Kelly's at SouthBridge: Happy Hour Report Card
Confit chicken wings with maple-bourbon-Calabrian chile glaze, blue cheese fondue and pickled celery
The Spot: Kelly's at SouthBridge, 7117 E. Sixth Avenue, Scottsdale, 480-393-3205, www.kellysatsouthbridge.com.
The Hours: Happy Hour: 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The Interior: If you're over 35 and dressed in shorts, you're definitely in the wrong place. This rambling 8,000-square-foot restaurant and watering hole (come happy hour, the emphasis is definitely on the latter) draws the young guns of the corporate world, who show up for aprés work cocktails and mingling in their business duds.
The interior is a mash-up of styles, pulling together beamed ceilings and brick walls, concrete floors and crystal chandeliers, couches (some upholstered in leather, others in velvet), TVs, a pool table and dart board and an imposing rectangular bar, situated smack in the middle of the main room. I'm guessing the mood gets a lot looser as the night wears on, but before the sun goes down, it's crowded and noisy but remarkably civilized.
The Food: Stephen "Chops" Smith -- who can put St. Francis and Noca on his resume -- runs the kitchen, and according to Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House (who knows a thing or two about pickling himself), Chops is a pickle whisperer. This is best proven (I'm told) by the charcuterie and cheese plates, which are purportedly fabulous but not discounted at happy hour.
What is discounted at happy hour are exactly four dishes, but there is no happy hour menu, or even a happy hour section. There are bar snacks at great prices, but that's another thing altogether. Customers must rely on servers to point out happy hour items, then recite how much each is discounted. This seems extraordinarily disorganized and haphazard but clearly, nobody at Kelly's cares. They're here to drink and schmooze.
The best happy hour selection (by a long shot) is confit chicken wings, glazed in maple-bourbon-Calabrian chile sauce, served with blue cheese fondue and skinny strips of pickled celery ($7). They're a spicy-sweet and utterly yummy riff on the traditional Buffalo-style and I love them.
The unfortunately named Kelly's Wiener is actually pretty good too -- a dripping, messy compilation of chow-chow, grilled onions, house-made mustard and roasted garlic aioli ($5). How can you go wrong there? You really can't.
Mac and cheese would be infinitely better (not a standout, but certainly decent), had it not been topped with bright red -- and surreal-looking -- crumbles of Flaming Hot Cheetos ($5).
A daily-changing trilogy of bruschetta (overpriced at $8) doesn't leave an impression one way or the other. Average bread (devoid of olive oil and toasted, not grilled) comes topped with various and sundry odd combos (one involving apples, another corn, a third white anchovies). Why not do three or four really solid toppings and leave it at that?
The Four Cut Burger isn't discounted at happy hour (more's the pity), but you won't want to miss it. Topped with Comte cheese, red pepper relish, onion jam and wild mushroom mousse on a black pepper potato roll, it's so juicy, sweet and delish I can't imagine it not making somebody's Best Burger list in months to come ($14). Too bad accompanying fingerling potato salad is undercooked and blah.
And if you ARE a pickle lover, either try the charcuterie plate (apparently, the chef pickles anything and everything, including bananas) or just get a wee sample of house-made pickles (including a deep-fried version and wonderful pickled onion) for $4. They're terrific and fun, a yummy example of sweet-sour restraint.
The Drink: Happy hour prices include $3 domestic bottles, $4 premium bottles, craft beers and well drinks, $5 call drinks, $2 off wines by the glass and half-price specialty cocktails -- not that you would understand any of this without hand-holding from your server.
The Conclusion: Although I'm years (and years) past caring about Kelly's scene, I'd come back for the wings, the burger and the pickles any day. I wish they'd offer more selections (like the burger and the charcuterie) at discounted prices for happy hour. But that's me sounding like a lady with a coin purse. We're in Scottsdale, and these are customers who don't bat an eye at paying full freight, so why should Kelly's change a thing?
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