At just 24 years old, it’s fair to say Jen Anderson is objectively on the younger side for someone running her own kitchen.
Anderson recently came on board as the head chef at Bar Mars, the new cocktail bar and restaurant that operates out of the old Golden Brown & Delicious location on Pendleton Street. Although the GB&D name is still painted on the side of the building (for now, that is), Anderson is already bringing her unique style of small-plate, made-from-scratch, elevated bar food to the Village of West Greenville.
“It’s very important to be to be respectful of the history and everything Alex has put into this space,” Anderson said, referring to Alex George, the co-owner of Bar Mars and head chef at GB&D.
Anderson got her start working under George in the GB&D kitchen in 2016. With no formal training — she actually has a degree in interior design — Anderson developed her style on the fly, with GB&D acting as her informal culinary school.
Since GB&D has moved to its new location in The Commons, Anderson said the challenge for her was how to reinvent the old space while also paying proper homage to its history.
Perhaps no dish on her menu better exemplifies that challenge than the Bar Mars cheeseburger.
When creating her own bar food staple, Anderson wasn’t content to just repeat the GB&D formula.
“I want it to be simple,” she said, “but then there’s always a little element of surprise: the familiar and the unfamiliar.”
The result: a classic double-patty burger with some unique variations. Anderson’s burger features a Japanese milk bun with poppy seeds, frozen and then fried onion rings (which melt into the burger rather than crumble apart), classic American cheese and a special steak sauce mayo, with a spicy pickle spear on the side.
But the burger is just one dish in the ever-evolving Bar Mars menu, which includes staples like mac and cheese, French fries and salads, as well as Southern favorites like hushpuppies and fried cauliflower. There are also more unique options like pork belly bao dumplings and sautéed oyster with shiitake mushrooms and soft egg.
A simple scroll through the Bar Mars Instagram reveals even more creative concoctions: deep fried brioche with cranberry coulis and toasted marshmallow, for example, or a turnip-lovers dream in the form of turnip confit with turnip peel crisps and turnip green pesto (plus bacon, because it is a bar after all).
Anderson said some of the dishes had been on her mind for years at a time before they hit the plate.
“When I get a thumbs-up from everybody else I work with, that’s when I know the dish is done,” she said.
That collaborative approach drives Bar Mars, which is operated primarily by just four people. Besides Anderson in the kitchen, there’s Chris George, previously of the Anchorage, who runs the creative cocktail services. Former GB&D food truck worker Justin Klack is the jack-of-all trades and so-called “prep master,” according to Anderson. And Sarah Cochran is the business mind and in-house photographer.
“Everything builds on itself,” Anderson said. “Moving forward, it’s still going to be the four of us, everyone doing their part.”
Bar Mars hours:
Tuesday-Thursday: 4pm to 11 pm
Friday: 4 pm to 1 am
Saturday 4 pm to 12 am