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Fancy bar food for your budget

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Around the Triangle, bar food doesn't just refer to mozzarella sticks any more. (Not that there's anything wrong with those!) A quick zip around the Web turns up bar menus at several fancy places, offering diners a chance to enjoy restaurants while still trimming their tabs in tight times.

The Carolina Inn, Herons, The Washington Duke Inn, Sullivan's Steakhouse, ShabaShabu and Second Empire all offer bar menus. Some places reduce prices on food served in the bar.

On Thursdays, Bistro 64 (103 Edinburgh South Drive, Cary, 380-1322, www.bistro64.com) cuts its bar menu prices in half. That means tasty treats such as fried chicken livers with Madeira sauce (normally $8) and grilled filet tips with candied onions, crispy fries and chipotle catsup (normally $14) are 50 percent more affordable.

Sundays through Thursdays, Bocci Trattoria & Pizzeria (5850 Fayetteville Road, Durham, 206-4067, www.bocciitalian.com) offers $5 appetizers if you order them in the bar from 4 to 7 p.m. So you can try Bocci's mussels Bianca (normally $9) and prosciutto-wrapped scallops (normally $8); that makes dinner for $10.

Blu Seafood and Bar (2002 Hillsborough Road, Durham, 286-9777, www.bluseafoodandbar.com) features a similar deal: $5 appetizers and salads in its bar Monday through Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m. That is more than half off the regular price of, say, yellowfin tuna tartare with avocado and miso vinaigrette.

And if mozzarella sticks are what you're really craving after all, you can find an upscale, locavore version of them at Il Palio (1505 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, 929-4000, www.sienahotel.com/ilpalio.cfm), where Chapel Hill Creamery's fresh mozzarella is served with housemade local tomato sauce at the Cicchetti bar.

In searching for bar menus, I found another chef-written blog. Colin Auchincloss, the executive chef at Azure Grille (407 Meadowmont Village Circle, Chapel Hill, 960-0707, www.azuregrille.com) writes "The Carolina Food Experiment." He recently posted about amuse bouche, roast chicken via sous vide and dueling swooshes. Check him out at www.carolinafood.blogspot.com.

The Black Friday Beer Festival, now in its second year, is officially a holiday tradition. Its slogan: "Fight crowds at the bar, not the mall." It began last year as an alternative to shopping on the day after Thanksgiving.

Triangle Brewing Company (683-BEER, www.trianglebrewery.com) hosts this year's event from 3 to 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 28, at 918 Pearl St. in Durham. This year substitutes live music for last year's video games, and all proceeds benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. TBC will serve its own cask and draft beers, plus others from local and regional breweries. Restaurants such as The James Joyce, Alivia's, Papa Mojo's Roadhouse, Bull McCabe's, Satisfaction, Brixx and Simply Fresh are donating light food. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door; check the TBC Web site for ticket locations and updates.

Know about a fun food happening in the Triangle? Send it to Now Serving at food@indyweek.com.

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