Bar Bites at Morton’s The Steakhouse, Honolulu
The bartenders at Morton's in Ala Moana Center know their classic cocktails, but the bar food is also classic, especially at "Power Hour" prices.
The bartenders at Morton's know their stuff, even coming up with a classic Sazerac if asked.
(Cocktail geek moment: The Sazerac rivals the Bourbon Old Fashion as America's oldest cocktail, dating from pre-Civil War New Orleans. To make one right you have to swirl absinthe in a chilled glass, discard the excess, muddle a sugar cube with Peychaud's bitters in yet another glass, add rye, stir and pour into the chilled glass. No ice. See below left.)
If you're going to be drinking Sazeracs, or even vodka martinis with blue cheese-stuffed olives, you need fortification. A serious bar needs serious food.
I'd of course eaten in Morton's oh-so-serious wood paneled dining room, where they wheel a cart full of meat to your table to make a selection.
But not until the other night at the bar. There's a solid bar menu. You might be tempted by tiny filet mignon sandwiches—but resist. The beef to get at the bar are the three little prime cheeseburgers, with the classic lettuce, tomato slice, red onion toppings. The meat in the burgers is fall-apart tender and packs that wallop that can only come from a great collection of amino acids and lipids. Don't bother with catsup. You'll ruin it.
Similar are the mini crabcake BLTs, real bacon, real crab, all stacked on those little "silver dollar" buns. Just remember to eat these immediately, much better hot than cold.
But the biggest surprise? Iceberg wedge bites. I didn't order this, my friend did, perhaps as her concession to healthy eating.
Iceberg lettuce, once a staple of restaurants everywhere, has thoroughly gone out of fashion, replaced by mesclun of greens. Some people miss it. A curmudgeonly acquaintance once asked plaintively, "What makes restaurants think that when I order a salad, I want a plate of weeds?"
Actually, though, most iceberg lettuce was limp and tasted like vaguely vegetative water. The iceberg at Morton's was so fresh it sort of snapped when you bit it. It tasted great—but then anything might taste great covered with a cap of blue-cheese dressing, the kind with lots of actual blue cheese in it. Not to mention chopped hardboiled egg, bacon and tomato. I cleaned that plate.
After all that, all I had room for was two or three plump, fresh oysters, and, of course, dessert—carrot cake, since it's made from Morton's CEO's mother's recipe. The secret ingredients: crushed pineapple and shredded coconut, which you can't quite taste, but add an interesting texture.
Now, true to the grand American steakhouse tradition, these things can be expensive ($10.50 for the iceberg, $14 for the three little burgers, $2.50 an oyster).
Here's the good news: Every day but Saturday, Morton's has happy hour both early (5-6:30 p.m.) and late (9-10 p.m., 11 p.m. on Friday). It's not called happy hour, it's called Power Hour. Buying power, because bar bites are $6 and $7. And, of course, there are drink specials.
Morton’s, now on my list of serious bars.