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Friday, Aug 22, 2014
The Sip

The Sip: And the Snacky Award for best bar food goes to ...

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I come now before you to praise bar food.

It’s a forgotten art, it seems to me, to provide great eats to go along with outstanding sips. Too many bars, lounges and pubs think throwing a bowl of pretzels or wasabi peas in front of you covers the territory. I consider those an insult to the drinking public.

Recently, I’ve been reminded how much better adult beverages taste when bites of well-prepared food ride shotgun.

Verily I say unto you, I really like the crispy-fried Mac Balls at Brewers’ Tasting Room on Fourth Street in St. Petersburg.

I’ve eaten fried macaroni and cheese before. And I am a fan of all food in ball form.

What made these succulent treats special was that they were served with a cider orange marmalade dunking sauce that was such a perfect sidekick, I considered making a batch to slather the skin of my Thanksgiving turkey.

I KNOW, RIGHT?

The bar’s brisket sandwich was moist and tender. Their basket of parsley steak fries with garlic aioli would be the perfect late-night snack in a state where marijuana is legal to inhale. It didn’t hurt that I was washing it all down with 7venth Sun double IPA. But the balls, my goodness, they were outstanding.

Which got me to thinking about other wonderful bar food I’ve found in the area:

Goat cheese truffles with Medjool dates, foie gras, fenel pollen and citrus at Edison Food + Drink Lab in Tampa. Their escargot with a cippolini onion crostini and black garlic bagna càuda is also magnificently droolworthy.

The Dr. Pepper fried baby back ribs with sweet chili sauce and sesame slaw at Z Grille in St. Petersburg. Not only do the ribs make great bar grub, they’re one of my favorite dishes ever.

The deviled egg flight at Anise Global Gastrobar in downtown Tampa, with blue cheese and bacon and curried crab flavors.

Duck fat fries at Dough in south Tampa. The potato wedges are first baked and then fried to a crisp in duck fat before being served with confit-roasted garlic aioli. Not to put too fine a point on it: They are my spirit animal.

The Tater Tots “Dauphine” at Domani Bistro & Lounge in Seminole Heights. Delicate and crispy, they’re even better when dunked in house-made curry ketchup and washed down with one of the bar’s amazing craft cocktails.

The pork-fried Marcona almonds at Cru Cellars in South Tampa. Served with applewood-smoked bacon and dusted with ancho chili, sea salt and lime, they make me want to drink a cellar full of wine. Which, if you think about it, is the entire plan.

The pates, sausages, salamis, hams, cheeses and cured and smoked fish at Mise en Place’s First Flight Wine Bar in Tampa International Airport. If you have to be inappropriately frisked by government workers in the name of public safety, you might as well make your mouth exceedingly happy.

“Pig wings” — fried pork shanks — at The Stein & Vine in Brandon. I dare you to decide among the Sriracha Ranch, Habanero BBQ, Latin Lime, Teriyaki Chili or Buffalo dipping sauces. I dare you.

Louisiana oyster shooters with tomatoes, cilantro and jalapenos in tomato lime mojito at Red Mesa Cantina in downtown St. Petersburg. These are technically a foodstuff and a cocktail, which makes them a highly efficient delicious use of taste buds.

I would, if I could, bestow each of these esteemed spots a golden Snacky Award for great achievements in the appetizer arts. But trophies cost a lot of money. Until I hit it big in scratch-off lottery tickets, they’ll have to make due with my undying love and endless appetite for their goodness.

jhouck@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7324

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