Restaurant win over guests with fun, affordable snacks KAN PHOTOGRAHPY
A jar of house-preserved artichokes at Fool's Errand

Restaurants win over guests with fun, affordable snacks

Speed and a little creativity are key, chefs say

Boston chef and restaurateur Tiffani Faison knows that American diners don’t always want a full meal. Sometimes a drink and a snack or two are all a customer needs.

So in August she and partner Kelly Walsh opened Fool’s Errand, a place that’s all about snacks.

It’s a 400-square-foot space next to their barbecue restaurant, Sweet Cheeks, and Faison said she’s envisioned it as an American-style tapas bar.

“We thought the idea of a standing, adult snack bar … was something that might work,” she said.

Sometimes when Faison sits at a restaurant’s bar and has a glass of wine and maybe a snack or two, she says she feels like apologizing for not having the full restaurant experience.

“Here, you don’t have to feel like you have to make a commitment,” she said.

Ricardo Mejia

Charred shishito peppers at Burlock Coast

That’s good, because customers visit restaurants for many reasons, and not always for a meal.

Data from The Coca-Cola Company’s Coca-Cola DINE360 research found that snacks — defined as something purchased for immediate consumption but not breakfast, lunch or dinner — account for 11 percent of all visits to restaurants and food retailers, and 15 percent of visits by guests aged 18 to 24. In fact, among that age group, 28 percent of them have bought a snack in the past 48 hours, according to Coca-Cola data for the year ended June 2018.

For 40 percent of those snacking occasions, customers spent less than 10 minutes at the outlet where they bought their food, according to the research.

So snacks have to be fast, and it helps if they’re fun, approachable and don’t require a lot of thought.

That’s what Faison is concentrating on at Fool’s Errand, with menu categories such as “fancy finger sandwiches,” including one with raclette cheese and summer truffle, another with tomato and cream cheese, and a third with salmon and Brillat-Savarin cheese. She also has several croquettes, one of which tastes like fried pizza, and another that’s ham and cheese.

Courtesy of Fool's Errand

Bite-sized grilled cheese sandwiches at Fool's Errand

There are also jars of house-preserved artichokes and olives, five pieces of okra charred on a grill, and potato millefeuille topped with combinations such as sour cream and caviar.

Paying homage to the minor trend currently underway of serving fine tinned fish from the Mediterranean in their original cans, she steams her own mussels, chills them and serves them in a tin with Champagne-burnt lemon vinaigrette.

There’s also a full caviar service for people who want to really splash out, but most items are priced between $4 and $19.

Brian Nasajon, chef of Beaker & Gray in the Miami district of Wynwood, said snacks don’t need to be too fussy.

“One thing that I’ve noticed is that the key to getting people is approachability,” he said.

Courtesy of Beaker & Gray

Cheeseburger croquettes at Beaker & Gray

Beaker & Gray is a small-plate concept, so it’s already conducive to items like cheeseburger croquettes and garlic churros, which bring people in for happy hour and late-night drinking, including restaurant workers who appreciate the fact that the kitchen stays open until 2 a.m.

“The industry people miss the early happy hour, so they come in late night,” he said, noting that his customers want to have fun, and maybe be reminded of their childhood, but also feel like they’re getting bang for their buck. That means some new flavor profiles and maybe some high-quality ingredients that they don’t see every day, “but still keeping that fun aspect to them.”

So the cheeseburger croquettes are made with ground wagyu beef that he mixes with the house huancaina sauce — a spicy Peruvian cheese sauce that’s great with potatoes; Nasajon’s version has Parmesan. He also adds manchego and Gruyère cheese and pieces of thick-cut “pickled bacon.”

The pickled bacon is made by rendering thick cut bacon and then adding a Champagne vinegar, red wine vinegar, sugar, shallots, chiles and a little fish sauce. He cooks it down and lets the bacon fat and vinegar emulsify.

He cooks the meat mixture down until it’s “goopy and tangy, almost like a Hamburger Helper.”

Courtesy of iPic Theaters

Mac & cheese fries at iPic Theaters

Separately, he makes a purée of boiled, riced potato mixed with heavy cream, lard, butter and confit garlic. He mixes about two parts meat with one part potato, forms it into croquettes and then breads and fries them.

“It really does taste like a cheeseburger,” he said.

His garlic churros are like regular churros, but made with garlic butter instead of regular butter, and instead of regular water he uses “scallion water,” which he makes by boiling, blending and straining scallions.

“You basically make an onion stock,” he said.

The churros are fried and tossed in a blend of salt, vinegar powder and togarashi and served with a sour cream-and-onion dip.

Huancaina is a popular sauce in Miami. Nasajon said it’s like his house Béchamel, and he also puts it, along with queso sauce, over fries for a popular snack.

Along a similar vein, Danielle Walker, co-owner of Walkers Maine Restaurant, which opened in Cape Neddick, Maine, earlier this year, said snacks with some sort of local identity, such as corn from nearby farms or milk from local dairies, sell well, as long as they can be served quickly.

That includes fried chicken wings with hot sauce that
her husband, chef Justin Walker, makes in barrels from New England Distilling Company in nearby Portland, Maine.

Fried clams, a local delicacy, get an upscale treatment with a lighter, more tempura-like batter and a Chinese-style salt-and-pepper treatment. They’re popular with tourists and locals alike, Danielle Walker said.

“We have a huge local following that tell us, ‘Don’t take those off,’” she said.

Burlock Coast in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., like Walkers, also has an active bar, and chef Paula DaSilva said her customers use it for different things.

“People typically want something to come out fairly fast, especially at the bar,” she said. If they’re continuing on to dinner, they’ll want something light, but her customers on a budget have also figured out how to make a meal out of a drink and a hearty snack or two, like her fish dip and focaccia.

The fish dip also serves the purpose of giving DaSilva something to do with the trim from the fish dishes served in the dining room.

She takes white fish trim and smokes it “pretty heavily” with hickory, and then breaks it up, but not too finely, so it still has some texture, and adds shaved vegetables like celery, bell peppers, chiles and red onion, plus cilantro and scallions. That’s mixed with mayonnaise, lime juice and Tabasco sauce. She serves it chilled with room-temperature flatbread and pickled peppers or onions or whatever vegetables they have on-hand.

Both the dip and flatbread are made earlier in the day, allowing for speedy pick-up, she said.

The focaccia is offered as a separate snack, made with a lot of rosemary and olive oil and served with rosemary-infused olive oil as well.

For something lighter, and still really fast, she has charred shishito peppers with goat cheese.

The peppers come from local farms, “so they’re super beautiful,” she said. She chars them quickly in a very hot pan with very light olive oil, so the pepper “still has fresh bite to it.” She adds Maldon salt and crumbled goat cheese and serves it.

“It’s two minutes in a pan, just tossing it around, so it’s very fast from an execution standpoint,” she said. 

iPic Theaters, with 15 locations and 115 screens across 10 states, serves full meals in the premium sections of its theaters, which have adjustable seats and tables equipped with buttons to signal servers, but a lot of what they sell is snacky finger food.

Sherry Yard, who was for years a pastry chef under Wolfgang Puck’s umbrella and now is chief operating officer of iPic Entertainment, developed the menu keeping in mind that her customers are eating in the dark while watching a movie. So she made sure that items such as her mac and cheese fries were easy to eat under those circumstances — handheld, and neither too messy nor too noisy.

“I’ve always made things that I like to eat myself first, and who doesn’t love mac and cheese?” she said. “Yet to have a bowl of it in a theater, that wouldn’t be very good.”

So she makes mac & cheese and then spreads it out evenly on sheet trays and freezes them, so they have clean edges when they’re sliced. (“This is where my pastry background comes in,” she said.)

She processes panko bread crumbs to make them a little finer and seasons it salt and black and white pepper. Then she dips the mac and cheese rectangles in flour, egg and the processed panko and deep-fries them.

“They’re incredibly popular,” she said. So are the battered and fried tempura string beans with Szechuan peppercorn, salt and other spices served with black bean dip.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] 

Follow him on Twitter: @FoodWriterDiary

Correction: September 17, 2018
This story has been updated to correct the number of screens iPic Theaters has, which is 115.
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