Photo by Maria C. Ascarrunz

Bar Buddy, Buddy the Bar or just Buddy opened in November, and I’ve been champing at the bit to get there. Cold weather kept us away, as I wanted to sit outside, but the first sunny day found me there with my sister. 

Executive Chef Sean Thomas, formerly of Blue Plate and creator of Side Hustle (super delicious condiments that were sold at various pop-up venues throughout the pandemic), has opened his newest venture, partnering with industry bar and kitchen types from the likes of True Laurel, Lolinda, Oma Casa and ABV. 

The space used to house Californios, and got a slight makeover to reflect its comfy, casual, yet serene air. The beautiful bar still curves across the room, and you can belly up to it while listening to actual LPs (remember those, sonny?) on a record player (What’s that? Talk right into my ear horn!) Latin big-band music kept our toes tapping. There are several tables out front on the sidewalk, but two cute and cozy seats face the big front window so you can eat al fresco and still be sheltered from the elements.

Let us start with the cocktails since this is, after all, a bar. They’re of the lo-fi variety, much like the well-loved Royal Cuckoo wine bar a few blocks away, and cleverly crafted using a collection of intriguing spirits: sherries, vermouths, amaros, bitters, etc.  Buddy is also pouring beer, natural wine, bubbles, and cider. We started out with the Lil Fizz, made with orange vermouth and a chai shrub, which my sister enjoyed, and the Buddy Bambu, including Manzanilla, dry vermouth, bianco, guava, and chocolate bitters:

Please note the adorable vintage glasses.  I found my drink a bit sweet, surprisingly, considering the first two ingredients, but loved the hint of chocolate. I followed that up with a bone-dry Basque cider, Ordago Sidras Astigarraga.

Even though Buddy’s is predominantly a bar, it is also a café, and the food here is no second thought. The menu features elegant, gorgeous, small bites that are shareable, and all beautifully presented.

First, gougères with bay leaf labneh and salmon roe.

Gougeres.

Such an appealing nibble. The bay leaf was a brilliant touch in this, a fragrant, musky match for those juicy little sea-baubles, all nestled into perfect, bite-sized cream puffs.

Next, the La Gilda dip, inspired by the famous San Sebastian, Spain, pintxo of the same name.

La Gilda dip.

In San Sebastian, you’ll find the curvaceous snack — a skewered anchovy, guindilla pepper, and  Manzanilla olive — at just about every pintxos bar, and it’s a perfect combination.  Here, it’s been turned into a dip with those same elements, plus tiny currants, over cream cheese, topped with minced scallions. The currants give little bursts of sweetness in this typically tangy/spicy app.

Next, baby turnip crudités with their greens, accompanied by a smoked oyster ranch dip, the greens spritzed with preserved lemon and bergamot: 

Baby turnip crudité.

Kind of takes your breath away, doesn’t it?  Light, fresh and lovely; a veritable serving of Spring.  I felt like a wood nymph, dipping leafy, citrus-kissed greens into the briny dip.  I’d never had raw baby turnips before, and they are a crunchy delight.  This was perhaps my favorite dish.

Next came a savory, warm cheesecake of Pt. Reyes blue cheese with guajillo chile oil, and huckleberry mostarda. 

Savory cheesecake.

Served with herbed focaccia. A richly assertive dish although, after a couple of bites, we put it aside to take home because it was served at the same time as the dish I’d been looking forward to the most: the fried mortadella sammy.

Mortadella Ssmmy.

Time to get down, dirty and back to your roots!  A fat slice of pearly pink mortadella on good old white toast, house-made fromage à l’Américaine, shredded escarole, cherry peppers, dijonaise and, bien sur, we took the fried egg option.  I didn’t know whether to eat it or do unspeakable things to it, but as we were in public …  Let’s just say it made for a very messy, luscious finish. *Fans self.*

With so many diverse flavors packed into every dish, you could risk overwhelming your palate if you don’t pace yourself, enjoy another cocktail or a bracingly crisp glass of bubbly, chill out to the tunes, and ease on into your evening.

There are a few items I’ve still yet to try, and I’m eager to see what Chef Thomas comes up with in the future, as he’s known to be full of unique culinary surprises.  I can see working my way through the cocktails and eclectic wine list, too.

Buddy also doubles as a bottle shop with offerings from California, Italy, France, Spain, Georgia, and I even saw Peruvian tempranillo by the glass.  Note that you do get a paper menu here (for which I am eternally grateful), and there is a 20 percent dine-in service charge added to your bill, so you don’t need to add an additional tip, although you certainly can.

Welcome Buddy to the neighborhood!  We’re always glad to see a new friend become an old friend.

Buddy
3115 22nd St.

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