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American Bar Food

For most purposes, “bar food” calls to mind a comfortable, lively establishment that acts as a local gathering place, neither a hard-core “drinking” bar (which might offer nothing more than salted peanuts or perhaps salsa and corn chips) nor the bar at a fancy gourmet restaurant (which could offer anything from sushi to caviar on toast points). Whether or not the establishment sells full meals, it will offer a range of easy to eat, inexpensive “comfort” foods that go well with beer; these offerings have become fairly standard across the United States. The large bars at prominent American chain dinner restaurants—Applebee’s, Outback Steakhouse, Chili’s, T.G.I. Fridays, Ruby Tuesday—are merely representative of thousands of similar bars around the country.

In addition to on-the-bar salted snacks like peanuts, pretzels, and salted “Goldfish” crackers, frequently given out free as a thirst incentive, many bars offer sandwiches, burgers, and pizzas. In addition, specific menu items are widely seen. Some of these—nachos, quesadillas, salsa, jalapeños—have Mexican or Spanish names, but they are now as American as any other foods. Major “bar foods” include:

  • Nachos: A heap of deep fried corn tortilla chips topped with bits of spicy ground beef, black beans, sour cream, lettuce, tomato, green jalapeño peppers, all under a layer of melted cheddar or jack cheese.
  • Skins: The skins of baked potatoes retaining a thin layer of the white inside of the potato to which varied flavors are added: chicken, ground beef, tomato sauce, olives. Often re-baked with melted cheese. Also known as “Potato Wedges.”
  • Spinach and artichoke dip with tortilla chips.
  • Melted cheese dip with tortilla chips.
  • Salsa (a piquant mixture of crushed tomatoes, onion, red chili peppers—from mild to burning hot—plus spices and flavorings) with crispy tortilla chips.
  • Fried mozzarella sticks: mozzarella cheese is cut into rectangular strips approximately three inches long and a half inch wide, breaded, quickly deep fried, and served with marinara sauce for dipping.
  • Fried zucchini sticks: prepared like mozzarella sticks.
  • Fried onion rings: prepared like mozzarella sticks. A variant is fried onion skins.
  • Fried mushrooms: breaded or battered and deep fried.
  • Sliders: small sandwiches, typically around 3 inches across, served in a bun, often encompassing some kind of mini-hamburger. Several sliders may be ordered and consumed at one time.
  • Quesadillas: these are small turnovers made with flour tortillas, filled with cheese and other flavorings then fried or baked. Ingredients can include anything tasty: cheese, tomatoes, scallions, olives, jalapenos, roasted bell peppers, shrimp, chili, or mushrooms.
  • Egg rolls: a Chinese specialty, usually served in bars in a mini size, dipped into sweet Chinese duck sauce. Egg rolls are usually deep fried and filled with meats or vegetables. They commonly have a thick coating.
  • Spring rolls: represent several eastern and southeast Asian cuisines. Using wrappings based on rice flour, they are filled with vegetables and sometimes meats. When prepared, the outsides are thin and crunchy. They are served with either sweet or savory dipping sauces depending on the cuisine.
  • Fried stuffed jalapeños: the jalapeño is a fat, two-inch long green pepper with a fair amount of heat. The jalapeño is de-seeded, filled often with cream cheese, breaded and fried. Served with either hot or mild sauce. Often called “Jalapeño Poppers.” One bar produces what they call “Pepper Bombs” in a “Russian Roulette Style.” Six peppers are served, one of which, not identified in advance, is injected with an extra hot sauce.
  • Fried potatoes: sometimes your standard small French fried potatoes (“French” in culinary language means to cut into thin strips), but often larger “steak fries” (which may be up to fist sized) or “cheese fries,” a huge heap of potatoes covered in globs of melted cheese.
  • Fried calamari: two inch rings of squid meat, breaded, fried, and served with marinara sauce for dipping.
  • Chicken wings: also called “Buffalo” chicken wings (after the city in western New York State where they first gained popularity): chicken wings, heavily spiced, often so spicy hot as to earn sobriquets like “atomic,” “nuclear,” or “Chernobyl,” deep fried with or without breading, with or without bones, and traditionally served with celery sticks and a blue cheese sauce.
  • Chicken fingers: also called chicken tenders, these strips of boneless chicken breast meat are spiced, breaded, deep fried, and served with any of a variety of sauces: honey mustard, marinara, barbecue.
  • Fried shrimp: the shrimp is generally dipped into a thick batter before deep frying; the batter may often contain shredded coconut or be made with beer. Served with a dipping sauce or traditional seafood tarter sauce.
  • Crab cakes: crab meat mixed with bread or cracker crumbs, seasonings and flavorings, all bound with an egg, then pan fried. Served with tartar sauce.