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Timo: Happy Hour Report Card

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The Spot: Timo, 8801 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix, 602-354-3846, www.timocentral.com.

See also: Citizen Public House: Happy Hour Report Card Timo Fires Up Bread and Much More in Sunnyslope

The Hours: Happy Hour is offered from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The Interior: Housed in the space that once held the Sunnyslope fire station, stylish Timo ("thyme" in Italian) offers up cozy wine bar atmosphere, thanks to retractable glass garage doors, a flickering wood-burning oven and upholstered furniture, just right for settling in for a long talk with a friend. But this time of year, it's the mesquite tree-shaded, dog-friendly patio that appeals, especially when the nights get cool enough to fire up the enormous fire pit. Like the inside, it's sleek but comfortable. Unlike the inside, it's quiet.

The Food: Almost everything on the happy hour menu reads much better than it actually is. Best of the lot are moist corn cakes topped with crème fraiche, salmon, capers and a sprig of fresh dill ($5).

Wood-fired wings with tamarind barbecue sauce sound promising, but they're so soupy with sauce we can't really discern a smoky flavor. And I'm not sure what a tiny bowl of sweet Thai chile sauce is supposed to provide, but it surely isn't contrast ($5).

Sure, done-to-death spinach-artichoke dip is old news, but when a familiar dish is done right, sometimes comfort trumps excitement. That's not the case here, where the crumb-topped dip is ultra-dry and not remotely creamy. Meanwhile, the much-touted, house-baked bread has absolutely nothing going for it -- no crust, no texture, no taste. Eight bucks for this? Please.

Chelsea's Kitchen made the Brussels sprout salad famous, and sadly, Timo's bitter version, jazzed up with pancetta, dried fruits, nuts and rubbery Parmesan, suffers for the comparison. When my voracious buddy and I don't finish a plate of food, there's something seriously wrong ($7).

Drink: During happy hour, you'll find $5 cocktails and $4 Sangrias (both white and red) and $5 wines by the glass (normally priced between $8 and $12). A minty, non-alcoholic lemonade mojito or hibiscus lemonade ($2.75 each) works for thirsty teetotalers.

Conclusion: I expected so much more of Timo, but I should know better than to judge a place on its good looks. I'd come back for the patio and a glass of bargain-priced wine, I suppose, but when the food's so average, it's hard to work up enthusiasm even for that.

Grade: C-


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