A truly unique social dining experience in the MOV
One of the newest dining experiences in Marietta combines fine cuisine with comfortable hospitality, offered up in a historic house with an important pedigree.
Just outside town in Devola, the historic Joseph Barker house has been standing sentinel near the banks of the Muskingum River since 1811. The iconic structure, amazingly well preserved, has recently been renovated and given new life as The Barker Estate, a “distinguished seat of hospitality.” Business owners Richard Christy and Alex Depue are bringing a new concept of dining to the Mid-Ohio Valley, promising to provide a unique experience for every guest.
Readers of David McCullough’s book The Pioneers will recognize Joseph Barker as one of the prominent people who played a part in the settlement of Marietta. Barker moved to Ohio in 1789 and along with serving in the militia he also became renowned as a carpenter, architect, and shipbuilder. Considered one of Ohio’s first master builders, Barker was responsible for constructing many prominent homes and buildings in Marietta and Washington County. The Barker House was the first to be completed and practically the only one to survive to the present day. The structure has undergone few major changes, and original woodwork, windows, and other features add an authentic ambiance to the rooms.
We want to bring it back and provide that same experience to our guests.
Crossing the wooden porch and over the threshold into the parlor, one is greeted by a crackling fire and overstuffed armchairs. A polished wood trestle table is positioned against one wall, and a pass-through opening provides a view into the gleaming kitchen. The kitchen was one of the few major renovations and includes state-of-the-art appliances. Guests can perch on stools and watch the meal preparations unfold, evoking the nostalgic sense of visiting with family while dinner is prepared. The sound of clattering tools and the enticing aromas wafting from the kitchen add to the anticipation and enjoyment and allow Richard to engage with his guests. “I’ve always loved doing dinner parties,” he explains, “people think it’s a thing of the past, but we want to bring it back and provide that same experience to our guests.”
Two rooms have been transformed into dining areas, and the effort was a family affair. Alex’s mother Kim had a hand in the decorating, even adding some items from her personal collections to the décor. The “Fanny Room” is named for Joseph’s daughter Frances, who was a leading reformer, feminist, writer and abolitionist. A framed portrait and bio of Frances hang on the wall to remind guests of her important role in history. On the other side of a gleaming curved staircase, the “Elizabeth Barker Room” is a nod to Joseph’s wife and mother of his ten children. Both rooms exude understated elegance, a combination of period details and classic table settings. A crisp white trim against pale yellow walls glows under the soft light of vintage chandeliers.
Alex welcomes visitors as a hostess would welcome friends to an intimate dinner party. Her pride in the house is evident, and she enthusiastically describes the changes and improvements since the couple became owners. “We converted the hall closet into a powder room” she explains as she points out the charming wallpaper with a bee motif. The beautiful woodwork of the main hall gleams under the soft lighting.
Diners are invited to make themselves comfortable at the spacious table and settle in for a four or five-course dinner. On this evening, the meal begins with Beer Mussels and Grilled Bread. The ample portions are served family-style, to be passed and shared. Tender mussels in a pungent broth are paired with a mildly crusty bread perfect for sopping up every delicious drop. The Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad features bright fresh greens and creamy home-made goat cheese, topped with shaved asparagus and a balsamic vinaigrette.
Although the setting is elegant, it is by no means pretentious and diners are made to feel like old friends. Throughout the meal, Alex, mom Kim and Richard’s mom Jennifer share stories of his passion for entertaining. Alex explains that “Growing up, we both had the experience of sit-down dinners on a nightly basis – it was an important part of our family life”. Richard adds with a laugh “we sat down as a family at least five nights a week. It might only last seven minutes with our busy schedules but it was important to us.” Alex is a former veterinary technician who also has years of experience serving in various restaurant environments. Richard is a 2012 graduate of Columbus Culinary Institute and was part-owner of 134 Bistro in Marietta. He is joined in the kitchen by his “left-hand man,” brother Drew. Alex’s father Mike also shares his own love of cooking by lending a hand whenever he can.
We want to provide an enjoyable social setting, an intimacy where guests feel relaxed and at home.
Alex goes on to explain that even when they lived in a tiny apartment, Richard would host large gatherings and dinner parties for friends. She laughs and shares that he would even sometimes invite a stranger he’d just met to join them, honing those skills for entertaining that were instilled by his parents. Hence the couple feels at ease hosting groups and helping diners feel at home. When asked what type of atmosphere she and Richard were hoping to create, she says it was just that type of experience “We want to provide an enjoyable social setting, an intimacy where guests feel relaxed and at home, and not crowded or rushed.”
The main entrée of Braised Beef over Gnocchi and Ratatouille is presented as beautifully as the previous dishes. Melt-in-your-mouth braised beef short rib atop perfectly cooked lemon garlic gnocchi are flavored with the ratatouille to make each bite a deliciously balanced taste. The generous serving of grilled bread just adds to the enjoyment of the main course. Dinner is capped off with homemade Peanut Butter Fudge Ice Cream, a creamy smooth custard topped with just the right amount of tiny pretzel pieces.
The comfortable seating invites guests to linger over their meal and glass of wine in the elegant coziness of the room. Outside the window, a vista of fields and the river just beyond seem farther than just a few miles from town. The couple are full of plans and ideas for the property, which include the enhancement of the outdoor space. The brick walkway and fire pit area constructed with huge foundation stones are just the beginning. They envision guests relaxing and eating on the patio, making s’mores at the fire, and even enjoying cigars if their plan for a cigar room materializes. One priority is an herb garden that will guarantee the freshest herbs and garnishes for Richard’s creations.
Richard also intends to use locally sourced ingredients whenever possible to ensure freshness and sustainability. He admits to being a perfectionist, always thinking of ways to improve the restaurant or tweak menus. “I’ll wake up at 4 in the morning to write ideas or recipes in a notebook I keep by the bed.” And as if opening a restaurant wasn’t enough of a task, the couple has recently launched the Two Rivers Bistro food truck. The food truck allows Richard and Drew to indulge in creating bistro-style food to go, and currently stops in Marietta on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. You can follow their schedule and menu on their Facebook page or Instagram account.
One of the most unique aspects of The Barker Estate is that they are not a typical restaurant open to the public through the week. Dinners are limited to weekends and seating is by reservation only. There will be a set menu each weekend, which can be viewed online along with instructions for reserving seating; they do not accept telephone or walk-in reservations. Limiting the menu choice and number of attendees ensures that the experience will offer amazing food and an enhanced experience. Their inaugural opening over Valentine’s Day weekend was fully booked and the following weekend is filling up quickly. In addition to the weekend dinners, the facility can be booked for private gatherings and events.
As the evening winds down and guests cross through the gathering room and back outside, they can’t help but feel they’ve just left the warmth and hospitality of fine food and new friends. The iconic house seems to accept its new role as gracefully as it has stood over two centuries, ready to welcome a new generation with its comfortable charm.