Bar snack food needs to deliver a depth of flavor and cater to a range of tastes
merica’s snacking habit is at an all-time high. Technomic’s 2018 Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report reveals that not only are views on snacking broadening, but consumers also are more likely now than in 2016 to replace one or two meals per day with snacks.
Also, while most consumers eat three meals a day with a few snacks throughout, the gap between eating three meals per day and replacing meals with snacks is narrowing.
While the classics in the bar snacking category, like fries, nachos or margherita flatbread, will continue to be fan favorites, chefs are changing the snacking landscape by elevating bar snack recipes that consumers find inviting and irresistible. “Traditional bar menus tend to be weighted with fried foods to soak up alcohol rather than serving well-thought-out food that pairs with cocktails for a complementary snacking experience,” says Gabriel Freeman, executive chef, Scofflaw, Chicago.
Here are several ideas on how to develop a craveable bar snack menu.
An oyster’s silky-firm texture and minerally sweetness are usually enjoyed unadorned — or at the most, with a squeeze of lemon. Diners, however, crave new ingredients to enhance an oyster’s natural flavor.
Freeman prepares a BLT oyster with three compound butters: partially dehydrated jam-like tomatoes and melted butter; blended, butter-poached butter lettuce; and blended, butter-poached bacon. The butters are layered like a terrine to slice and stack atop a Maryland half shell.
The oyster is then sprinkled with panko and straight into a 500 F oven nestled on a sheet pan covered with rock salt until bubbly.
Juniper Spirits & Oysters in Chicago has a Half Shell Happy Hour where executive chef Felipe Patron prepares sauced oysters, which includes a booze-infused granita mignonette such as a gin and tonic, Spanish sangria, bloody Mary or greyhound.
Traditional deviled eggs include mayo, mustard and paprika and are relegated to holidays. But they’ve experienced a resurgence in recent years, becoming a chic appetizer item.
Chefs are developing their own interpretations of the classic dish, some staying closer to the familiar mayo-based recipe, while others are taking deviled eggs to a whole new level.
Jeff McInnis, executive chef at Stiltsville Fish Bar in Miami Beach, Florida, serves Green Eggs and Ham as a nod to Dr. Seuss. He boils eggs and purées the yolks with blanched and shocked dill, parsley, chive and arugula.
Chopped pickles, pickle juice, Dijon, Tabasco, salt and pepper are folded in. The mixture is piped into egg white halves and garnished with a dehydrated ham chip.
Jamie Leeds, executive chef/owner of JL Restaurant Group, which has six locations in Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia, follows a classic preparation by boiling eggs and combing the yolks with mayonnaise, sour cream, tarragon and spices. What sets her recipe apart is the filled eggs are then topped with Hank’s lobster salad and boquerone sauce.
David King, chef/owner, Hutch Bar & Kitchen, Oakland, California, boils the eggs, mixes the yolks with remoulade and garnishes with chow chow made with peppers, cauliflower, carrots and apple cider vinegar.
Freeman at Scofflaw steams the eggs, making the egg whites delicate in structure. The yolks are whipped with smoked buttermilk to create a smooth feeling (rather than that stick-to-your-throat consistency one gets with mayonnaise), lactose fermented celery for a dill and sour pickle-like flavor and isot pepper flakes that provide a smoky, raisin-like taste.
The deviled egg is topped with chicken skin that’s rendered for three hours until crispy and ground up with more isot pepper flakes, fennel and coriander.
Beef sliders are good, but they’re the most commonly served protein-based bar snack. Instead, offer an original protein-based snack.
Christian Graves, executive chef of Citizen Rail in Denver, Colorado, offers a selection of gourmet hot dogs made with dry-aged trimmings, like the Elote, topped with a corn purée and cream cheese mixture, an Anaheim pepper and corn relish and cotija.
The Hot Hawaiian features serrano peppers, corn and Spam mayo. The Grilled & Dilled is topped with grilled cucumbers and deep-fried dill. Two over-easy eggs, Citizen Rail cheddar whip and grilled scallions top the Easy Cheesy. And the Trendy Prisoner gets kimchi and cilantro mayo.
Leeds serves porchetta sliders, an Italian riff on a Cubano. Pork shoulder is braised in white wine, Roma tomatoes, rosemary, sage, garlic, bay leaves and thyme for eight to nine hours.
The hand-shredded pork is topped with housemade pickles, house Dijon and smoked mozzarella on ciabatta slider squares.
David Wang, executive chef/owner, Moneygun, Chicago, serves Biscuits and Foie, a twist on bread and butter. The recipe includes warm biscuits, apple preserves, pickled mustard seeds and foie gras mousse.
Guests take a biscuit and spread it with mousse, jelly and seeds. “We like to prepare a playful menu full of fan favorites that have substance, that are identifiable and that are approachable with unexpected twists,” says Carlos Cruz, director of culinary operation.
People are snacking more these days, and they’re also eating more seafood. The convergence of these two trends is resulting in a snack-culture sea change. According to
Datassential’s 2017 MenuTrends Keynote Report: Seafood, nearly 90 percent of consumers said they have snacked on seafood, such as popcorn shrimp, sushi or calamari. While popcorn shrimp is the most popular seafood snack, chefs are dishing out more inventive seafood nibbles.
At Citizen Rail, Graves serves potato cake and alder smoked sturgeon with Nueske’s bacon, apple, caviar and smoked crème fraiche.
McInnis at Stiltsville Fish Bar uses fish by-product to serve buffalo fish wings. An order includes wings, tails and jaws from different snappers, like hog, red and yellowtail.
The parts are dredged in seasoned flour, deep fried and brushed with a sambal-style sauce made with fresh chilis, soy sauce and vinegar and mounted with butter. The butter thickens the sauce to resemble a classic chicken wing sauce. “On any given day we could have a half dozen different fish in the kitchen,” he says, “so an order can include a variety of fish and parts.”
At Hutch, King relies on his Southern roots to prepare bourbon-cured McFarland Springs trout with marinated fennel, mustard and crostini. The trout is covered with a dry cure of salt, sugar, toasted and ground coriander and fennel seeds for two days. On the third day, the cure is lightly brushed off and the fish is immersed in bourbon and fresh orange juice for one day.
“It’s not a full liquor taste, but has an underlying bourbon flavor,” he says.
“This is my spin on gravlax by substituting out vodka, tequila or gin.”
Bowl full of nibbles
Salty peanuts, potato chips, pretzels and popcorn have filled bowls on bars for years, but guests are seeing tastier snacks that go beyond saltiness.
Moneygun fills bowls with Adobo corn nuts, puffed beef tendons and crispy maíz. Beef tendons are cooked until broken down and gelatinous, allowed to cool, sliced into bite-size pieces, dehydrated and deep fried until they puff up like chicharrons. They’re mixed with dried hominy that’s been cooked for several hours, then cooled and deep fried.
The mix is seasoned with a Filipino adobo seasoning. “The snack has more of an umami and unctuous taste that pleasantly clings to the palate and leaves you salivating for something strong like an old fashioned or something clean and refreshing like a caipirinha,” says Cruz.
McInnis stays true to his using by-product philosophy by blanching, shocking and deep-frying fish scales tossed with a cayenne and fennel seasoning. He also serves Fish Bait, which includes goldfish crackers and popped hominy tossed in a dehydrated lemon and cayenne seasoning that resembles Old Bay Seasoning.
Silver Pine Restaurant and Bar in Flagstaff, Arizona, serves deep-fried Tempura Green Beans with a sweet and hot Dijon dipping sauce. “This is our version of a basket of French fries with a light crunchy exterior and a snap of the green bean,” says Sally Moroney, food and beverage manager.
Diners often have a craving for something sweet, so there’s no reason why a bar snack menu shouldn’t include at least one dessert item.
Ken Lingle, executive chef, Reflections at The Row Hotel at Assembly Row, Somerville, Massachusetts, makes a shareable Uncommon Carrot Cake, featuring carrot cake fries. “Carrot cake has a long history of being a staple of New Englander’s dessert choices, but I didn’t want to present a slice,” he explains. “I deconstructed the traditional recipe to something that is recognizable in flavor and contemporary in presentation.”
Resembling a churro, the cake fries include ingredients of a carrot cake like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, carrot juice and shredded carrots. The cake batter is piped into a deep fryer until golden brown and then sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.
To add more flavor and texture, caramel sauce is swirled around the plate, a golden raisin jam is mounded in the middle, a Florentine cookie is placed in a mascarpone dipping frosting and candied orange zest finishes it off.