With the ratcheting up of quality in the cocktail and wine worlds, bar food has also improved itself. I don't know about you, but I can't stand pretzels and beer nuts. I only eat them if I need some fuel and there're not other victuals in site. Happily, I haven't had to make that choice in quite a while. The new New York bars have wonderful food menus. Inventive pickle and olive plates are epidemic, artisinal cheese plates are de rigueur, and pork products (yum) are everywhere.
I co-authored a piece on this trend, with Joshua M. Bernstein, for Time Out New York. The items from Mayahuel, Sweet and Lowdown, Beer Table and Draft Barn are of my origination.
The Best New Bar Food
By Joshua M. Bernstein and Robert Simonson
Pass through the dining room of Anthos to reach Anthos Upstairs (36 W 52nd St between Fifth and Sixth Aves, 212-582-6900), the loungey companion to Michael Psilakis’s high-end Greek destination. Like the setting, the prices are relaxed, offering bargains such as the BFT ($12): luscious pork belly, feta and fresh tomato slices layered on thick griddle-cooked bread.
Eat it with: Try a glass of 2008 Domaine Skouras Zoë rosé ($10). “The agiorgitiko grapes complement the pork’s smokiness,” says owner Donatella Arpaia, “while the moschofilero grapes’ minerality cuts through the richness.”
While brew spot Pacific Standard (82 Fourth Ave between Bergen St and St. Marks Pl, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn; 718-858-1951) is lauded for its Cali beers, the San Francisco–made It’s-It Ice Cream sandwiches ($4) are equally craveable: vanilla ice cream squashed between two oatmeal cookies and coated in chocolate.
Eat it with: Though the Young’s Double Chocolate Stout ($6) is a natural mate, co-owner John Rauschenberg prefers the Anderson Valley Hop Ottin’ IPA ($6) for its “refreshing counterbalance.”
The rustic porky schlenkerla sausages ($16) from Beer Table (427B Seventh Ave between 14th and 15th Sts, Park Slope, Brooklyn; 718-965-1196), served with new potatoes and pickled onions, are among the most satisfyingly earthy of the city’s links.
Eat it with: Smoky sausage calls for a smoky beer. Schlenkerla Marzen ($10) is a beech-wood–tinged example of a German brew genre literally called “smoke beer.” Beer Table’s sausages are made with malt from its brewery, so how could they not go together?
Bar Blanc Bistro
Bar Blanc Bistro (142 W 10th St between Greenwich Ave and Waverly Pl, 212-255-2330) has gotten a revamp, with a new name and a notable bar menu hawking low-cost, high-concept snacks like the addictive crispy pig ears ($6). The swine is first braised in pork stock, white wine and herbs, then sliced into strips and deep-fried. They’re haute cracklings—and an ideal drinking accomplice. Every day except Saturdays, bar snacks and drinks are half off until 7pm.
Eat it with: The dark Grimbergen Dubbel ($7) is a hearty, full-bodied beer with a touch of yeast; smoke and sweetness offset the fried, bacony flavor.
The ample cochinita (pork bellies, $12), braised to juicy, crispy-edged perfection, is one of chef Luis Gonzales’s most ambitious dishes at tequila-focused Mayahuel (304 E 6th St between First and Second Aves, 212-253-5888). It’s also one of the best.
Eat it with: The mescal-laced Slynx ($13) has a bewitching smokiness that contrasts beautifully with the bellies’ sweet papaya-mango mustard.
Photograph: Roxana Marroquin
Chef Akhtar Nawab of the Indian-nuanced Elettaria (33 W 8th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves, 212-677-3833) recently unveiled his very own hot dog ($2.50): a snappy Franken-sausage hewn from pork shoulder and beef brisket, served on a homemade bun.
Eat it with: A Cannonball Run ($12; $6 on weekends from 3 to 8pm), Elettaria’s take on a strawberry daiquiri, has an acidity that balances the spicy meat.
Allen & Delancey
At romantic downtown haunt Allen & Delancey (115 Allen St at Delancey St, 212-253-5400), Tuesday’s half-priced drinks are accompanied by chef Kyle Bailey’s “happy night” menu, offering finger foods such as our favorite “chicken nuggets of offal”—sweetbread poppers ($8). The plump delicacy is coated in panko bread crumbs, then fried to a crunch that contrasts with the lush center and goes awfully well with the creamy buttermilk dressing.
Eat it with: The Jalisco Trail No. 1 ($6.50), bright with blanco tequila and fresh lime juice, is a clean companion to this fried bite.
Ask the bartenders at Gowanus beer palace Draft Barn (530 Third Ave between 12th and 13th Sts, Gowanus, Brooklyn; 718-768-0515) whether pickled herring ($7) is good with beer, and they’ll shrug, “Of course.” Savor one briny morsel, paired with fat slices of onion, and you’ll forswear pretzels forever.
Eat it with: Pauwel Kwak ($9), a fruit-rich Belgian amber, will have you going back and forth between the beer and the herring—compatible in their peasant characters—trying to decide which you like best.
Sweet & Lowdown
Custom pickles are the beer nuts of Obama-era bars. The mixed pickle-and-olive plate ($4) at Lower East Side wine bar Sweet & Lowdown (123 Allen St between Delancey and Rivington Sts, 212-228-7746) is a modest but thoughtful assortment, including tart cornichons, salty kalamatas and meaty caper berries.
Eat it with: High in acidity, pickles work with a surprising number of wines. But the smooth, melon notes of the Amrita Cuvee ($12), a complex white blend out of Oregon, counter the tang particularly well.