The Spot: Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails, Palomar Hotel, CityScape, 2 E. Jefferson St, Phoenix, 602-258-0231, www.bluehoundkitchen.com.
The Hours: Happy Hour is offered 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The Interior: With its floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the office buildings along Central Avenue, Blue Hound offers the kind of big city environment we don't see much of in this big city. I love the towering back bar, the neutral color scheme and exposed brick, the mirrors -- hung on a downward slant and trimmed in weathered wood -- the metal accents (which add an industrial element without making the room feel cold), the funky dog art and most of all, the sexy view, which roots me in Phoenix but feels so much hipper than my familiar hometown.
The Food: Chef Stephen Jones doesn't throw his heart into happy hour deals, and I'm guessing that's by design. This is a cool, classy hotel restaurant and bar, geared toward young urban professionals and business travelers, not coupon clippers looking for dinner on a shoestring.
Happy hour's only food offering is $12 flatbreads dropped to half-price. But the bar menu features a half dozen gourmet-ish snacks priced at $5-$6, more if you order them in a larger size. Although I'm mildly curious about caramel popcorn with ancho chile (called butterscotch in the description, so which is it?), I'm not curious enough to try it ($5). Who wants caramel corn with a cocktail or a glass of wine? Well, not me anyway.
Deviled eggs are everywhere these days, but that's okay. They make an easy-to-eat, crowd-pleasing bar snack. Here, the yolks are bolstered with brioche and studded with bits of smoked ham. The amount of Dijon (heavy this visit) seems to vary day-to-day. Piped and herb-strewn, they're definitely pretty, but three for $6? Or two bucks per egg half? Absurdity.
The Local Artisan Cheeseboard -- which doesn't actually feature local artisans this week but never mind -- is pricy at $15 but feels much more worth it. Accompanied by sliced apples, dates, a pinch (and I do mean a pinch) of quince jam, toasted baguette and mixed nuts, the trio of cheeses is outstanding. This day, they include the luxurious triple crème called Explorateur, a smooth, nutty Manchego and an aged, cheddar-like goat's milk cheese from Cypress Grove called Midnight Moon -- all so good I'd return for this plate alone.
Sopes -- little circles of fried masa dough -- are uncharacteristically firm, which admittedly makes them easier to pick up by hand. But I seriously love the hot-sweet and wonderfully sticky pasilla chile jam with which they're so generously smeared. The little squares of pork belly on top, which aren't as rich and fatty as they could be, almost have the chewiness of cured bacon. They're good, not great ($6).
The best value is surely the crispy-bottomed flatbread, our version topped with duck confit, rich sauce soubise, Gruyere, matchstick green apples and arugula. This thing is delicious.
The Drink: Super-talented mixology team Shel Bourdon and Tyson Buhler offer the very best reason to visit this happy hour. Cocktails are made with fresh, locally sourced herbs, fruits and vegetables as well as house-made syrups and tinctures. The bar crew even makes their own ginger beer. And the imaginative but grounded-in-reality cocktail selection makes for a mouthwatering read.
During happy hour, you'll find a handful of $4 craft drafts, $6 specialty cocktails (loved my elegant Brown Derby, served in a frosted coupe) and half-price wines on tap. If you're smart, you'll go ahead and spring for the regularly priced $10 cocktails, which are twice as good as $12-$13 cocktails elsewhere. Bourdon tells me a menu change is on the horizon as Blue Hound transitions from summer's thirst-quenching sippers to autumn's warmer, more complex flavors.
The Conclusion: If you're looking for an interesting urban hangout and you love a good cocktail, you won't want to miss Blue Hound. Consider the sometimes-great, sometimes average food a side note, and you'll surely leave happy.
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