Food versus Food: Tentacular Bar Food (Calamari)

Bar food. 

It's great. It might not be good for me, but I love it - salty, crispy, crunchy, greasy, the perfect pairing with a pint of ice cold (and probably cheap) adult beverage of choice.

And in moderation, I think these things are totally fine.

In general, I prefer small plates or a pile food I can eat 1-2 bites at a time (wings count). This means I can have conversations, watch the game, etc, without having to commit to a huge messy sandwich or a complicated dish

But even casual fare has its challenges. Nothing is worse than the congealed mountain of nachos, in which the entire mountain of toppings threatens to come free with a single chip. Like Nacho Jenga

I also tend like simple things. Fancy dinners are awesome. Fancy barfood, less so.

Which brings us to one of my favorite items, when it's done well: crispy, fried calamari. Allez cuisine(hocofood@@@)

Contender #1: Calamari appetizer at Clyde's in Columbia.

I guess Clyde's is technically a chain (ok... restaurant group), but I actually think of it as one of the fixtures of Columbia. The restaurant has been open for more than 30 years, and is located on Lake Kittamaqundi in downtown Columbia (10221 Wincopin Circle). Clyde's serves up what I would call classic/slightly upscale American food, and have a pleasant, knowledgeable staff and outdoor seating for the warmer months.

On this visit, relatively late at night (and well after of dinner), I found myself staring at the appetizers. The one clear choice was their calamari.

A close-up of the calamari at Clyde's of Columbia.
Sorry for the photo quality.

My order of calamari took me by surprise. The portion was huge: a mountain of golden-fried cephalopod, garnished with lemon and a side of aioli. At the first bite, I knew I had made the right selection.

I liked the contrast in textures. Calamari can be rubbery when overcooked, but each piece was tender, just right. The coating, on the other hand, was crispy and just greasy enough - I wouldn't call it light, but I didn't feel like I'd eaten a deep fried bowling bowl after I was done. Also, there was a surprising amount of flavor - more than I would have expected from the lemon wedge. 

On closer inspection, I realized that the calamari had been lightly tossed with what appeared to be a light chili butter. Not "spicy", but it still managed to pack a wallop of flavor. The aioli was creamy, tangy, and rich, perfect with the flavored butter and a squirt of lemon.

This was a fabulous appetizer that could easily have been a whole meal, or split between 2-3 people - a totally generous portion for $9.50.  Although, to be honest... I didn't share much. :)  

Flush with my fried-seafood success, I looked for an opportunity to contrast my calamari experience with another bar in the HoCo. This brings us to...

Contender #2: Calamari appetizer at The River Hill Sports Grille.

The River Hill Sports Grille offers nice wine and beer selection and a casual environment, as well as specials on game and trivia nights. Most of their food seems to be a tasty take on classic American fare. It's located at 6040 Daybreak Circle in Clarksville. The place can be packed on the weekends, but I've found the bar staff friendly and helpful no matter the crowd.

Calamari with a sweet chili dipping sauce at the River Hill Sports Grille.

The calamari came out in a no-frills basket with a side of sweet chili dipping sauce. Now, I have to say... I do love that stuff. I like the sweet-spicy combination. It's great on fried chicken, and I've even mixed it in with rice and vegetables for work lunches. Combining the sweet chili sauce with the calamari was a nice twist on the usual marinara side. 

However... when one of my companions ordered an app that came with a side of garlicky mayo, I snagged the container and tried that combo. I really think the mayo/aioli-type combo does the calamari more justice... but that's mostly personal preference.

As for the calamari itself, the order was entirely rings - not surprising, since many people cringe at tentacles (I used to myself... now I don't care). The bread coating was a beautiful color, crunchy and crispy and not too greasy. The calamari had a nice texture, not overcooked

It was so good, I found myself wishing for a little more when I'd polished off the order, and ended up browsing the menu for something else. Still, I scored this appetizer during a night when the Grille featured live music and had late night specials, which made my order of calamari something like $6.00 - a great deal for snack food to go along with drinks and a fabulous band.

The Decision: I'm glad I had the chance to compare these two bars in the HoCo - one a classic downtown Columbia place, the other a somewhat new fixture in River Hill. I had a wonderful evening out at both places, and look forward to trying many more things on the menu. 

For this battle, I thought both apps were a great value, and a good example of what I love in bar food. Comparing the two meals, though, I thought Clyde's classic approach with the twist of chili butter put their calamari over the top - I declare Clyde's the winner!

Where do you go for your bar noms? Tell me in the comments below! (and check out the HoCoHangover blog, which has written up some great posts on the HoCo bar scene)

1 comment:

  1. I love the food vs. food theme. You should add the calamari from Facci to the mix.