoped, the past. The newest incarnation has an interesting menu. There are, among other things, beer-braised pig ear chicharrones ($13) and Brussels sprouts hash cooked with a balsamic vinegar reduction, blue cheese, and bacon marmalade ($10). Like his previous restaurants, both dishes have great potential. Unfortunately, neither fulfills it. The pig ears are too wide, with unpleasant, hard-to-chew ribbons of cartilage in each bite. And some of the Brussels sprouts' components could be stripped away to help uncover some of the greens' fresh crisp.
The croquetas ($10), though, are solid. Earlier this year, they were named among New Times' ten best, alongside those served at the legendary Islas Canarias and Enriqueta's. And they took the people's choice award at Magic City Casino's Croquetapalooza.
"We've been fighting from day one," Ramos says.
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