Even the word “DIP” is so brief and basic that it's hard to picture it as a powerhouse on the menu. But chefs who know better understand its appeal to both customers and the culinary team.
“It's creamy. It's luscious. It's satisfying,” says Chef B Adamo at Hog Island Oyster Co., in Larkspur, California.
Dips hit all the high notes: salty, savory – a sneaky sweet streak sometimes to balance flavors – with innumerable ways to insert umami and seasonal elements into the mix. They play well with cocktails, beer and nonalcoholic beverages, too. They're a no-brainer bar and grill food that's shareable and typically avoids the veto vote.
Adamo, whose smoked trout dip has proved impossible to pull off the menu, thanks to customer protests, also points out that dips are “a little bit interactive” in the way you build it onto that crunchy carb raft.
For the back of the house, the positives are plentiful. At a functional level, dip recipes are easy to scale and hard to mess up. A bit less or more of one ingredient won't knock the flavor profile sideways. And there is little precision expected in the presentation; it's supposed to look smooshy. For the kitchen staff, this is a low-effort process with a high payoff.
But if you've been looking down on dips, think about how creative they can be. Here's an opportunity to do rotations throughout the year, using ingredients in peak season and in temperatures – cool or sizzling, whatever the calendar calls for – that slide onto the menu easily.
Tweaks to a classic can be made with splashes of hot sauce and salsa, or a New England crab dip can be framed with roasted tomatoes, housemade paprika potato chips and caviar, like the way Barbara Lynch approaches dips at Drink restaurant in Boston.
Rose's Luxury in Washington, D.C., does its dip with brown butter celery root purée and celery root chips. Communion Restaurant and Bar in Seattle offers a presentation of black-eyed pea hummus served with roasted collard green dip and buttery hoe cakes.
Or you could stick with the best version of onion dip you can come up with; it's been working for Tom Colicchio for years at the Temple Court Bar Room in New York City – which means no one is complaining.
DIVE IN FOR MORE DIP INSPO
- Smoked Onion Dip and Chips, $8, Devil Moon Barbecue, New Orleans
- Delicatessen Herbed Fish Dip with Saltines, $14, Lingua Franca, Los Angeles
- Crème Fraîche Onion Dip with Chives, Caviar and Surfboard Chips, $34, Graffiti Raw, Houston
- Potato chips with creamy/spicy togarashi, $6, Bar Goto, New York City
- Bacon and Onion Dip, $12, George & the Dragon, Minneapolis