By Lauren Passell
Special to CNN
(CNN) — Stale, contaminated nuts and pretzels served in a culture dish are standard fare in most bars.
But some establishments across the country aren’t only taking their countertop cuisine to new levels — bomboloni, gougères, croque monsieur! — they’ve decided to give it patrons on the house.
Gratis bar food may be a dying tradition in some quarters, but we found a number of joints that don’t care about cost or mess, opting to dry your whistle before they wet it. Here are ten of the finest, for starters. Serve us up your own favorites.
1. Crunch-fried hominy
Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, Miami
While fried chicken is the star at this James Beard-recognized Southern indulgery, the crunch-fried hominy is the snack that keeps drinkers sated, free of charge.
Chef Jeff McInnis provides a menu packed with other cuisine beloved by ladies and gents who are more than picky when it comes to Southern food.
1600 Lenox Ave.; 305-538-5220; www.runchickenrun.com
No. 9 Park, Boston
If you haven’t tried a gougères, yet — a baked savory choux pastry of dough and
cheese — it’s time you started.
You can test your taste buds for free at No. 9 Park in Boston They’re so good you’d gladly pay for them — except you don’t have to.
9 Park St.; 617-742-9991; www.no9park.com
Cucina di Pesce, New York
Free nuts and popcorn tell you you’re in a dive bar, but free mussels? That’s classy.
Cucina di Pesce has been serving them up with the purchase of a beverage for more than 20 years, and with restaurants suspending their free-food deals left and right, those mussels taste all the sweeter. (Well, saltier. You know what we mean.)
87 E. Fourth St.; 212-260-6800; www.cucinadipesce.com
4. Truffle arancini
Dovetail, New York
Guests at Dovetail’s bar are served a complimentary snack trio consisting of a truffle arancini, a whole wheat rosemary cracker and house-made white cheddar cornbread. Dainty and delicious, it’s served on a wooden cheese board from chef John Fraser.
103 West 77th St.; 212-362-3800; www.dovetailnyc.com
5. Bomboloni with vanilla ice cream, pasta, mortadella focaccia
SD26, New York
The people at SD26 must love their customers, because each night they offer them homemade bomboloni with vanilla ice cream and pasta in the wine bar, beginning at 10 p.m. For the four hours before that, they offer tasty little squares of homemade focaccia with Italian Mortadella.
19 E. 26th St.; 212-265-5959; www.sd26ny.com
6. Peanut Bomb
AJ Bomber’s, Milwaukee
Any bar can serve free peanuts, but only one has set up a “P-nut delivery system,” which shoots legumes to various sections of the bar via overhead zip line. It’s possible to situate your open mouth under the P-nut Bomb bay doors, though it’s not recommended.
And the shells? Just throw ’em on the floor — it’s what everyone else does.
See the P-nut delivery system in action here.
1247 N. Water St.; 414-221-9999; www.ajbombers.com
7. Hot pretzels
OAK at Fourteenth, Boulder, Colo.
Copious amounts of butter and fried goodness are promised at this New American spot, where bursting flavors are the culinary norm.
Starting at 10:45 p.m., patrons can sample hot, fresh-baked pretzels made in its wood-fired oven. Chef Steve Redzikowski bakes only 12 each Thursday, Friday and Saturday, however, so you have to arrive early to be among the lucky ones.
1400 Pearl St.; 303-444-3622; www.oakatfourteenth.com
8. Rosemary popcorn
Hatfield’s, Los Angeles
One of the top restaurants in L.A., according to Zagat, this super-romantic spot is known for its imaginative dishes, and its rosemary-hinted popcorn is no exception. It’s an unexpected (free) treat for patrons at the bar.
6703 Melrose Ave.; 323-935-2977; www.hatfieldsrestaurant.com
9. Gourmet nut mixes
Lucy Restaurant & Bar, Yountville, Calif.
At Lucy’s, chef Victor Scargle serves snacks you’ve never tasted before, like cayenne/chili flake and kaffir lime popcorn, sweet energy trail mix made with butter toffee nuts, peanuts, cashews, pecans, almonds, chocolate and raisins, and the Guadalajara trail mix made of rice crackers, peanuts, sesame sticks, almonds, sunflower seeds, toasted corn and spices.
6526 Yount St.; 707-204-6030; www.bardessono.com
10. Pasta e fagioli
Capo’s, San Francisco
Most bar snacks are considered finger foods, but this delicacy from Capo’s is served up with a spoon, in a stainless steel bowl. The traditional Italian soup is full of garlic, macaroni, beans, carrots, cabbage and flavorful chicken broth.
641 Vallejo St; 415-986-8998; www.sfcapos.com
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