Setting the bar: Bar food around town

Setting the bar
Bar food’s come a long way from the petri-dish peanuts and popcorn put out to keep you thirsty. Pull up a stool at these spots in town for a unique and attractively priced menu that makes dining in the main room feel like a snooze. What’s more? You’ve got a bartender at your disposal for personal recommendations, pairing suggestions, and instant refills.—Megan Headley

(Photo by Nick Strocchia)

Fossett’s bar at Keswick Hall upends the classic grilled cheese by combining succulent braised beef short ribs with rich fontina and a smear of sweet red onion marmalade. French fries go gourmet with truffle and parmigiano and the burger is grass-fed beef from Gryffon’s Aerie on a brioche bun. Fireside seating, live music, and pastoral views make the experience a steal at half the price.

Sports lovers will find a home away from home at the Shebeen Pub, where the television screens are as addictive as the South African spiced peri-peri wings. Or, mix it up with the Stellenbosch Sampler (pictured), which includes enough samosas, satay, and eggplant fries for the table.

At Orzo, a tapas bar menu with local food-gone-Mediterranean serves as the perfect match for the wide selection of wines by the glass. Dip grilled pita into the tzatziki, made with yogurt, cucumber, red onion, lemon, and garlic, or nibble on crispy yet tender calamari with lemony aioli.

For those who like to slurp sea creatures as much as cocktails, end your workday at Blue Light Grill’s raw bar where half shells of oysters and clams come by the half dozen with cocktail sauce, mignonette, and fresh horseradish for dunking. Or, try the Old Bay-sprinkled shrimp and steamed crab legs with drawn butter and cocktail sauce.

Make a quick getaway to Bistro 1834 at the Boar’s Head for a classic cocktail paired with blue crab bites with jalapeño and cajun remoulade or black-eyed pea hummus with roasted tomatoes, kalamata olives, and crostini.

Bar flies

Front row seat: Paul Goossens and his wife, Kim Bauman, keep dinner time interesting by eating at the bar. (Photo by Nick Strocchia)

Dr. Kim Bauman and her photographer husband, Paul Goossens, choose to sit at the bar whenever they dine out, which, with their packed schedules, is three to four times a week. You can find them bellied up to the bars everywhere from 9 ½, Beer Run, and Bonefish Grill to Hamiltons’, Maya, Orzo, and Zocalo, where they prefer the company of the ’tender.

“We’ve befriended several bartenders over the years and our cherished pet- and housesitting list includes at least three of them. There’s less turnover in that group and their stories are fascinating,” said Goossens.

Bauman loves that they get their food faster when sitting at the bar, and finds that they’re often treated to top-offs and tastes of the bartenders’ personal favorites.

Goossens strikes up conversations with solo diners and travelers who also choose the bar. He happily dispenses advice on what vineyards to visit and where to go for breakfast. “At the table, you get food. At the bar, you get life.”—M.H.

Get your booze-soaked vitamins

If your idea of eating at the bar is limited to the garnishes in your glass, here’s a primer on the five major food groups and what cocktails they grace.—M.H.

Maraschino cherries: Cherries that are bleached in a brine solution then soaked in food coloring and sugar syrup. They’re a must in Manhattans.

Celery stalks: The perfect swizzle stick for the spices and horseradish in your Bloody Mary. Keep the leaves to make it pretty.

Green olives: Leave out the pimento, add a bit of juice if you like it dirty, and shake yourself a martini.

Cocktail onions: A pickled pearl onion instead of an olive sets the Gibson apart from the martini.

Pineapple: A slice slit to perch on the glass of your frozen daiquiri turns it even more tropical.

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