Classic bar food is designed as a companion to drinking. From potato skins to mozzarella sticks, these beloved dishes succeed in fortifying a night hoisting pints (or sipping Pinot)—they are rarely the draw themselves, but that complete the picture perfectly.
Who needs a reservation when you can just walk up to the bar, grab a seat, and enjoy some of the best food you’ve ever tasted?
Do you have a favorite bar snack not listed here? Please feel free to add on to the list! And cast your vote for which of these appetizers are your go to finger food while enjoying an time away from home.
A great slider is a ultimately a great burger, reduced in size by a factor of three to cut down on the mess and transform a full meal into finger food. By that logic, all of the components of a great burger make for a great slider: quality, well-cooked meat; buns that aren’t bready or soggy; and cheese that acts as a glue between meat and bread. Beyond the basics, the possibilities are endless, and that’s part of the fun. The best sliders are griddled, with thin patties and a healthy dose of onions.
French fries are served hot, either soft or crispy, and are generally ordered most often as the first go to bar snack. Fries in America are generally salted and are often served with ketchup; in many countries they are topped instead with other condiments or toppings, including vinegar, mayonnaise, or other local specialties. Fries can be topped more heavily, as in the dishes of poutine and chili cheese fries. French fries can be made from sweet potatoes instead of potatoes.
When it comes to wings, the magic is in the sauce. An excellent wing sauce has just the right amount of kick, and achieving that money zone is all about pepper combo: habanero is key, though it needs to be balanced by less intense flavors like cayenne and chili powder. Tabasco or Frank's Red Hot should be used sparingly, and ketchup is too bland. The wing itself should be meaty, deep-friend to a golden crisp so that the skin stays strong, then gushes with juices once you bite into the tender interior. Size-wise, you want a good three to five bites of meat on it.
These shrimp are sort of like the chicken wings of the sea, and are perfect when spiced judiciously with Old Bay and served by the pound. When drinking, it's good to have an activity. For those uninterested in bar games, why not go simple? Slowly peel a pound or so of shrimp while downing some ice cold brews. Simply the best summer bar snack.
Pretty much the epitome of all junk food, these sticks of breaded and deep-fried cheese are best served with a chunky marinara or a little plastic container of ranch dressing. Panko mixed with a pinch of dried italian herbs is superior breading choice compared to heavy bread crumbs because it results in a lighter, crispier, and less oily stick. If the melty cheese keeps on becoming more stringy as you pull it apart with two hands and no puddles of scalding oil splash out, rejoice, for you have encountered the ultimate mozzarella stick.
Pigs in a blanket are a cocktail-hour classic: crisp little weenies bound in a warm, flaky blanket of dough, accompanied by a serving side of spicy mustard. But the throwback hors d'oeuvre is equally at home in a barroom. The trick is achieving a golden-brown shell and a snappy wiener within.
Move aside, mooks. You and you're truffle flavored fries and popcorn have no space at inside the bar of our dreams. Popcorn at the bar (and everywhere, really) should be all about simplicity, and it should always be free. Give us a simple salting and maybe a little (just a little) butter. We'll gladly scoop our own bowls too, and we won't ever balk if they are just those faux-wooden plastic ones.
First and foremost, you should be able to taste the spinach and the artichoke—that's basic. Tiny chunks of artichoke and plenty of sauteed spinach work in tandem with creamy bechamel to form what might be the world's best dip. It must be served hot with a layer of browned and melted cheese on top that has bubbled over the edge of the ramekin—the ideal serving vessel. Though we're partial to light and crispy tortilla chips, toasted slices of a French baguette or freshly baked pita are also acceptable.
“Deviling” an egg refers to seasoning the cooked yolk with mustard or anything else that is spicy. Past that, the filling for this retro snack can be amped up with ingredients like paprika, champagne vinegar, shrimp, or lobster, and the entire bite can be topped with anything from bacon bits to caviar (or squid tentacles, like in the pictured version from Do or Dine in Bed Stuy). Deviling an egg is taking an already simple, immaculate ingredient and making it just a bit more indulgent and divine.
Devils on Horseback are the paradigm of the sweet-salty-savory trifecta that all snack foods hope to achieve. The '70s-era appetizer consists of pitted, Cognac- or Brandy-soaked prunes or dates stuffed with cheese, wrapped in greasy, salty bacon, and cooked in the oven. Alternative stuffings include mango chutney, almonds, and liver. If you swap the prune-stuffing combination for an oyster, then you have Angels on Horseback—another great snack to pair with booze.
The perfect jalapeño popper is all about proportions: the ratio of pepper to cream cheese to breading has to be absolutely perfect, or everything’s ruined. Done right, the breading is crispy and light, the cream cheese plentiful but not heavy handed, and the pepper is the star of the show (but there’s gotta be enough of everything else to keep the heat from being overbearing). It’s a delicate balancing act, but the experts make it look easy.
The hunt for ultimate plate of nachos is surely a life's work, so defining a platonic ideal is no simple feat. Still, we've settled upon some key elements that contribute to nacho-glory: House-fried tortilla chips; freshly made condiments; well-seasoned meat; and an amount of cheese that is the exact amount of cheese you'd think would be reasonable, multiplied by three. Assuming the base ingredients are up to snuff, though, it's really all about construction.
The potato skin is one of the forgotten bar snacks of America, swept away in the tide of mini kobe burgers, truffle fries, and other haute bar snacks. But a great potato skin is really everything you want out of bar food: cheesy, salty, and crispy, with enough starchy heft to satisfy your hunger and line your stomach for more drinking. The ideal version should be cut thin enough so that it's not just an unwieldy unwieldy twice-baked potato requiring a knife and fork, but not so thin that it's just a crunchy piece of skin. The meat of the potato should al dente, and toppings should include fresh bacon chunks, sour cream, chives, and cheddar, or a combination of cheddar and Monterey Jack.
It's always difficult to decide whether to get onion rings or fries (get a combo if they'll let you!). Proper beer-battered onion rings, with a substantial crisp crust covering a sweet, tender, thick ring of onion, are one of life's three greatest pleasures (and the only one that can be enjoyed legally, incidentally), but how often do you get perfect rings?