Bar food contemplation at Big Whiskey's | Rock Candy

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Bar food contemplation at Big Whiskey's

Posted By on Tue, Apr 7, 2015 at 9:18 AM

click to enlarge BAR BRAWL: Should bar food like The Bigger Dipper from Big Whiskey's be held to a different standard? - MICHAEL ROBERTS
  • Michael Roberts
  • BAR BRAWL: Should bar food like The Bigger Dipper from Big Whiskey's be held to a different standard?

So let's talk a minute about expectations, which can season the food you eat almost as well as a pinch of salt and fresh cracked pepper. Walking into your local McDonald's comes with a different set of expectations from walking into, say, Table 28 or One Eleven. Those are, of course, extremes—pretty easy to differentiate between a Big Mac and a filet topped with foie gras

Things get tougher when it comes to the numerous mid-range restaurants around town. And expectations are perhaps toughest to manage at bars. There's always the question: Should bad or mediocre bar food get cut a break because bars are primarily drinking spots? Or should they be judged just like anyone else since they're taking our hard-earned dollars in return for serving up menu items of the decidedly non-potent potable variety.

I honestly don't have an answer, but saying "Well, it's OK...for bar food" seems to be the route that most people take with it. I do it, too.

Which brings me to Big Whiskey's and the Bigger Dipper, a sort of hybrid cross between a French dip and a Philly cheese steak. Touted as a tantalizing combination of grilled steak tenderloin, melted provolone, and sauteed onions and mushrooms, the resulting sandwich certainly bears a passing resemblance to a combination of those things, but there was absolutely nothing about the sandwich that made me ever want to eat another one. The "tenderloin" was spongy and overcooked, the onions mushy—and I had to ask my server for my menu-promised side of au jus. 

But it's bar food, right? Why would I go to a bar expecting anything else? Perhaps that's the right way to think. Or maybe it's time for all of us to rethink bar food altogether.

How do we elevate bar cuisine? A very easy step: Strip down the menus. I've gotten to the point where if I sit down to a restaurant that can't fit its food offerings on one page, I start getting nervous. We have gotten too used to sacrificing quality for dozens of choices; this must stop. Why smaller menus? It allows restaurants to focus on doing a select few things wonderfully instead of a host of mediocre, forgettable swill. Cooks that have to prep for fewer dishes have more time to make things taste good. Servers have an easier time learning the dishes. Fresh food becomes easier to source because buying bulk ingredients for only a few dishes helps control food costs. Morale improves, food improves — the customer experience improves. Even at a bar.

Am I slamming Big Whiskey's for my sandwich? Not at all—it was exactly what I expected it to be. What I am slamming is the system that allows such expectations to flourish—we, the eating public, have demanded multiple choices for so long and so loudly that we've effectively fast-food-bastardized places that could probably do better. Unfortunately, if you're taking time out of your day to read a food blog, you probably aren't the people that need to hear this—but you can lead conversations with others. I don't know if we'll ever banish "it's ok for bar food" from our vocabularies, but each time we're able to, that's a victory for delicious living.

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