Hey, Where’s My Free Bread Basket?
We all know there is no such thing as a free lunch. But back in the day, you used to get something for nothing, at least a slice of bread and butter, when dropping dollars to dine out. Now, not so much.
As I’ve complained before, Mexican joints are calling chips and salsa pico de gallo and charging for them; some fancy pants restaurants don’t even include tap water as an option; and the traditional free bread basket is harder to find than ever. (I don’t care if it is a garlic-rosemary brioche twist – if it’s bread, I don’t want to pay for it.)
Since these pre-meal freebies are becoming fewer and further between, I put together this list of New York’s best restaurants, as ranked by the free food they offer.
Holla back and let me know what I missed. You too, DC folks and others. Wherever I travel, I gotta know where the free is.
Skip the appetizer list at this chic West Village eatery ($8.50 for olives?), because you won’t even want a first course once you get a whiff of the fragrant, overflowing bread basket. The rotating assortment of freshly baked options ranges from the basic (rye, sourdough, challah) to specialty breads stuffed with bites of walnut, olive, and yes, even bacon. The baskets’ contents change from table to table, but if you’ve got a favorite, the servers are usually happy to hook you up.
The bread basket is just the beginning at this over-the-top Brooklyn diner, where each meal begins with an entire table full of snacks. There are two A-1 bread offerings: caraway-studded onion rolls and soft and buttery cornbread, and each table also gets a sampling of crunchy dill pickles and a taste of the restaurant’s extra-vinegary coleslaw. Topping off this quirky smorgasbord is a gratis bowl of bright purple beets. The only problem is saving enough room for an overstuffed sandwich and a heaping slice of the legendary cheesecake.
There’s a reason why Chipotle hasn’t been able to run this Manhattan-based chain out of town: each Burritoville outpost offers something an increasingly disturbing number of Mexican joints don’t: free chips and salsa. If you’re getting take-out, you can pig out at the self-serve bar while you wait, and extremely frugal types have even been known to order a small soda and proceed to feast on the three varieties of free salsa until sated. The tiny paper plates provided with the chips are hardly large enough for ample portions, but policing of the “one serving per person” policy is lax to non-existent.
Breadsticks are usually a throwaway freebie – a bland, stale-tasting alternative for eateries too cheap to shell out for full loaves. Not so at out boy Tom Colicchio’s joint in the Flatiron District. Each table gets an offering of crisp, foot-long breadsticks covered in a flavorful burst of sage and just the right amount of salt. These gourmet bad boys don’t even deserve to bear the same name as the greasy dough-balls that the Olive Garden dares to call breadsticks.
This classic kosher deli has reopened after a two-year hiatus, and while the restaurant is no longer on Second Avenue, meals are still bookended by New York’s best free snacks. When seated, diners are greeted with a glistening bowl of gribenes – a traditional Jewish dish of crispy fried chicken skins – a salty, oily joy that may explain how those keeping kosher can survive without bacon. After giant lunches of chopped liver, pastrami, and matzo ball soup, the pain of the check is dulled by a complimentary shot glass of chocolate soda to wash it all down.
A version of this article originally appeared in The Onion.