20 Great Bar Eats

Lamb Tartine

At an upscale restaurant, lamb will run you $25 or $30, but Tremont Tap House lets you sample the finer things in life at bar-food prices. Chef Andrew Gorski, who took over Tap House's kitchen about five months ago, keeps costs down on the high-end meat by deboning and breaking down the leg of lamb himself. He roasts it and uses 4 ounces on the new menu's lamb tartine ($14), an open-face sandwich especially popular in Europe. "A sandwich is something you find at every bar," Gorski says. "We're trying to refine some of the food found in a bar." The result is a toasty pumpernickel slice stacked with rich, creamy garlic aioli; vibrant green, peppery watercress; the rare lamb; and a topping of pink, tangy pickled onions. It's a masterful balance of flavors, textures and colors that holds up to fine dining fare. Wash It Down: "Lamb is pretty rich and strong; you need a beer that can stand up to that," says owner Chris Lieb, who recommends a Scotch ale, strong ale or double IPA. 2572 Scranton Road, Cleveland, 216-298-4451, tremonttaphouse.com

Bonnie's Stacker

It's a fish fry on a stick. Kind of. A few years ago, Bonnie's Bar and Grill owner Jim Krejci and his wife, Terri, were planning their menu before Lent and decided to layer three potato pancakes with two pieces of battered cod and slices of American cheese. "It just clicked," Krejci says of the Bonnie's Stacker ($9.99). "It's a new twist on old favorites." The dish is topped off with a pierogi from Janka Pierogi, and a steak knife stabbed through the middle of the pile holds everything together. "People are amazed when they see it," Krejci says. "They say they won't be able to finish it, but then they do." There's also a pork stacker version on the menu that subs out fish for breaded pork chops and adds in a hearty dose of pork gravy. Wash It Down: A light beer goes best with fish. Try Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat, a refreshing wheat ale with a crisp orange finish. 22811 Lorain Road, Fairview Park, 440-734-3276, bonniesbarandgrill.com

'Slo' Boy

When chef John Bausone began retooling the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern's menu, released in October, he wanted to add a sandwich that would speak to the neighborhood's Slovenian roots. He set out to concoct a traditional Po' Boy by using local sausage from R&D Sausage Co., a shop across the street. He slapped some mustard on it, stuck it in a toasted bun, and stuffed it with Yukon Gold fries and Carolina-style coleslaw. But it was missing something. "In the South, they put barbecue sauce in it," he says. "I tried it with some of my homemade maple barbecue sauce that I mixed with a bit of mustard, and it was great." Dubbed a Slo' Boy ($7), the tasty sweet and spicy sandwich overflows with fries and coleslaw, so it'll really fill you up, too. Wash It Down: To go with this European sausage, Bausone likes the Czech-style Lagunitas Pilsner. 15711 Waterloo Road, Cleveland, 216-383-1124, beachlandballroom.com

Fiesta Chicken Pizza

Gillespie's Map Room, with its shamrock decor, cozy fireplace and long list of Irish beers, is at first glance a typical Irish pub. But one menu item goes beyond the emerald hills of Ireland, all the way to Mexico. The West Ninth Street pub's Fiesta Chicken Pizza ($12.49) comes with a hefty heaping of three cheeses atop a thin-crust pie, but the fun starts underneath. Where sauce should be, you'll find a layer of chunky red salsa with peppers, onions, and even a few salty tortilla strips. Hearty chicken chunks add your protein, and true fiesta flavor comes from a mixture of Mexican sauces and spices. That's as specific as the bar will be, though, about its secret recipe. Wash It Down: Looking to offset the spice? Manager Reggie Houle suggests you head back to the pub's homeland. He recommends adding a Harp draft. Now it's a party. 1281 W. Ninth St., Cleveland, 216-621-7747, maproomcleveland.com

Pesto Board

It's important to Josh Kabat that there's always something to share on Reddstone's seasonal menu. And the Detroit Shoreway pub's pesto board ($11) is just an evolution of that philosophy. "It's the one thing that can bring people together around the table," says Kabat, Reddstone's chef-owner. Originally a base for some of Reddstone's outstanding pizzas, the unique pestos — including the house blend, popular garlic-bacon-romano and spicy Sambal Oelek red chili — finally get their star turn. A rotating trio of flavors comes with a small charcuterie board of capicola, crostinis, house-made pickles, peppers, cauliflower and Kabat's secret weapon: "I can make the most perfect soft-boiled egg in Cleveland," he boasts. It's so good you might end up being a little selfish. Wash It Down: Try a full-bodied beer, such as Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale. 1261 W. 76th St., Cleveland, 216-651-6969, reddstonecleveland.com

Stacked Chicken Parm

If necessity is the mother of invention, boredom has to be the father. About three years ago, a cook at Scalpers got tired of making the same old food, so he started piling menu items on top of French fries. Stacked fries were born. One of the crowd favorites, stacked chicken parm, is a heaping mound of fries with classic breaded chicken pieces and thick marinara sauce. An edge-to-edge layer of melted mozzarella cheese tops off the heap. The best part about this dish is there's no need to fool around with sides — just keep digging. Plus, you can feed two people for less than $7. Manager Dawn McFarland says the three most popular versions are chicken parm, Buffalo and Scalper, but there are six others to choose from. Wash It Down: Scalpers jumped on the Pennsylvania-beer bandwagon and started serving Yuengling last month, so you can have a cold draft pilsner full of the stuff Ohioans have been smuggling across the border for years. 5718 Mayfield Road, Lyndhurst, 440-442-3577, scalpersbarandgrille.com

Grilled Cheese No. 3

The inspiration for The Lockview's gourmet grilled cheese came from the days when the downtown Akron spot was the Lime Spider music club. "One of my chef friends used to hold grilled cheese festivals on our stage," says owner Danny Basone. "He would hand out menus and cook live, and he'd have a friend DJ." So, when Basone retooled the place as a bar and restaurant in 2008, he centered his menu on the comfort-food staple. The Number Three ($7), pepper jack cheese and sliced sauteed jalapeños on three-cheese miche bread with a side of blue cheese dressing, is one of the most popular choices, and it's easy to see why with its tasty-but-tame heat. But no matter which of the 13 varieties you go for, you'll get a side of smiling Goldfish Crackers. "It was us trying to be different," Basone says. "You know, cheese and crackers." Wash It Down: "You just want an easy-sipping beer," says Basone, who suggests the Founder's Centennial IPA. 207 S. Main St., Akron, 330-252-5128

Cajun Chicken Melt

"When I think of Firehouse, I'm thinking hot," manager Chuck Beal says, so the Willoughby bar added the Cajun chicken melt ($7.49), "to give the menu a little kick." The juicy 8-ounce grilled chicken breast already comes covered in Cajun spices, but it's the chipotle mayonnaise that gets it N'awlins hot. These taste bud bullies are balanced by cool lettuce and tomato, and Swiss and crispy bacon also share the multigrain bread. Eat it al fresco on the covered and heated courtyard patio until Thanksgiving. Wash It Down: This mouthwatering, red-hot sandwich may need to be extinguished with water, or better yet, a craft beer. Bartender Jillian Rosiar suggests Tröegs HopBack Amber Ale, which has a hint of sweet caramel and slightly spicy finish. "It's a hoppy beer, and its bitterness matches well with the spice." The hops from this beer are grown on Mount Hood, a dormant volcano, so that makes it even more appropriate. 2768 Stark Drive, Willoughby Hills, 440-943-4983, firehousegrilleandpub.com

Puffy Tacos

The highlight of these popular bar tacos is the shell. Flour tortillas are folded in half, put in a crimper and deep-fried for seven to 10 seconds, says Ramble Inn manager Kelly Smith. The tortilla puffs up for a warm, crispy-on-the-outside, doughy-on-the-inside base. And minimalism is key when it comes to fillings, which include a heaping pile of juicy ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and sour cream. If you need a spicy kick, you can add jalapenos. Smith says each taco is made to order. At $2 each ($1.50 on Tuesdays and Thursdays) you can afford to eat a bunch, but they are big enough that two or three will satisfy most hungry stomachs. Wash It Down: Chugging a Corona is just too predictable. Save even more bucks and split a bucket of Coors Light, Bud Light or Budweiser with friends (5 beers for $10). 8151 Broadview Road, Broadview Heights, 440-627-6440

Andouille Sausage Stuffed

Banana Peppers

Several bars serve a version of this traditional appetizer. But packed with enough zesty andouille sausage to make them a meal, Prosperity Social Club's stuffed banana peppers ($9.5) bite back a bit harder. Bonnie Flinner, owner of the no-frills, no-flash Tremont bar, says the peppers' spice level and size depend on Mother Nature, but our two suggested Mother Nature was feeling especially fiery. Shredded smoked gouda and house-made roasted red pepper and tomato sauce offer a bit of a reprieve from the heat and make this one of the favorites on a menu that offers well-done fare inspired by a variety of ethnic cuisines. The bar featured the item at the popular Taste of Tremont event and sold 600 in one day, says Flinner. Wash It Down: "I'm always a fan of sweet with spicy," says Flinner, who suggests sweet wine such as a riesling or mellow, well-balanced beer such as Stella Artois. 1109 Starkweather Ave., Cleveland, 216-937-1938, prosperitysocialclub.com

French Onion Steak Sandwich

We can all agree to disagree on the best way to cook a steak, but we usually don't get the choice when it's between bread. "I like everything well done, but that's just me," says Moosehead Saloon owner Nadine George. "I just think it's great to give people options." So do we. The grilled, medium sirloin chunks in our French onion steak sandwich ($12.99) were still juicy, tender and pink. It comes with sauteed onions and provolone, which is also melted on top of the Vienna bread with an onion ring garnish. George turns it into a twist on a French dip by serving it with a side of savory, rich onion soup as au jus. We wouldn't swap out the house-made, hand-cut chips and dip for another side; they're some of the best around. Wash It Down: Bar manager Nick Foster suggests a tall Moosehead beer on draft, but we also wouldn't count out one of the saloon's 20-plus specialty martinis. 694 Dover Center Road, Westlake, 440-871-7742

Mighty Irish Nachos

Every Irish pub in America has Guinness and corned beef, but Muldoon's, a Collinwood staple for 31 years, captures the Emerald Isle's gregarious spirit. This is reflected in the free popcorn and practically free Mighty Irish Nachos ($5.29), a mound of hand-cut fries, bacon and scallions and a side of sour cream. Gooey American cheese sauce acts as the epoxy holding it together and keeping it from spilling onto the bar. Owner Billy Dagg, always around to tease his "10,000 regulars," says he sells 500 orders weekly, which isn't surprising considering the overall value. The ample portion easily feeds four when paired with wings. Michael Symon fans will love dipping the messy fries into house-made Stadium Mustard vinaigrette. "I think he copied me," Dagg says, laughing. "We've had this around longer than he's been around." Wash It Down: Stick with the chocolaty Guinness or its lighter Irish brother, Smithwick's. 1020 E. 185th St., Cleveland, 216-531-3130, muldoonscleveland.com

Hawaiian Pulled Pork

Jammy Buggars' Hawaiian pulled pork sandwich ($9.50) is a spin on the barbecue favorite that'll awaken you to this Lakewood bar-scene newbie. "When you bite into it, you get spicy and you get sweet," says chef Rob Geul. "And you get a rich smokiness from the sauce." Coffee is key. He roasts the pork shoulder in a dry rub that includes fresh coffee grounds, and he braises the meat in coffee stock. The slow-cooked pork is then pulled and slathered in a coffee-based sauce. "When it comes down to it, Kona is the best," Geul says, praising the Hawaiian brand. Served on a pretzel bun, it's topped with pineapple jam, pickled peppers and Macadamia nuts for crunch. For your fries, request Geul's garlic mayo, a savory combo of garlic, mayo, honey and honey mustard. Wash It Down: Original Sin on draft complements this twist on barbecue: "It's light, clean and refreshing," Geul says. "It reminds me of summer." 15625 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216-767-5922, jammybuggars.com

Salmon BLT

Even people who aren't enthusiastic about fish will love the Salmon BLT ($8.50) at ParkView Nite Club, including the club's owners Norm and Mike Plonski. "I never would have thought to put a piece of salmon on a BLT," Mike says. "Usually when you think of a BLT, you think about the bacon. But put a piece of fish on there, and it tastes great." So good, the owners have kept the sandwich on the menu for 10 years. It's a piece of juicy smoked salmon on ciabatta bread topped with bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise, and served with chips and a pickle on the side. The tender salmon steals the show, smoked for a smooth taste. The complementary ingredients, especially the bacon and tomato, inject juicy flavors into the sandwich, masking any fishy taste. Wash It Down: Our bartender suggested a sweet and bitter Sam Adams Octoberfest, but try any rich amber. 1261 W. 58th St., Cleveland, 216-961-1341, parkviewniteclub.com

Kraut Balls

Asking who made the first sauerkraut ball is like trying to pin down where the hamburger was born. "Akron claims to be the inventor of it," Gasoline Alley owner Al Kerkian says of the deep-fried golden orbs that taste like a cross between a hush puppy and a corned beef Reuben. "But there's not a bar or restaurant I know of that says they originated it." Gasoline Alley's Kraut Balls ($4.29), a longtime menu favorite, are made from a recipe supplied by Kerkian's friend Nick Dimitroff, whose family served them at its now-defunct rubber-workers bar Modern Café. The Akron-Beacon Journal's announcement that the classic Akron dish was back did cause one problem, though. "Nick's mother came in and just cussed us up and down," Kerkian recalls. "She was about 99 years old, and she didn't like it one bit." Wash It Down: Make your beer an Akron tradition too, and order a Thirsty Dog Brewing Co. Twisted Kilt Scotch Ale. 870 N. Cleveland-Massillon Road, Bath, 330-666-2670, gasolinealleyinbath.com

Buffalo Chicken Egg Rolls

At first bite, egg roll fans may wonder where the cabbage and carrots are hiding. But Ziggy's Pub & Restaurant's buffalo chicken egg rolls ($7.49) are so spicy and savory that those missing vegetables will soon be the last thing on your mind. Instead, you get a crunchy wrapper packed with sauteed chicken, pepperoni, house-made sausage and two cheeses (cheddar and provolone). Alone, these egg rolls are tasty, but when dipped in the signature buffalo ranch sauce, they are explosive. The sauce amplifies the flavor and makes it a customer hit (they sell 10 dozen orders a week). "People like the heat and flavor," says manager Paul Baraniak. Wash It Down: Pass on heavy beer and opt for a refreshing glass of Firelands riesling. "It calms your palate, so you can eat more," bartender Sam Schaeffer says, laughing. And drink more, too. After six spicy pieces, you'll be begging for another glass of riesling. 193 Park Ave., Amherst, 440-985-3663, ziggyspubandrestaurant.com

Soft-shell Crab Po' Boy

When Chris Armington took over Tavern Co. two years ago, his high-end concept only lasted four months. "We had to tone down the menu to make it more Lee Road and economy friendly," he explains. Armington and chef Jamie Wynbrandt didn't revert to delivering boring bar food, though. Instead, the pair, who met working at Brennan's Colony (another bar with reliable food about 350 feet away), find middle ground with items such as the soft-shell crab po' boy ($13). Wynbrandt, who learned about po' boy variations from a New Orleans-bred culinary school classmate, admits his isn't authentic because traditional versions wouldn't have as much sauce. But his house-made Creole-spice mayo adds flavor to the texturally exciting duo of sweet, crunchy slaw and long, fried crab pieces. It all comes atop thick, soft bread from across-the-street neighbor The Stone Oven. Wash It Down: Armington clues us in on the Purple Haze, a potent mix of flavored vodkas and juices that, appropriately, comes out purple. It's popular among regulars but relatively unknown by others. 2260 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, 216-321-6001, thetaverncompany.com

Turkey Cuban

Chef Ryn Celebucci admits there's nothing Cuban about The South Side's turkey Cuban ($8.50). "We try to take traditional things and spin them," he says. "The way it's composed and made, it resembles the traditional sandwich." He brings it north by nixing ham, pork, pickles and mustard for densely packed turkey, bacon and Swiss and a side of rich sun-dried tomato aioli. It's small yet filling, especially thanks to thick, crusty French Parisian bread. And if you read "keg-pressed" on the menu and delight in the image of a keg dropping on your dinner, you might be disappointed. "Our chefs aren't strong enough," he says, laughing. "We actually do mash it down, not with the weight of a keg because it'd be flattened. But we wrap it in Saran Wrap and forcefully smash it." Wash It Down: Celebucci says a heavy, malty beer would overwhelm this light sandwich, so pick something light such as Blue Moon or a Hefeweizen. 2207 W. 11th St., Cleveland, 216-937-2288, southsidecleveland.com

Filet of Tofu

Vegetarian options at bars usually tend to stall out after the ubiquitous black bean burger and equally common veggie wrap. But Ohio City's ABC the Tavern offers a monstrous, beer-battered filet of tofu sandwich ($6.75) that barely resembles the white block of soybean-based protein with which it's made. "It's just a play on a fish sandwich," says ABC's co-owner Randy Kelly, "and we sell a boatload of them." Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA is used in the batter, and the sandwich is served with lettuce and tomato alongside a mountain of thin-cut fries and a side of tasty caper tartar sauce. "Tofu tastes like whatever you put on it," Kelly says. "You batter it, and you drop it in the fryer. That's what makes it taste good." Wash It Down: The bartender pointed us to Victory Prima Pilsner because its light, crisp taste doesn't overpower the tofu like heavier beers would. 1872 W. 25th St., Cleveland, 216-861-3857, abcthetavern.com

Chicken Paprikash

Maybe it's because we've been spending too much time in bars, but we started yearning for home-style comfort food. Good thing it was a Wednesday, when the Academy Tavern adds chicken paprikash to the specials board (though beef stew Tuesday or macaroni and cheese Friday would've hit the spot, too). General manager Thelma Holmes has been making the classic dish since she started cooking there 44 years ago. "I've been with four owners, and we've kept the same recipe because I won't allow the chefs to change it," says Holmes, who learned to prepare the dish from the original owner. For just $7.95, you get a quarter chicken covered in the thin sauce made with Hungarian paprika, sides of spatzle and veggies, and a salad (don't skip Holmes' house vinaigrette). It's something mom would've put on the table, imperfections and all, but we always loved mom's cooking anyway. Wash It Down: We'd go with a dry red wine, or you could order something hard and strong to fit in with the regulars seated at the bar. 12800 Larchmere Blvd., Cleveland, 216-229-1171

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