Food - Best Bets: Popcorn

Fancy snacks popping up at Ration & Dram, Tap, and more

Legend has it molasses-coated popcorn with peanuts made its debut 121 years ago at the Chicago World's Fair. A guy named Louis Rueckheim is said to have tweaked the recipe, and three years later, Cracker Jack was born. Soon — most likely after songwriter Jack Norworth's reference to the snack in his 1908 smash hit, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" — Cracker Jack became the poster-food of America's past time. The snack has been embedded within our cultural memory ever since. Lately, gussied up tributes to the sweet and salty classic have been popping up all over town. Here are your five best bets for quelling your next nostalgia snack attack. Wax coated box and prize not included.

Brick Store Pub's beer list is massive. Enhance the culling process while perusing the 200-menu beer menu with an order of bourbon caramel glazed popcorn with roasted peanuts and pecans. Like the classic baseball rendition, it's roasted and toasted, sweet and savory, and arrives in a festive brown paper bag. If you find half the bag is gone and you still haven't picked a beer, Brick Store's über knowledgeable staff will be more than happy to help you pick the perfect brew to sip with the rest of your caramel, corn, and nuts. 125 E. Court Square, Decatur. 404-687-0990. www.brickstorepub.com.

How does one make caramel popcorn even more decadent? Add bacon. Then use the bacon fat to make caramel. Holeman & Finch figured this out a couple years ago, and we've been in love with their bacon caramel popcorn ever since. (H&F has even started selling the stuff retail at specialty markets like Savi.) Enjoy a little metal bowl with friends before ordering from H&F's always adventurous "Parts" menu and a classic Remember the Maine cocktail (rye, sweet vermouth, Cherry Heering, and absinthe) from lead bartender Sara Justice. That boozy, full-flavored classic plays nicely with each sweet and smoky morsel. 2277 Peachtree Road, Suite B. 404-948-1175. www.holeman-finch.com.

Before he even opened Ration & Dram — the sleek, two-story eat-and-drinkery on Arizona Avenue — owner Andy Minchow told us, "there will be bacon." After enjoying some rations (a patty melt and some buttered radishes, perhaps?) and some drams on the super-chill patio, look for a section on the menu called "Coffin Nails." This is where Minchow keeps R&D's addictive version of bacon caramel popcorn. The buttery-sweet and meaty mix is a perfect match for Minchow's bittersweet Shallow Grave cocktail. Or share a bowl with the kiddos over a creamy Coke float. 130 Arizona Ave. 678-974-8380 www.rationanddram.com.

Tap's chef Nick McCormick recently partnered with Caja Popcorn to concoct a magical mixture that riffs on another pair of American mainstays: beer and wings.

Tap's "HopCorn" is seasoned with beer extract powder and hop botanicals that replicate the flavors in a pale ale. It has a citrusy aroma and each bite is followed by the slightly bitter finish of a pale ale. McCormick ups the ante by throwing puffy buffalo pork rinds seasoned with vinegar and onion powders, cayenne, and paprika in the mix. Try a handful with Monday Night Brewing's Eyepatch Ale. The crisp, malty caramel notes of the beer mellow out the snack's peppery burn. 1180 Peachtree St. 404-347-2220. www.tapat1180.com.

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