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Your favorite bar/pub food...Traditional and Unique...

Interested in ideas for a small community wateriing hole. Looking for the best of traditional bar foods, i.e. best wing sauces, variations on pub fries. As well as unique and different. itens that help a joint stand out.

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  1. I think it would be far more unique to have menu items that aren't standard bar food...something a little more upscale, or perhaps more interesting is a better way to put it. Flatbreads with a variety of toppings, lamb lollipops, anchovy fries, guacamole stack (sort of a deconstructed guacamole), grilled caesar salad, etc.

    1. Besides alcohol, the one thing that will keep people coming back is good service and high quality food. So my suggestion would be to start with a simple menu and try to stick to fresh ingredients as much as possible.

      That being said, perhaps try to create "healthier" and fresher interpretations of classic pub food.
      In addition to chicken fingers, jalapeno poppers or fried mushrooms, why not serve chicken skewers such as a satay or a yakitori, roasted jalapenos with goat cheese, and broiled mushrooms with crab stuffing. Buffalo and tuna burgers in addition to the standard beef. Use chicken thigh instead of breasts for sandwiches. Custom made salads have been the rage in NYC for awhile and highly profitable. And think about a signature dish. What is the best local protein you could get your hands on?

      Not sure about your demographic or location, both of which are important to suggest menu items.

      1. I've been obsessing over stouts lately, and it seems that great selections of stouts on tap are often found at "gastropubs." I'm really drawn to this because (being a Hound) I find great food and great drink are two pillars leaning on each other. It got me to post this inquiry for fellow LA Hounds to post on gastropubs or anything similar to these in feel:


        Roy Choi, a local notable in the LA food scene (is credited with starting the food truck craze by introducing Kogi). He recently helped start up A-Frame - a former International House of Pancakes building refitted pimped up to offer some great drinks and food to go along with it. Here's my take:


        And here's their menu:


        Don't know of anything like this place myself. But if it becomes a blueprint for many more to come, I'm all for it - just be sure to offer lunch on weekends. :)

        1. I was in a pub in Philly a year or two ago with friends. We ordered some fried food plate--it was mostly very thin fried onion rings that were good. But the star of the plate was the fried leeks. They were amazing. We still talk about them on occasion. I also had fried Brussels sprouts recently, leaves pulled apart, not the whole sprout fried. They were also tasty. Sorry to focus on the fried; I don't even like a lot of it. I just remember being happy to see something a bit different in both of those places.

          1 Reply
          1. re: debbiel

            Fried leeks or shallots would be awesome

            And NO SYSCO ONION RINGS or other fried components. If you're going to fry stuff, fresh is the only possible way. Don't cheap out.

            Also interesting dips for said fried foods...aiolis or such

            House made veg chips a la Terra chips?

            Depending on your area, some Indian offerings could be unique, like samosas or stuffed breads, and they aren't terribly hard to make.

          2. All suggestions so far sound good! Although it depends on locatin and expectation of area .

            1. An Irish pub near me has the traditional fare and then has some delicious other choices. Appetizers such as crab cakes, curried spring rolls, three varieties of wings, four varieties of fries, Irish nachos made with corned beef, homemade fresh potato chips (these are incredible and you can order them spicy), hummus and pita and a variety of different salads and sandwiches. The key is variety and keeping the prices within reason.

              10 Replies
              1. re: jhopp217

                A REALLY good hearty French Onion Soup! (or pick a "signature" soup and go with it)
                And I mean a good one! Home made stuff, not the crap from a powder or institutional supplier

                A GREAT Burger! The burger itself has to be really good, get fancy with it all you want but if the meat is sub-par all the “prettying up” you do won’t make it a good burger

                Along the fried leeks train of thought, there was also a brew-pub in philly a few years ago that had a basket of three fries: all very thin, shoestring cuts, of sweet potato, white potato and fried leeks…man were they good!

                A vegan or vegetarian option other than “salad” is always a good idea.

                Have your standard fare but also have seasonal dishes which showcase what’s in season.

                Mussels, offered in a few ways, served with good crusty dense bread

                Put a cheese plate of some kind on the menu. Depending on the type of pub you want to be, scale it up or down.

                1. re: cgarner

                  re: the vegetarian option, can I add to that, something other than the "stir-fry" ? I never know why this is on pub menus, it always looks so out of place. I'd say if you're going to offer a burger, might as well put together a signature meat-free version as well. Again though, depends on your location etc.

                  But yet, still have a good salad. Maybe something boozy :)

                  1. re: im_nomad

                    Agreed on the stir-fry. And let's throw pasta primavera on the "please no" list, too. If we're talking pub food, you could go with one of my favorite bar sandwiches. An almost reuben. Instead of the corned beef or pastrami, use a grilled portobello mushroom or sauteed creminis.

                    Have a salad with some chickpeas or other beans, so that there's a filling "entree salad" for the veg*ns.

                    1. re: im_nomad

                      While a nice bowl of mussels with some nice crusty bread is always delicious, it's become very common and a very little ordered dish in most pubs. I like the cheese plate idea personally, but can you see a bunch of uber-males sitting watching a game spreading brie onto a cracker? I also think that a few places go a little crazy with the veggie dishes. It's a bar, people aren't normally looking to watch their figure. Don't get me wrong, I love the pear salad at the place I watch football games at (and have had my share of ribbing), but honestly, you have a good burger, cheap wings that are tasty and some other bar snacks and you're good. Treat the people right, don't bang them over the head and make it a comfortable place to relax on a weekend or night and you'll have a hit.

                      1. re: jhopp217

                        Meat-free doesn't necessarily mean "healthy". And really it depends on the type of bar, it sounds as though you're more so describing a sports bar. Regardless, you do have to have something to appeal to a good few people, not just the "uber males". They do let the gals in the bars nowadays ;)

                        1. re: im_nomad

                          The OP made it sound as though it was as he put it, a local watering hole. Those tend to be the places where people gather to watch sports. I have no problem with the fancy recommendations people have mentioned, but based on the post, I believe they are speaking about a place to grab a burger and some wings and wants to know how to differentiate their places from the average place. I was at a place this week that was strictly this. Irish pub with burgers, Irish fare, salads and then wings....30 varieties! The place was mobbed and everyone was eating wings.

                          1. re: jhopp217

                            Hmm...disagree with "local watering hole"= place to watch sports. It may or may not, but I think most places in our town considered watering holes are not actually places people go to watch sports. Whichever though, veg*n and/or healthy not bad for a sports place either. I was at a sports bar for hours and hours on Sunday watching football. I really wish there had been some healthy food choices.

                            1. re: debbiel

                              One thing I find funny about my "football place" is that when you order wings on any other day, they come with carrots and celery. On Sundays they have 25 cent wings and don't give them veggies. I always wondered what if I just asked for the veggies what they would charge me.

                      2. re: im_nomad

                        Nice vegetarian option is a plate of beautiful house-pickled veg.. cheeses, and herbed flatbread with oil. My own personal pubfood is fried chicken livers with honey mustard: plebeian, but yum.
                        For a veg. main, what about some beautiful thin-crusted pizzas with unusual ingredients?

                        1. re: mamachef

                          Ooh, I love the idea of the house pickled veg, cheese, flatbread plate!!

                  2. Favorite bar food -- onion rings done really, really well. They're more rare than I would ever have suspected.

                    Other favorite food to have at such a spot -- an awesome & distinctive grilled cheese sandwich.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: KTFoley

                      Absolutely agree on a really fine onion ring! And with the rarity of same - I've been searching for years and only been impressed a handful of times. Why is it so difficult? If I found a little pub-grub place with fantastic onion rings, I'd be very loyal. Probably excessively loyal.

                        1. re: cayjohan

                          Agree about the awesomeness and rarity of hand-sliced onion rings. If the french fries were also hand-sliced and you could charge accordingly for both, it might be worth it. But I'd consider the labor Vs. what you can charge and what customers might expect. When I was growing up my family had a small restaurant with hand-sliced rings on the menu, we did big tubs of them, people loved them. But they were labor-intensive for what you could reasonably charge for 'em. And as the fries were not hand-sliced (this was in the 80's and a small-town place, people wouldn't expect hand-sliced fries or want to pay much for them) it would be noticable to charge that much more for the ORs. When my dad tried to take them off the menu people revolted and he reluctantly had to put them back on. They were great, though.

                          For the pub, I'll add my rec for deviled eggs.

                        2. re: KTFoley

                          Great onion rings are rare. And at times the standard, frozen order is way overpriced imho.

                        3. How far you can successfully innovate really depends on the community in which you are situated and the customer base you will be serving. Gastropub fare does well in urban areas with a young professional population, but it's not necessarily going to do as well in an older, more established community.

                          What I look for in a bar menu is nothing extreme: good wings, exceptional onion rings (made from scratch with a shatteringly crisp shell), cheese sticks and a reasonable beer and bourbon list. Some unique options I've encountered while traveling have been Southwestern eggrolls, duck fat French fries (often served with various sauces), Indian-spiced chicken wings and tater tot nachos. If you personalize classic dishes, you can make your place have a signature that stands out without rocking the boat.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: JungMann

                            I really agree with what you mean with location. Out of the 4 or 5 gastropubs that opened near me only 1 is left. They did not take the demographics in to account.,,,

                            In general, cgarner , had a great point. Every unique bar MUST have a signature dish. A dish done extermely well!! That sets a standard for the rest of the menu. There is a DIVE bar located in my area, that has great hot bacon dressing. That dressing rounds up Doctors, Laywers, Drunks, Bums.... all in the same place. Also, IMHO, Wings are a window into a bars soul. You can alot about the bar from the wings. If you are going to skimp or go half -hearted with wings, just do not offer them.

                          2. One very simple dish that stands out in my mind from a pub was basically an appetizer of mushrooms in wine and garlic, with bread. They were delicious.

                            Another was fried pickles, not something seen regularly, at least around here.

                            And another, was some kind of bruschetta bread, was basically a circular loaf with the toppings baked right into it, a pull-apart sort of thing. I don't know what exactly it was they did with it, but it was soooo good, might have had something to do with all the oil or butter that graced the pan. Baked to order, if memory serves.

                            I agree with the cheese offerings, and local smoked fish, sausage, or preserves or something. Even a beer bread with some baked brie is nice.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: im_nomad

                              Fried dill pickle chips and a good homemade ranch dressing would be delicious.

                            2. The key to my heart is a delicious, homemade soft pretzel. This is another item that I don't find nearly as often as I would like, and I don't know why. The Hopcat in Grand Rapids, MI has a great one to go with their amazing beer selection. Actually, their whole menu is pretty near my ideal for what I'd like to see when I'm in the mood for pub food: http://www.hopcat.com/main/Menu.aspx. Also, Brown's Brewing Company in Troy, NY has a great soft pretzel, and again a pretty good pub menu: http://www.brownsbrewing.com/taproom

                              1 Reply
                              1. One of the benchmarks for me on any appetizer menu, not just in a bar, is a well executed calamari fritti. Real squid, WITH tentacles, with a crispy, but not greasy crust. Sounds simple, but as with the rings discussion, not easy to deliver. Extra points if some veggies, like green beans, bell peppers and jalepenos are added to the platter.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: KatoK

                                  Ding ding ding....this is the winner. Good call Kato.

                                  I would also add quality mussels but nothing better than good fried squid.

                                2. English pub food is frequently, a Ploughman's Lunch - a good hunk of French stick, mature cheddar, Branston Pickle, pickled onions and a side salad. Also seen is Shepherd's Pie, Steak and Kidney or Mushroom Pie and of course Fish and Chips. Most pubs these days have a chicken curry and rice (British staple).

                                  1. #1 Don't have mediocre food. It drives me crazy how many restaurants, pubs etc. have bland or even bad food. Have multiple people taste your food and people who are honest. That being said I was at a gastropub Saturday night and had devils on horsback, with a twist the dates were stuffed with feta before being wrapped in bacon and skewered. It was so good. Good luck!

                                    1. Pennsylvania Dutch style: Pickled eggs and sausage in gallon jug on the bar. Behind the bar: a large ham and roast beef, good rolls, mustard and horseradish for great sandwiches. Meat remains for pea and onion soups.
                                      Don't forget a dart board!

                                      9 Replies
                                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                                        I like the way you think!
                                        I do love the "old man" bars that have the really good roast beef sandwiches served by the bartender, with a little crock of REAL horseradish, a pickle and chips.
                                        A little pilsner glass of lager and you're set

                                        1. re: cgarner

                                          Make that Yuengling's. Serve chow chow relish on the side too.

                                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                                            After a *very* bad day after last week's bad week at work, I am enjoying my Yuengling right now while escaping into Chow World.

                                            Pickled eggs, garlic pickles, roast beef with hot horseradish on a hard on the outside, doughy on the inside roll. Ham and german mustard on a crusty rye. I knew I should have gone to the bar tonight.

                                            And cg--no to the "little" pilsner glass--full size please and keep it coming (of course, call a cab).

                                            1. re: gaffk

                                              I'm a veg*n, and I want that food. Yum. <sigh> (And hope you have a better week)

                                              1. re: debbiel

                                                Thanks debbiel; I too hope I have a better week ;)

                                                My niece is a vegan--try the garlic pickles (slice a cucumber, put it in the fridge in a bowl with salt, pepper, vinegar, water and lots of garlic and let sit 2+ days). Wash down with plenty of ice water, which is what I really drink on good days.

                                          2. re: cgarner

                                            I love the idea of this kind of retro-Central PA bar as a model. I would ask, however, if you would be kind enough to indulge the old men around here and refer to the places, as well as their denizens, as anachronisms or, at least, throwbacks. (For those who have never actually been in such a place, think first half of "The Deer Hunter.")

                                            A place like that could really work in Philly even though it may very well have a more advanced advanced beer and gastropub culture than any other East Coast city. Sell the down-homey, nostalgic vibe with some updated beers on tap, classic carving station meats, in-house pickled stuff and beef jerky in jars on the counter, cheesesteaks from a flattop in the back, definately no salads - fries and rings are the only non-meat items. I'm there.

                                            The only drawback would be that day, which would inevitably arrive, I'd be sitting at the bar, quietly watching a late-May Pirates - Mets game when I would notice the light from the door opening behind me. My ears assaulted by the shrill sound of, "OH MY GOD, this place is exactly just like the place that my Grandpa used to like sneak into . . . ."

                                            1. re: MGZ

                                              I described Gus Bold's Buffalo Inn in Schnecksville, Pa. in the late 60's. In McAdoo, the bars are the converted living rooms of peoples houses, w/ home cooking; very homey. We play "bar golf", going from hole to hole when we visit;n all done on foot. We do the same thing in Sayreville and South River, NJ.

                                              1. re: MGZ

                                                Pirates-Mets in Philly? Perish the thought!

                                                1. re: gaffk

                                                  What can I say, I wanted an afternoon with the place to myself.

                                          3. Can't take credit for this recipe but I pay attention to food shows and had never seen this done and have already suggested it to a few bar/pubs in the area that I visit and it is selling. Guy's DD&D had it on an episode and they ran over it quick but after a few rewinds to write it down to make it myself, and I loved it because it was new and tasted great, before I passed it on. Don't know what he called them but it was:

                                            10-12 Tater Tots
                                            1 pickled Jalapeno Slice per tot
                                            Each one rolled in Half Bacon Slice
                                            Toothpicked to hold together
                                            Deep-Fried until bacon almost done
                                            Strained of excess oil/fat.
                                            Cover with melting cheese blend in dish
                                            Broil until cheese melts
                                            Serve with dipping sauce...No sure what...Does it matter? There's BACON!!!


                                            2 Replies
                                              1. re: jeanmarieok

                                                And I love fried dill pickle chips and I make them at home all the time!!!

                                            1. Not quite sure how something can be both "traditional" and "unique/different"; that sounds contradictory to me. You mentioned that only 1 of 5 gastropubs have succeeded in your area; certainly they're a solid trend in many areas—in fact, I would increasingly not call them a trend but rather a way of eating we're getting used to, like small plates. Have you been able to pinpoint why the one has done okay where the others did not? What is that place doing right?

                                              I'd spend a lot of time researching the menus of the kinds of places you're interested in, plain and simple. Among the things I think good gastropubs do best: housemade charcuterie and pickles. Fancy loaded fries. Fun things like Scotch eggs and pot pies. Agreed with the moules frites, and of course a stellar burger is a must.


                                              14 Replies
                                              1. re: tatamagouche

                                                I stated in my area that the gastropub sdid not thrive. Demographics played a huge part of the failure. You must base a menu on your audience... inless you live in a diverse, high pop area taking chances will not pay off. Western PA , subs of Pittsburgh, do not want to spend $15 for a small plate of anything...Of course I fork over the $ for a good quality meal, but i am a minority.

                                                1. re: Augie6

                                                  I don't think the gastropub model is one that will be very profitable in many places. Here at the Shore, it's certainly the drinks that make the money. If the owner chooses to dilute her profits by spending more on quality food, God bless her, but the purpose of a bar is to sell booze and lots of it. The food is to make 'em thirsty enough, and sober enough, to drink more.

                                                  1. re: MGZ

                                                    I don't think the OP's statement was that clear at all—it wasn't to me, anyway. So thanks for clarifying.

                                                    Agreed about demographics, but I'm wondering why that one has survived; again, what is it doing that the others didn't?

                                                    Agreed with your point, too, MGZ, though it's the drinks that make the money at the majority of establishments.

                                                    Anyway, the OP states he/she wants this place to "stand out." Does that mean making exceptional versions of traditional items, offering some quirky items, a combination of both? If things like housemade charcuterie are out, certainly you can do excellent dips, flatbreads, deviled eggs (as Niblet pointed out), etc...

                                                    There are a couple of gastropubs here in Denver that do a really good job on the pubbier side of the spectrum (as well as some that thrive on the gastro-ier side). If the former is what the OP is looking at, these menus may be of interest:


                                                    1. re: tatamagouche

                                                      I think the "1" that survived is still around because they do it very well. The have a huge variety of craft brews , that certainly helps thier cause. I would also say 75% of thier food is top notch. they grabbed ( and marketed too) the young professional crowd . It also very interesting tapas style food, not the usually town fair. The only down fall that might effect them in the future, is there is NO COMFORT FOOD ON MENU..... At every bar drinking establishment, there MUST BE A COMFORT Options, even though i really enjoy getting a fig compote glazed duck skewrs,.... I want to see a "every day " item on the menu --- want a steak sandwhich or wings ..

                                                      1. re: Augie6

                                                        Interesting--agreed. A gastropub really is supposed to be about comfort food, executed with quality ingredients and careful technique. Otherwise it's not a pub. Yes, there will be some contemporary twists, but the bottom line is the food has to pair well with good beer!

                                                    2. re: MGZ

                                                      While it doesn't always work, bars / pubs can have a bit of chameleon quality about them, in the right places. aka, drawing a pretty consistent lunch crowd, hosting dart leagues and such through the week, wing nights or the odd bit of entertainment, and then opening up the dance floor on friday and saturday nights and even opening for sunday brunch.

                                                      While this is most likely to work in respect to it being the only joint in town there are a few places like this back home as well. One of my favorite places was a bar where I went for nachos on a regular basis or dinner before heading to another bar, saw bands, danced on saturday nights, and then trailed back for the big greasy breakfast and bloody caesar on sundays (not always on the same week )

                                                      1. re: im_nomad

                                                        I assure you that the profitablity of a bar is not lost on me. In my neck of the woods, having a liquor license is like having a right to print money. About the only things absolutely essential to the process are cold light beer, some hot food, and a bunch of TVs (although it seems Red Bull is also becoming a requirement - which rasies the question, Why is Four Loko banned and Red Bull & Vodka a favorite?). Which is why as an unabashed food geek I welcome a pub with a chef and an interesting, well-executed menu. I just don't see many doing very well very often.

                                                        1. re: MGZ

                                                          I think the best thing for success is to either do one thing great (burger's, wings, etc) or have a variety where you can grow a customer base based on the fact that everyone is going to find something they like. I have a few places near me that are more pub-like than restaurant. I go to one for burgers and chili, one for fancier entree dishes and some interesting specials and one for Irish fare, wings and my new favorite chicken sandwich. Sure I switch it up, but when a place does one or two things better than anywhere else, they will succeed. Cold beer and a good bartender always helps.

                                                          1. re: MGZ

                                                            I'm not disagreeing with you, I'm just saying it's a possibility.

                                                            One thing I do find disheartening is when you pull up to a bar with a full parking lot, and the only thing people in there are doing is nursing a coffee and playing the lotto machines.

                                                            And on that note as well, I don't necessarily mind those in some places, but they are a killer, atmosphere wise in a lot of places, especially ones that serve food.

                                                        2. re: MGZ

                                                          Perfect pub grub? Salty and\or spicy enough to crave cold beer. Lower alcohol content, so patrons can drink more. High profit margin. Works best in urban areas where patrons walk\take cabs.

                                                      2. re: tatamagouche

                                                        Traditional yet unique is the motto for gastropubs. In my area there are burgers with foie gras, grilled pizzas with chorizzo pepperoni, cheese fries with chevre, to name a few. All traditional and yet unique.

                                                        1. re: gaffk

                                                          Mmm...i disagree. Putting foie gras on a burger makes it a nontraditional burger; ditto the others. As for the word "unique," I'm careful to use that word unless the item is truly one of a kind—which is almost never the case.

                                                          Just semantics, but in order to understand what the OP was asking for, it was important for me personally to clarify. When it's important for me to eat—traditional, inventive, don't much care, as long as it's good!

                                                          1. re: tatamagouche

                                                            The burger (very good, BTW) is traditional, the foie gras is a unique twist. The pizza is traditional, grilled with chorizzo pepperoni is unique. The fries with cheese is traditional (post-80's), the chevre is unique.

                                                            As you say, a matter of semantics (and at least no posters said "very unique" ;) But semantics aside . . . as long as it's good!

                                                            1. re: gaffk

                                                              Ha! Yes...very unique...and radically traditional!

                                                      3. I read a post that mentioned a place that does Buffalo chicken livers. Now that, to me, seems like a great advancement in bar food concepts.