There's something adventurous about pub grub-style appetizers, the fun little snacks that are more about the journey than the destination. Sure, they can be a prelude to a full dinner, but more and more often, customers are seeing snacks as a shareable, stand-alone dining option, at just about any time of day.
And snacks are surely getting more global, as chefs are satisfying customers’ anytime cravings with everything from samosas to kielbasa skewers and ahi tuna tostado bites. In other words, taking snacks where no potato skin has gone before.
Starting Local and Eating Global
Last summer, Michelson and Morley, an upscale on-campus restaurant, opened at Case Western Reserve University on Cleveland’s East Side. Named for two groundbreaking scientists, the eatery is ideally situated for meetings of professors, alumni, neighborhood regulars, professionals working in the area, the occasional famous author in town for a book signing and music lovers en route to hear the Cleveland Orchestra. About 75 to 80 people dine there on a busy weekend night, according to Tony Smoody, executive chef, Michelson and Morley with Bon Appètit, who’s been at the helm since the restaurant’s opening.
The restaurant’s menu is squarely focused on local, seasonal, sustainable food, but takes inspiration from several world cuisines. Smoody is creating what he calls “fun and different” snacks, appetizers and small plates for the menu with local ingredients and global flavors, by drawing on his well-stocked pantry with such items as local black garlic and the spices of North Africa.
“Our lamb sliders are made with lamb from New Creation Farms in Chardon, and we give them a North African twist with a yogurt spread that’s spiced with cumin, coriander and cayenne,” he says, adding that the sliders are consistently a big seller.
Another popular appetizer item is the calamari, which gets a light dusting of semolina (similar in texture to cornmeal), and then takes a turn toward Italian tradition with peperonato, a mixture of red peppers, garlic, olive oil, red wine and tomato purèe. It gets a swipe of black garlic aioli, and fried capers are the briny addition that adds the all-important element of crunch and a bracing acidic finish.
The black garlic that Smoody uses as a high-powered flavor boost on the calamari comes from Maximum Garlic, a producer in nearby Chesterland, Ohio. In Korea, it’s perceived as a health product and it’s rich in antioxidants.
“The black garlic is heated to 140 degrees for 40 days, so it’s very concentrated and it works almost like a really strong balsamic reduction,” Smoody says, adding that the flavors in the garlic carry notes of balsamic, a syrupy sweetness and even hints of tamarind. Basically: everything great about garlic, amplified.
Fun, Color, Love and Springtime on a Small Plate
The ancient Hindu festival Holi is a celebration of fun, color, love and springtime. Using this as a starting point for seasonal menu inspiration, Georgia Tech Dining created a limited-time offer: the Samosa Chaat.
This small-plate vegetarian dish incorporates the Indian powerhouse handheld snack, samosas, with the classic Indian dish, channa masala. It’s topped with fresh minced red onions, chopped tomatoes and cilantro.
The spiciness of the channa masala is cooled down nicely with raita yogurt and mint and tamarind chutneys. Yellow sev noodles, which can be found in Indian grocery stores, add the crunch factor.
“These small dishes, commonly called chaat, are examples of street snacks in India,” says Hari Nayak, the chef behind Café Spice, an Indian food company that partners with Georgia Tech and other onsite accounts across the country for Indian food concepts.
At Georgia Tech, this spicy, flavorful appetizer debuted at the Happy Holi Festival of Colors at the student center, a fun event that included a photo booth, prizes and free food.
Start with a Wonton Wrapper…Go Anywhere!
“Our students love fried ravioli, so we’ve been trying different variations on those,” says Bill Allman, general manager with Metz Culinary Management at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa. “We have a big focus on local, sustainable snacks, as well as a fusion of cultural flavors.”
Lebanon caters lots of events throughout the year, from alumni gatherings to art gallery openings. The dining team makes use of local mushrooms (as “lollipops” stuffed with prosciutto), local chicken (on bruschetta) and local asparagus (elegantly wrapped in puff pastry).
And the fusion element is apparent in fun snacks like Shrimp and Kielbasa Skewers—a taste of the Caribbean merged with the Midwest. In another creative twist, slices of the Southern icon fried green tomato act as a crostini, crowned with pretty green herbs. The Sicilian Wonton is a craveable mash-up of cuisines, kind of like a one-bite pizza egg roll. Another variation on the stuffed wonton is the Crab and Spinach Stuffed Wonton with Old Bay seasoning, one more example of a flavor adventure found in a shareable snack.