Raleigh restaurants are raising the bar on bar snacks.
“Small plates” have gone from buzz words to standard menu fare, but an even smaller plate is making its presence known: the bar snack. Restaurants around Raleigh are stepping up their bar games by offering a separate food menu; this not only means better bar dining options, but it also gives diners the chance to experience a chef’s cooking style or try a more upscale restaurant without the expense or to-do.
“I think we are alienating a certain demographic that has the desire to come to a more well-rounded restaurant like ours and be able to experience it in a more casual manner and not have a reservation or get dressed up,” says chef de cuisine Jake Wood of 18 Seaboard, which offers small plates, raw options and shareables, in addition to entrees, in hopes of appealing to everyone.
From fine-dining gems to ramen shops to steakhouses, these three restaurant bars are putting as much emphasis on their bar snacks as they are on drinks. Stop in soon for a bit of snappy snacking.
18 Seaboard’s bar snack menu showcases chef-owner Jason Smith’s refined Southern cuisine and penchant for impeccably sourced ingredients executed with chef de cuisine Jake Wood’s creative flair. Highlights include barbecue popcorn, where Geechie Boy Mill indigo blue kernels are popped in bacon fat, tossed with a Maui sweet onion barbecue dry rub and finished with Sea Love Sea Salt Co.’s sea salt and crumbled country ham; duck BBQ buns, featuring warm bao stuffed with duck confit and finished with Alabama white barbecue sauce, micro chervil and puffed farro piccolo, another heirloom grain from Geechie Boy Mill; and broiled N.C. Core Sounders oysters topped with house made pimento cheese and prosciutto. Fuel your snack party with either the strawberry-rhubarb sangria, punched up with strawberry vodka, or a blood orange margarita, bolstered with blood orange rind syrup.
With its rich wood tones, clean lines and mason jar-lined shelves, Mandolin feels like the chic-est farmhouse ever, which is fitting as the menu features ingredients from chef-owner Sean Fowler’s farm. The farm-to-table vibes extend to the bar too, with a menu that marries Fowler’s fine dining finesse and creative riffs on Southern cuisine, including a bar-setting charcuterie board with silky chicken liver pâté and head cheese, plus pickled components such as celery or fermented cucamelons. Pair it with The Farmer’s Daughter, a spring-ready gin fizz crafted with a strawberry-beet shrub. The mix-and-match bar plates menu is also a highlight (and a steal)—$15 gets you a craft beer (try Lynwood Brewing Concern’s Czech Yourself pilsner), and either a main dish, such as the pimento cheese bacon burger, or two sides including hand cut French fries showered with duck fat and malt vinegar powders and airy pork rinds with a side of ranch dressing, which gets a tangy umami hit from smoked, fermented collard stems.
Sullivan’s Steakhouse is best known for its Flinstonian bone-in steaks and seafood-inspired fare, but its new bar menu offers a bite-size taste of the steakhouse experience. Try the truffle steak tartare, where chopped raw beef redolent of earthy truffles is piled onto challah toast rounds and topped with a one-two crunch of cornichons and pickled shallots. Or try the tuna poke shooters, served atop English cucumber rounds arranged on a dramatic pink salt block. Pair these with the Fig Rosemary Smash, where Rémy Martin VSOP Cognac mingles with lemon and herbal Bittermens Scarborough bitters, garnished with a fresh rosemary sprig and spoonful of fig preserves. Take advantage of $7 shared bar bites, signature cocktails and select wines during happy hour Thursdays and Sundays from 4:30 p.m. until close.