I have to be up front with you. I love a good happy hour heck, I even enjoy a mediocre one.
By DAVE ECKERT
Theres just something about consuming good food, and sometimes good wine, at half price that truly satisfies my soul. Okay, thats a bit strong. Lets just say I enjoy being able to experiment with different restaurants, different dishes and different drinks without breaking the bank.
And over the past few months, Ive been able to conduct quite a few experiments. What follows are my impressions of the good and the better. There were a few bad visits as well, where the happy hour was less than happy, but I choose to stay positive.
Now, this is by no means meant to be a comprehensive list. After all, there are only so many hours in which one can be happy. Plus, living north of the river and working around the Country Club Plaza, I dont get the chance to venture out east or down south very often.
On the positive side, Ive been to nearly every happy hour in the Crossroads, Power & Light District, Westport and The Country Club Plaza, so Im pretty much an expert on the happy hours offered there.
So, where to start? Well, how about three of my favorite Happy Hours in the Crossroads District Tannin Wine Bar and Kitchen, Nara and Extra Virgin. I like all three, and for very different reasons.
At Tannin, I love the fact that their extensive selection of wines by the glass is 25 percent off until 6 p.m. while the appetizers are 50 percent off. I wish theyd extend their happy hour until 6:30, but then, I wish every restaurant would extend their happy hour to 6:30 p.m.
I particularly like the House Smoked Rainbow Trout, the Beef Rib Eye Tartare and the Grilled Foie Gras, but the health conscious will also find a number of terrific salads. As for the wines, they have so many excellent choices by the glass and theyre changing the all of the time, so you will have no problem finding something to match both the food and your palate.
At Nara, its all about the food. With a host of $3 and $4 choices, you really cant go wrong. Grilled Robata Skewers chicken, beef, veggies and Thai peanut sausage are excellent as are the Soft Spring Rolls and Nara Fish Tacos. The wine selections are nothing to talk about so I wont.
Boasting what has to be the longest happy hour in town 11:30 a.m. to 6 p. m. Extra Virgin also offers some of the most unique and varied choices. I counted some 24-menu items that are half price from lunch all the way through the early evening.
The La Quercia Speck, from free range hogs fed a diet of acorns among other things in Iowa, could be my favorite cured meat in the world and I just got back from a week of eating cured meats in Tuscany. The Chicken Chicharones and Liver Pate is terrific. And, the grilled Oyster Mushrooms are right up my alley. They dont have any discounted wine by the glass during happy hour, which is a bit of a bummer, but with all the dough youre saving on the food, you can splurge on a nice glass of vino or two.
There are several Happy Hour offerings at restaurants in Westport and on the Plaza, but I feel like Im starting to ramble, so Im going to limit my comments to two-both on the Plaza.
First one you might not expect, Fiorellas Jack Stack Barbecue, which is actually one of my all-time favorites and a real go-to choice for me.
I have to admit I usually dont partake of the food all that often, but when I do, its all about the burnt ends. I usually get a combination of beef and pork, but you really cant go wrong with either.
The onion rings are among the best in town and the spicy grilled shrimp is a meal for two with bread.
The real draw for me, however, is the discounted wines by the glass. I can get a lovely Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand or a hearty Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina for a little more than $4.
The second Plaza favorite for me is Chaz, the restaurant and lounge in the Raphael. Again, the happy hour ends too soon at 6 p.m., but if you can get in early youll appreciate the half-off choices, which include a really good half-pound house-ground steak burger, Escargot and Rabbit Tacos served in Pancetta shells. Theyre tiny in size, but big in flavor.
Finally, Ive saved what I consider the best for last. Its Story in the Village Shopping Center in Prairie Village. This is a terrific restaurant period, but the happy hour borders on amazing.
First, Chef Carl Torne-Thomsen doesnt turn out anything that isnt top notch.
Second, the offerings are changing all of the time based on the season and what ingredients are available.
Third, while the bar is tiny, the patio is lovely and expansive, so if the weather cooperates, thats the place to go.
Thats exactly what my wife and I did recently, and we couldnt have been more pleased. We first split and Heirloom Tomato Salad that was beyond sumptuous. I then had the Hangar Steak while she went for the Fried Chicken. The Hangar Steak was served with a panzanella salad, and in a romesco sauce, and the Fried Chicken came with a savory bread pudding and gravy. A couple glasses of Dry French Roses and we were in Happy Hour Heaven if you believe in that sort of thing, that is.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert, which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.