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Citizen Public House: Happy Hour Report Card

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The Spot: Citizen Public House, 7111 E. Fifth Avenue, Suite E, Scottsdale, 480-398-4208, www.citizenpublichouse.com.

See also: Bernie Kantak Explains What's Good About Food Network and How Josh Hebert Inadvertently Changed His LIfe Tastemaker #16: Bernie Kantak

The Hours: Happy Hour is offered 3 to 6 p.m. daily.

The Interior: Forget the two tacky nightclubs that occupied this space for nanoseconds. If you've lived here long enough, you're more likely to remember this historic hunk of real estate (and particularly its lofty, sloped ceiling) as the former home to the original Trader Vic's. Thank God chef Bernie Kantak and his partners Andrew Fritz and Richie Moe had the good sense to capitalize on its inherently good bones. Now the minimally designed room -- anchored by a 27-seat, nickel-topped bar at its center -- is spacious and light-filled, an elegant but comfortable alternative to the dank public houses of old. It's a great hangout for all kinds of reasons, one of them being background blues that invariably makes me pester the bartender with, "Hey, who is this?"

The Food: Kantak's happy hour menu features exactly three things, but they're imaginative, and just reading about them makes me hungry so I think he's hit on something. Happy hour doesn't have to mean a full-blown meal; it can be what it was originally intended to be -- a nice, alcoholic interlude, with hearty snacks that may or may not constitute supper.

Even though it's not large, I could order Bernie's P.L.T. and just call it a day. Served on half a lepinja roll (Serbian flatbread), this sexy riff on the old BLT, stacked with house-cured lamb pancetta with tomato, mizuna and aioli is just perfect -- unusual yet familiar at once ($6).

Even better for inveterate snackers: grilled and sliced whiskey fennel sausage (yep, the combo is every bit as good as it sounds), served with aged New York cheddar, mustard and grilled lepinja ($8). This is exactly the sort of elevated pub grub you'd expect a place called Citizen Public House to serve ($8). Yay!

Although I'm not sure pickled chourico (a Portuguese spin on chorizo -- dense, deep-red and smoky) will suit everyone, I adore it for being puckery-tart. Served in a small Mason jar with smoked mozzarella (also dense, a bit like extra-firm tofu from the heavy pickling), it's another new-fashioned look at old-fashioned bar food ($5).

Bar snacks include Kantak's signature bacon fat heirloom popcorn, rosemary roasted nuts and assorted olives -- all good, all half price ($2.50) at happy hour. For my part, I could be happy with a bowlful of Castelvetrano olives, which I love for being meaty and buttery -- not briny.

The Drink: Master mixologist Richie Moe makes four barrel-aged cocktails for the occasion, all priced at $5. Such a deal. Meanwhile draft beer and wines by the glass are both half price. Loved my Matilda, a spicy, fruity-on-the-nose Belgian-style Pale Ale from Goose Island that paired well with all those heavy meats.

The Conclusion: I love this easygoing, utterly relaxed happy hour. Granted, we were there early, but we didn't have to worry about getting a seat, getting jostled by hungry hordes, being forgotten by our server or any of the other frantic stuff that typically makes a busy happy hour less than happy. What a sweet little secret! And now I told it. Dang!

Grade: A-


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