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What is the most unusual food instead of bread served at a restaurant?

Recently I went to an establishment (the West Bank Cafe, NYC) that I really liked--and I loved the olives and crisp bread with hummus served instead of traditional white bread and butter before the meal.

As a kid, I adored the Ground Round--and the popcorn on the table, which complimented the silent films that ran on the screens around the room.

One seafood place I used to eat at served oyster crackers, and cocktail and tartar sauce (Evelyn's), as well as corn muffins, and another called Bahr's served buttermilk biscuits & coleslaw. Port wine cheese and pumpernickle bread and breadsticks at another place called Squire's Pub I ate as a kid, as it was quite an 'old style' restaurant that served relish trays with olives and cottage cheese.

I also recall a deli called Richard's that served pickles, elbow mac salad, coleslaw--and

Mints at the end were always a nice touch, and as a kid I also remember getting a chocolate turkey lollypop for free at the end of a meal at Squire's Pub, my favorite part of the night ;)

Any other interesting freebies people have gotten or interesting bread basket substitutes?

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  1. local chinese place that is unfortunately no longer around (unfortunately it seems that most floridians prefer buffet chinese to the real thing) used to serve a small bowl of sweet and hot pickled vegetables, they were a wonderful starter to a great meal.

    1 Reply
    1. re: willdupre

      Korean places usually serves an array of pickled vegetables, kim chee, preserved turnips, marinated bean sprout, tofu etc.

    2. This isn't unusual, but the seasoned pita bread with olive spread is practically a meal in itself at the local greek place.

      1. When we ate at Aquaknox, they had smoked salmon "pate" and grissinis

        1. When we moved to New Hampshire back in the 90s, restaurants routinely served commercially packaged crackers with cottage cheese. Now we get amuse-bouches.

          1. Not too sure if overseas references apply here, but:

            La Régalade (Paris, 14e, area Montparnasse) will put in your table a full terrine of excellent paté de campagne the moment you sit down.


            1. Sweetwaters (on Long Island NY) used to serve mini soft preztels and cheese (fresh, not processed) dipping sauce. Nice change of pace.

              1. Not so much unusual, but I enjoy the dishes of olives, pickles, and pickled garlic that Jaleo (tapas restaurant) sets out on the table when you are seated.

                When I was younger I always loved going to a restaurant called Harpoon Hannah's in OC MD because the waitstaff walked around with a bread basket and in it were the most delicious coconut muffins.

                And if memory serves me correctly, at one restaurant in NYC instead of butter they served a sweet potatoe puree with the bread.

                1. roy's on the big island served a tomato based puree with their bread. different type of bread too more scone like than bread with a definite texture.

                  1. The Lodge at Castle Hills in San Antonio, TX serves goat cheese with olive oil and herbs with a selection of breads (which while not a big change from bread and butter is worlds away from the typical chips and salsa you get at most restaurants in SA!).

                    China Rose in Rhinebeck, NY serves crispy little won ton ships with dipping sauces.

                    Most restaurants in Lisbon, Portugal have a nice spread of sausages, olives, cheese and bread when you sit down at the table... and since anything you are given without ordering in the US is free, we were surprised when they showed up on the bill.

                    1. A now defunct restaurant in Chicago called Cucina Bella used to bring out a tray of things which included battered, deep-fried olives to munch on while waiting for your meal. I'm trying to remember the other items, but the olives are the only thing that I can remember at the moment.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: LabRat

                        There was a place in Denver called the Old Heidelberg Inn. They had a full blown relish tray, salad, and a pot of incredible split pea soup, all included in the meal. This was in the 1970's.

                        1. re: Phaedrus

                          Bastien's in Denver service thin, crispy breaksticks with compound butter. New York Deli News serves bowls of dill pickle spears. El Rancho in Evergreen serves a veggie plate with jimaca and cornichons and a red onion dip.
                          In our part of Mexico, most restaurants have a bowl of carrots, onions, garlic and manzano peppers in eschebeche or vinegar on the table. If they serve bread, it's accompanied with hot sauce, not butter. There are several restaurants in Patzcuaro that serve a complimentary guacamole salad with chicharrons instead of chips.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          On a similar note, I've gotten free edamame at restaurants before. Perfect munchies.

                        2. - A dish of southern caviar and a basket of toasted pita triangles for scooping
                          - The corn muffins and biscuits at the Cracker Barrel (with apple butter, of course)
                          - Favorite local soul food joint: mini corn muffins and hush-puppies
                          - Now defunct restaurant in the Mother Lode of California: fresh foccacia with a head of roasted garlic and a cruet of artisinal olive oil for drizzling
                          - Local BBQ place offers a corn bread (individual small loaf, IIRC) with blueberries mixed in
                          - Small restaurant in Nebraska that served a loaf of warm zucchini bread and fresh, unsalted butter
                          - Local sushi place that serves a dish of edamame, another of bean sprouts in a toasted sesame oil, and a third of a seaweed salad for noshing
                          - Bagel/sandwich shop in Orlando (long out of business) that served thin toasted bagels chips and a small dish of flavored cream cheese to those dining-in

                          1. in v. rural washington state - the local chinese restaurant serves SALTINES and pats of MARGARINE before the dishes come out. yummy! i feel like they used to serve butter but i can't remember.

                            1. While working in Detroit, I used to enjoy Carl's Chop House, not only for the great steaks, but also for the complimentary relish tray that included fabulous watermelon pickles, which I'd never had anywhere else.

                              A lot of Italian restaurants in the greater Toronto area will serve some type of artisan bread - olive loaf, focaccia, etc. - and generally with extra virgin olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar instead of butter.

                              1. Weber's in Ann Arbor has matzah in the bread basket, which I loved, but thought was really weird. It's not a Jewish restaurant, or even an area with a large Jewish population. I asked the waiter about it and he had no idea why the owner decided to include it. I just devoured it and thought about Passover :)

                                1. Tope of the River, Albertville, Alabama...cole slaw, cornbread and the best pickled onions I've ever had. Great apps for the fried catfish to come...