I love appetizers. So much so that it isn’t uncommon for me to create my entire meal strictly from the app menu—a sort of DIY tapas tasting of sorts that keeps my ADHD self from getting bored with any one dish. Plus there’s something quite intimate about ordering a few plates to share with a dining companion that I find compelling. Don’t ignore the appetizer menu is what I’m saying, and also: Get some of these delicious meal starters into your lives without delay.
*Galloping Horses, The Southern Gourmasian: Y’all might consider this one cheating since I talk about this dish over in this week’s dining review, but this is one hell of an appetizer. Ground pork, peanuts, a spicy/sweet chili sauce and Thai aromatics all serve to give this dish loads of flavor—and the fresh, buttery-tasting bibb lettuce that serves as the conveyance mechanism to get all this deliciousness from plate to face is a crisp, fresh revelation. The Gourmasian gang is all about fresh and this dish is as fresh as they come. As a meal starter, this can serve 3-4, but it’s a great option as a main course for 1-2 people to share.
*Chicken Quesadilla, Juanita’s: What? Juanita’s? Oh, friends I’m with you: I’ve never been a big fan of the food at the music venue. Except for this chicken quesadilla. It ain’t fancy, and it ain’t gourmet — but the tortilla is crisp, the chicken is tasty, and it’s loaded with cheese and peppers. It’s really a great example of something simple and tasty — a solid “not bad” from a place that has, honestly, not been great over the years. This thing will feed 2 people as a meal starter and serves as a rather heavy and filling main course for a single diner.
*Crispy Pig Ear Salad, Tusk and Trotter: Bentonville’s Tusk and Trotter might be the appetizer promised land. House made pork rinds? Oh, they got ’em. A charcuterie board full of things like duck pastrami, pâté de campagne, alligator sausage and cheese? Oh, yes please! But for a light, fun starter, my vote for best bet goes with this delightful salad full of fresh mixed greens, rosy-red tomatoes, cheese, pecans and some delightful crispy slices of pig’s ear. Never had a pig’s ear before? Think of the delightful crunch that croutons add to a salad, then add bacon and you’ve got it. This is a balanced and delicious salad that can easily be shared by two people, although I admit that I generally keep this one to myself.
*Saucer Bratzel, The Flying Saucer: This one may be a cheat, too, since this is a pub grub dish that sits in the gray area between starter and snack. Don’t let that bother you and order it anyway. A tasty buttered pretzel topped by sliced bratwurst and cheese is always a good thing, and when it comes with a mustard spicy enough to open both a man’s sinuses and his chakras, well don’t miss out on that. Can feed 2-3 people depending on level of intoxication, but probably better shared just between a couple.
*Stuffed Mushrooms, Damgoode Pies: When I reviewed Damgoode’s new River Market location awhile back, I mentioned that I thought their meatball appetizer was just fantastic, and I haven’t changed that opinion. But on a recent trip down to try the new beers they have on tap, the wife and I treated ourselves to an order of stuffed mushrooms that simply blew our minds. Spicy, savory, packed with creamy cheese and topped with sweet sliced peppers, these mushrooms were quite possibly the best non-psychedelic experience I’ve ever had with a fungus. An order of these can feed 2-3 people, but I’d recommend getting a double order off the top, because these bad boys are out of control good.
When it comes to appetizers, I could go on for awhile about my favorites in the city — duck wings from Cregeen’s (and duck wings from South on Main, for that matter), the liver mousse at the Pantry, Peter Brave’s Oysters Rockefeller — there are so many good starters around. Have one you think I should try? I would love to here about it down there in that mosh pit of a comments section.