The mega-meal began with a country ham trio with pickled veggies and scratch biscuits. (See gallery at end of story)| Photo by Steve Coomes

Fernando Martinez gives just one command to guests invited to soft openings of OLE Restaurant Group eateries: “Just go crazy and order what you want. All of it if you can eat it.”

As I write this piece today, my belt is implying a similar message: “You went crazy and ordered more than two people wanted. Your well-rounded palate is giving you a well-rounded waist!”

But who turns down the chance to dine well (or perhaps well beyond comfort) when invited to try Red Barn Kitchen? The restaurant is the latest OLE property created in the longstanding

Remember this? Used to be Joe's Older Than Dirt. Now it's Red Barn Kitchen. | Photo by Steve Coomes
Remember this? Used to be Joe’s Older Than Dirt. Now it’s Red Barn Kitchen. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Joe’s Older Than Dirt location at 8131 New LaGrange Road. The conversion from sports bar to barbecue restaurant was fairly simple: a much-needed scrub down (any who’d been to Joe’s knows its dirt was as old as its dba), some new coats of paint and updated furnishings.

The kitchen overhaul is another story. The amazing, climate-controlled three-room layout is chockfull of high-tech cooking gear. Every chef in town will envy the Southern Pride smokers, CVaps, Collectramatics and ranges now under charge of executive chef Reed Johnson.

But stainless and electronics aren’t edible, so let’s get to the food. My guest and I ate well, feasting on smoked ribs and brisket, biscuit sandwiches of fried chicken thighs and spicy pickles. There also was a country ham sampler with those same amazing biscuits and house-made pickled vegetables, and hand pies, pie pastry stuffed with mac ‘n’ cheese and burnt brisket ends.

The pimento cheese grits here deliver a delicious zing from horseradish, and the cooked greens were ideally tender and acidic. Baked beans and slaw? Yes, they have them, but they’re anything but ordinary. All were easily washed down with a Good Ole Boy cocktail made from Old Forester, orange moonshine, sweet vermouth, Cointreau and orange bitters.

We hadn’t the gut space for fried chicken pieces or the smoked wings and fried green tomatoes that elicited moans from friends one table over, and we lacked the indecency to order desserts we couldn’t eat. But we did leave with a cache of leftovers that’ll make an easy meal tonight.

Once again, a Martinez-run kitchen does what all do so well: produce endless variations on approachable themes. No one will come to Red Barn Kitchen and be confused by the menu. It’s Southern food. All of it. But it’s Southern food tweaked in tastier-than-expected ways with flavors and textures pulled in unexpected and drool-inducing directions. The menu will not make people think, “Huh?” but the food will make them utter, “Whoa!”

From here, I’ll let the pictures do the talking. But here are some particulars you need to know:

The restaurant opens to the public on Monday, July 18. It’ll serve dinner only daily from 5:30 to 10 p.m.