Arriving to Billy’s in Barrington at a quiet hour, we were amidst the scenes of a restaurant where everyone seemed to know each other, or if not, be on their way there. What seemed to be the Billy’s matriarch was hugging her grandchildren as they ran in as well as talking to regulars. Kids kept sneaking away from their table to check on the Sox and their parents looked happy to have the little break. Families were meeting one another, and we were hearing a lot of “you look just like your mother.”
That said, the restaurant wasn’t purely casual either. They call it an American Bistro, as it occupies that happy sweet spot both in ambiance and in food. It’s plain on the outside, but the interior is surprisingly warm and nicely appointed. There are sweeping leather booths, tablecloths and a polished looking bar. Depending on the time of day it might be a family restaurant, a group attentively watching the game or more of a dinner crowd. The menu has the food to meet all these occasions. You could go in and get a couple of Basic Billy Burgers, perhaps sandwiches or pizza and throw a couple back, or you could go with wine and mussels.
There is some craft and attention paid to the whole menu in terms of quality and plating. On this occasion. I decided to test the chef a bit to see what they could do with some Local Halibut ($28). My wife, hurtling into summer like any good professor, ordered the Lobster Roll ($20). To begin with though, we tried their Scallop Bruschetta ($15), which was served on a single long slice of bread, topped with three nicely colored pan-fried scallops, finished with garlic scallion butter, tomatoes, basil and caramelized onions. This was really attractive, fun and surprisingly substantial.
Our waiter was observant enough to notice a dubious tone when I was ordering their Traveler Grapefruit Shandy. Shandy is the latest in a long line of not-quite-beer styles that craft brewers have been exploring as they look for a new space in a saturated market. A roughly half and half mix of beer and citrus or ginger (grapefruit in this case), the drink has a definite summer appeal. The German equivalent of shandy, radler, was apparently born of a German pub being short on beer but high on customers, resulting in a watering-down of beer. Suffice it to say it wasn’t my taste, but the point is, our waiter saw this coming and brought out just enough to try – that’s good service. Instead, I drank a pale ale ($7).
My halibut was a really generous and thick center cut, flaking nicely and well seasoned. It was accompanied by some tender grill-marked asparagus spears, and topped with a chunky tomato sauce. All of this was served over a parmesan risotto, which was favorably flavored. I could have had a bit more texture, but all the sauces and herb garnishing made for a nicely composed dish. My wife’s Lobster Roll was a good one with a couple pieces of bacon.
As more people started to trickle in, one of the waitstaff was putting little fresh cut flowers on some of the tables. My wife was tracking her like a kid with an ice cream truck. “You want one?” she said as she smiled and put it down. It was this general friendliness and attentiveness with a healthy dose of familiarity that made for a pleasant meal. We finished with a Brownie Sundae ($6). Served horizontally in a wide shallow bowl with spooned ice cream, we finished every bite.
The East Bay Bike Path is but a stone’s throw from the restaurant, just behind the parking area. We strolled towards Warren and back as the light faded, passing the folks fishing on the bridges. It was the perfect way to digest the whole
286 Maple Avenue, Barrington