House of Tricks: Happy Hour Report Card

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The Spot: House of Tricks 114 E. 7th Street, Tempe, 480-968-1114 www.houseoftricks.com

See also: -- Tastemaker #57: Robin Trick -- Cartwright's: Happy Hour Report Card -- Timo: Happy Hour Report Card

Hours: Happy Hour is offered from 4 to 6 p.m. every day.

The Interior: When Tricks opened in 1987, it was little more than a cozy 20s-era cottage with lace-curtained windows and a fireplace made of local river rock. Customers who wanted to eat outdoors snagged a picnic table (there were maybe three) on the grass under a canopy of trees. The place had an unaffected, almost rustic charm back then. And although the patio has been tricked out over the years -- there's a shaded patio bar and grape arbor now, built on a deck, as well as two bricked patios, a fountain/fire pit, a goldfish pond, a jungle of ferns and flowers and a few resident cats -- it's a "Best Patio" award winner, year after year, for very good reason. In good weather, there are few places I'd rather be than the Mexican tile-topped bar, built around two lovely old shade trees.

The Food: Tricks offers five happy hour selections -- all of them upscale takes on bar food, four of them falling in the golden $4-$6 range. The only outlier is thin-crust, crisp-bottomed flatbread-pizza ($9.25), topped with house-made mozzarella, basil and a thick, sweet tomato sauce that brings Spinato's to mind. If you tack on Schreiner's sausage (and why wouldn't you?), the price jumps to $12.25. But the thing feeds three people easily, and it hits the spot if you've come hungry.

If you're more of a nibbler, you won't want to miss crispy house-made potato chips, tucked in a paper funnel and served with creamy onion dip ($4). The single reason I show uncharacteristic restraint on this one? Too much other good stuff to chow on.

Namely -- meaty chicken wings, coated in a sticky Asian caramel glaze so irresistible I swipe the plate with my finger to get every last drop of it ($6). It's a great change-up on the usual Buffalo wings, and although I hesitate to use pretentious food jargon, this dish perfectly exemplifies umami. Lip. Smacking. Good. Three fat celery stalks (leaves left on) and coriander ranch dip are the accompaniments.

Meanwhile, spinach-artichoke dip is just right -- chunky, creamy, fat-laden deliciousness, served with toasted French bread and good crackers ($6).

The Drink: House of Tricks prides itself on its eclectic wine list and climate-controlled cellar, offering about 30 wines by the glasses, the prices knocked off two bucks for happy hour. If you care more about drinking a decent wine than finding a happy hour bargain, you'll be very happy here. Expect $1 off for beer and cocktails, which, admittedly, isn't much of a discount.

Conclusion: I like pretty much everything about happy hour at Tricks: great noshes, great wine selection, good food prices and one of the prettiest, most pleasant settings in town.

Grade: A-

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