100 Favorite Dishes

100 Favorite Dishes 2012: No. 83, Pretzel at Anvil Bar & Refuge

This year leading up to our annual Best of Houston® issue, we're counting down our 100 favorite dishes in Houston. This list comprises our favorite dishes from the last year, dishes that are essential to Houston's cultural landscape and/or dishes that any visitor (or resident) should try at least once.

Anvil Bar & Refuge, by all rights, doesn't have to offer food at all. It's a cocktail bar first and foremost -- and cocktails, unlike beer, aren't a beverage that demands nibbling food in easy reach like packets of crisps or pickled eggs in a questionable, dust-covered jar next to the register.

But because it's Anvil -- and because owner Bobby Heugel does nothing by halves -- the bar does offer a small selection of fare designed to pair neatly with the cocktails, beers and two wines it serves, because Anvil wants to make you happy. It really does. And that includes offering treats like the German-style pretzel served with a boozy queso dip on the side.

The pretzel's allure is in its stretchy, doughy simplicity, in the small scatter of crunchy salt across the top and in its ability to match nearly anything thrown its way. I recently asked bartender Chris Frankel to make me a cocktail to go with the hot, yeasty pretzel and he quickly complied (where else could you do this?), serving me a drink developed by fellow barman Hal Brock: The Trotter.

Brock employed his Carolina roots to make a "shrub" (an acid-heavy juice made from fruit, sugar and sometimes vinegar) based on Carolina-style barbecue sauce that's heavy with red pepper and vinegar. The result is an incredibly well-balanced cocktail that has the kick of a good East Coast barbecue sauce, offset by the sweetness of pineapple juice, the brightness of lemon juice and the buttery notes of bourbon.

Plus, it goes great with a pretzel.

The list so far:

No. 100: Chili cheese mac at Jus' Mac No. 99: Texas turkey sandwich at Spec's No. 98: Custard at Petite Sweets No. 97: Caprichos mixtos at Taqueria Monterrey Chiquito No. 96: Pineapple-wasabi burger at Lankford Grocery No. 95: Farmer's MKT Pizza at Phoenicia's MKT Bar No. 94: Potatoes at Money Cat Brunch No. 93: Breakfast tacos at Sunrise Taquito No. 92: Hot dog at Tacos D.F. No. 91: Avocado gelato at Frozen Cafe No. 90: Chicken sandwich at JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers No. 89: Beer-battered asparagus at Hearsay No. 88: Honey Badger omelet at Kraftsmen Cafe No. 87: Pastelitos de carne at El Jalapeño No. 86: Pancakes at Union Kitchen No. 85: Wild boar and crab pizza at Boheme No. 84: Breakfast croissant at BB Donuts

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Katharine Shilcutt