Consumers everywhere have figured out how to feed and entertain themselves at home, leaving restaurants working harder than ever to entice them off the sofa.
While there's no magic wand, the desire to socialize in a convivial setting with food that can be shared may be just enough to leave delivery in the dust, at least for an evening. Make it fried and it's likely to crush sales. This is true because most fried food tastes better hot out of a fryer on a plate, instead of in a container where it's turned soggy from the steam. Here's some back-of-the-house intel on what sells best for some chefs.
Fried Olives with Labneh
Olives are a decent bar snack, but if you want to keep guests' attention, give them more texture by breading and frying them. Add some tangy seasoned yogurt or labneh with spicy oil, such as harissa, and you have something that will likely keep guests hanging out, drinking and asking for more. The appetizer turned out to be so popular that Einat Admony, chef of Balaboosta in New York City, included it in her cookbook, titled after the restaurant.
Asparagus Cigars with Sweet Chili Sauce
The bestselling appetizer at Midgley's Public House in Stockton, California, includes asparagus spears individually wrapped in wonton wrappers with cream cheese, which are fried and served with a sweet chili sauce.
“It's a take on crab rangoon,” says Chef/Owner Michael Midgley. Also popular: Avocado fries, which are cut into eighths and fried. For extra crunch, Midgley coats the wedges with panko after dipping them into a tempura batter. They're served with a Sriracha ranch sauce.
Fried Pickle Chips
“When you're drinking, especially after the first one, you want something salty and fatty with a little acidity,” says Patrick Balcom, chef of Farow restaurant in Niwot, Colorado. “It balances out everything. And with the tempura batter, you've got texture, too.”
Balcom thickly slices kosher dill pickles into chips and dips them in a batter of equal parts flour and cornstarch and whisks in enough soda water to achieve a thin batter. The pickles are dipped into the batter and fried at 350°F until golden brown, around 3 to 4 minutes.
“Fancy sauce” – equal parts housemade mayonnaise, Dijon mustard and ketchup – accompanies the crunchy pickles.
The Still Crafts, Drafts & Eats, located in the Mirage in Las Vegas, serves this fried version of a childhood classic as a dessert. The sandwich is griddled until crispy, sliced into quarters, skewered and dusted with powdered sugar. The dessert is served with warm chocolate hazelnut and marshmallow dipping sauces. With the help of nostalgia and curiosity, the dessert has become a huge favorite.
Chicken Bites with Honey Mustard Sauce
Chicken nuggets are a crowd pleaser – among grownups and kids alike – so it's not surprising that they've been a hit at Blue Smoke in New York City. The version that Chef Bret Lunsford makes, however, skews more toward the adult palate. The buttermilk marinade includes hot sauce, while the flour that coats the bites has cayenne. The heat is tempered by a sweet-savory dipping sauce, which features yellow, Dijon and Creole mustard, honey and mayonnaise.
Fries (with aioli, sauce or spice)
The easiest upsell are fries, whether they're waffle cut, shoestring or batons. Shake on a spice, such as togarashi, and pair with a curry mayo like Chef Bill Kim at Urban Belly in Chicago, and you've just added $7 to the check.
Country Captain Spring Rolls
Robert Newton, the chef of Fleeting restaurant at the Thompson Savannah Hotel in Savannah, Georgia, takes a chicken curry dish that's popular in the South called Country Captain, and makes it a craveable appetizer by encasing it in spring roll wrappers and frying it. It's plated with a sauce made with cilantro and mayonnaise, mixed with Sriracha, as well as soy sauce.