Pensacola, Florida
Thursday October 23rd 2014

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Setting the Bar

By Ashley Hardaway

This week I had a girlfriend visiting me from D.C., and among the great big list of things to do/see people would give her (the beach, McGuire’s, tubing, FloraBama) was one unique, unexpected item: a honey butter chicken biscuit from a local fast-food chain, preferably as a nightcap following an evening spent on Palafox. At first I scoffed at this suggestion, but upon further reflection embraced it. After all, it is a bit of a southern lore: a unique culinary gem that is the perfect lowbrow accompaniment to some highbrow libations.

To me that is what makes great bar food. Keep the focus on the drinks, but the food substantial enough to make the evening continue on a nice, smooth pace. In Spain they have tapas, in Russia they have meat-flavored peanuts. In America, we have bar food.

And while Pensacola doesn’t have an official gastropub yet, it does have plenty of restaurants that offer small bites that make the perfect companion to their cocktails. Honey buttered chicken biscuits included: a night of drinking is only matched by a night of eating in Pensacola.

Beer Nights

Beers recent surge in popularity in Pensacola can only be compared to the cupcake explosion of the early 2010s. But I’m not complaining. With favorites like Pensacola Bay Brewery and the new hotness that is World of Beer, it’s hard to find a microbrew that isn’t carried somewhere in town. But as any former fraternity member can tell you, man cannot exist on beer alone, so it helps to stick by some that offer up some great light fare to go with that heavy porter you just downed. For a night of beer drinking I suggest starting out with a light meal at The Magnolia or Hub Stacey’s. The Magnolia offers up ever changing daily specials that in the past have included ribs, candied bacon, jalapeno cheddar corn bread and bean salad. The fare tends to stay on the lighter side so it’s possible to eat here and order a heavier porter and not feel exhausted by the end of your meal. If you like to start your evening with something more substantial in your stomach then head to Hub Stacey’s where the sandwiches are piled high to the point of obnoxiousness. Try the Hub Club (triple decker ham, smoked turkey, lettuce, tomato, bacon, dill mayo) with a cider to cut through the saltiness or count your calories with one of those 32 calorie beers and an order of hummus topped with alfalfa sprouts and tomatoes. If you’re more of a late-night snack beer person then Hopjacks is for you. Beer drinking aficionados know that 4:20-6:20 is the magical time when Hopjacks presents “Hoppy Hour”—half off all appetizers and $1 off all drafts. Perhaps no other food in town is a synonymous with great bar food as their Duck Fat Belgian Fries—and for good reason. Like the flying buttresses holding up the Notre Dame, nothing supports a night of heavy drinking like pure fat and carbs.

Champagne Nights

At one time champagne was reserved for only the most celebratory of evenings, but that all changed when Marilyn Monroe declared, “Don’t worry. Every thing’s fine: A married man, air-conditioning, champagne and potato chips. This is a wonderful party,” in “The Seven Year Itch.” Suddenly, champagne became the perfect beverage to enjoy on one’s living room floor with a bag of Fritos; after all, champagne does make anything feel a little more regal. For nights that you’re wishing to imbue with perhaps a little more class, head to the Elbow Room and enjoy a classic champagne cocktail: the perfect combination of bubbly mixed with your choice of mango puree, blueberry or pomegranate juice. Those wishing to get down to it can also enjoy their bubbles solo. Take Marilyn’s heed and pair your classy drink with some unexpected bar fare. Try their Abita Bacon Dip: a salty mélange of cheese, bacon and somehow Abita beer all whipped into a gorgeous spreadable delight.

To continue the affair, proceed to the back of the Fish House at The Deck Bar where one may enjoy their take on the classic champagne cocktail. Their Champagne Punch is a magical blend of Finlandia tangerine vodka, peach and banana liqueurs, and pineapple juice topped off with champagne. And when all those bubbles go to your head be sure and place an order into the kitchen. Their Tequila Hot Wings—fried chicken wings tossed in garlic, lime, tequila and hot sauce—are just the thing to cut the sweetness. For purists who think champagne should only be paired with seafood, there are their Claws in Garlic—crab claws sautéed in white wine and garlic sauce—as well as their Asian Calamari to satiate your pairing peculiarities.

Martini Nights

There’s a reason three martini lunches of lore didn’t simply cut to the chase to become three-martini happy hour: one must eat and eat well to even make it to the third martini. If it’s Tuesday and you’re channeling your inner Don Draper (and have a DD on hand) then head to McGuire’s where they pour $3 double-shot martinis all day long. Pair their Extra Dry Classic Martini (Gordon’s London Dry Gin, Smirnoff vodka, splash of Martini & Rossi Dry Vermouth) with their Prince Edward Island mussels sautéed in tomatoes, garlic and white wine. Or switch things up a bit and get a Cucumber Martini (made with Effen cucumber vodka) and cut through all that freshness with an order of their famous Irish Bleu Chips.

Those wishing to prolong the evening should continue to Global Grill where the martini gets some unexpected additions. Their Mango Martini (Three Olives Vodka, Citrus vodka, orange juice and mango puree) makes the perfect accompaniment to their Spicy Tuna Sashimi served with plantain chips. But the real star is the selection of hot tapas dishes like their Fried Stuffed Artichokes served with Boursin Cheese or their Andouille and Manchego cheese empanadas. Pair these with a classic martini served with an olive stuffed with bleu cheese and you’ll have an evening that would rival even the most successful Ad men of the fifties.

Wine Nights

Wine never went out of style. Whether enjoying a glass in the piazzas of Italy, or by yourself in the bath after a long day, something about it speaks to the height of relaxation. But the perfect glass of wine often call for some great light bites to enjoy with it and luckily, Pensacola abounds with options. The most obvious being: The Wine Bar. For a cosmopolitan affair, order a three cheese plate with added prosciutto and close your eyes as the server recants the cheeses being served that day—actually don’t close your eyes, that’s a little creepy. If you happen to come before six p.m. and find yourself in the midst of a wine onslaught—their happy hour means a carafe of wine for the price of a glass—then fortify your resolve and your stomach with one of their Panini-pressed Brie filled sandwiches, or an order of marinated olives and their spiced almonds with rosemary and chipotle.

When the evening calls for decorum and elegance, but not a full blown meal, do not hesitate to go to Jackson’s where the bar menu provides plenty of options for some lighter indulgences. Their Crispy Salmon Belly Tempura, marinated in unagi sauce before being lightly battered with panko and fried, pairs marvelously with a great Spanish white. Red wine lovers will love a heartier full-bodied selection with the Falafel over Sautéed Sicilian-Style Spinach, which features roasted Roma tomatoes, walnuts, slab bacon, and dried apricots with a tahini-yogurt sauce and orange blossom honey. Come on Wine Down Wednesdays (5:30 p.m. until close) and it’s possible to sample the entire bar menu as you enjoy your choice of one of the exclusive wine list bottles for half off.

Home Nights

Before my friend departed, we did stop and order a honey buttered chicken biscuit. And while there is no shame in ordering ten of those delightful morsels and halving them as bar-fare at your next house party—after all, who am I to advocate for the exhausting task of cutting up, battering and frying twenty chicken tenders from scratch—making some other delightful tidbits from scratch is easily within your capabilities.

Cayenne and Honey Roasted Almonds

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups raw almonds
1/8 cup Sugar in the Raw
1/4 cup Honey
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Preheat over to 325F and line baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl combine the sugar and salt. Set aside. In a medium skillet over medium heat melt the honey and then add the cayenne pepper. Add the almonds and toss until well coated. Transfer to a baking sheet, spread out evenly and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let almonds cool slightly before tossing them in the sugar/salt mixture. After tossing, place on cooking sheet again and allow to cool all the way before serving.

Fig and Prosciutto Crostini

Ingredients:
1 loaf of ciabatta bread, cut into 1/2 inch slices
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and cut in half
12 slices of Prosciutto
6 large figs, cut in half
12 small mint leaves

Directions:

In a Panini press or a frying pan, grill the ciabatta slices until they are nice and brown, but not stiff. While they are still warm, rub with the garlic so the bread is kissed by the oils and then assemble all bits on a plate before drizzling over some extra virgin olive oil. Top each crostini with a piece of Prosciutto, a bit of fig and a sprig of mint before hitting it again with some tiny droplets of Balsamic vinegar. You just made a highbrow appetizer in no time.

The Deck Bar
600 S. Barracks St.
470-0003
fishhouse.goodgrits.com

The Elbow Room
2213 W. Cervantes St.
434-0300

Jackson’s Steakhouse
400 S. Palafox St.
469-9898
jacksonsrestaurant.com

Global Grill
27 S. Palafox
469-9966
dineglobalgrill.com

Hopjacks
10 Palafox Place
497-6073
hopjackspensacola.com

Hub Stacey’s
312 E. Government St.
469-1001
hubstaceys.com

The Magnolia
2907 E. Cervantes St.
912-6196
magnoliapensacola.com

McGuire’s Irish Pub
600 E. Gregory St.
433-6789
mcguiresirishpub.com