Bar snacks have been getting an upscale makeover in recent years as chefs and restaurateurs are using them as a sort of edible marketing tool to showcase their menus as well as to create a welcoming atmosphere.
At Empire State South, “Top Chef” Hugh Acheson’s acclaimed restaurant in Atlanta, the “snackies” section on the menu is a version of a Southern style antipasti. It’s designed to encourage sharing and inspire a feeling of community.
The snackies, which cost $5 to $18, can be ordered in the large bar area with a signature cocktail or in the dining room. These dishes give local Southern staples an upgrade, turning boiled peanuts into creamy hummus, and serving Pimento cheese and bacon marmalade with pork rillettes and pickles.
“To me appetizers aren’t meant for sharing but snacks are,” says Acheson.
“We’re a community restaurant but also destination dining and we wanted to create a place where people feel really at ease, and sharing food is an important part of that.”
Setting a convivial tone is also important at McCrady’s Restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina. Here, a selection of bar snacks is offered nightly for customers to enjoy with one of the restaurant’s pre-Prohibition era cocktails.
“Our bar snack menu is offered as an extra treat for our guests if they don’t want to sit down and have a full meal, or they want to have something to nibble on while they are having their cocktails,” says general manager Kellie Holmes.
The snacks, which include crispy grouper fritters, Moroccan honey lamb ribs, crispy sweetbreads, and deviled eggs, are priced mostly under $10 and are “done in a simple market-driven fashion that is easy for the kitchen to prepare and put out,” she says.
They also act as a prelude to the main meal. “It’s a bite to get people interested in having more,” Holmes adds.
At Centro Vinoteca, an upscale Italian restaurant in New York City’s West Village, guests can graze on free snacks such as white truffled deviled eggs, bacon wrapped dates and zucchini Parmesan fritters during the weekday aperitivo hour from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. The promotion is a good way to showcase the restaurant’s extensive all-Italian wine list and cocktail menu, says owner Enver Boljevic.
“The snack comes for free, the cost of alcohol covers itself,” he says, adding that the promotion isn’t about making money but rather to “generate a regular clientele from the neighborhood for the bar, and showcase our wine portfolio.”
The snacks, off the restaurant’s regular “Piccoloni” or “Small Bites” menu, are also a good way for guests to get an idea of the food served at the Italian trattoria, Boljevic adds.
Serving bar snacks is certainly a lot more work than serving up a bowl of picked-over peanuts, but if done right, will leave a smile on the faces of diners and more money in the coffers of restaurants.
By Robin Lawless