When mild-mannered Bruce Banner was exposed to lethal gamma rays, he transformed into the Incredible Hulk, an uncontrollable mass of anger with an appetite for destruction. When Mary Nguyen was exposed to the changing tides on 17th Street and European bistro culture, she transformed Parallel 17 into P17, a neighborhood hangout with an afternoon happy hour. So, it's not a perfect comparison. Formerly lauded for serving the city's Best Modern Vietnamese, P17 now trades in more casual, global fare and one of Denver's best brunches. With this renewed populist ethos a happy hour must naturally follow, and it does each day from 3 to 6 p.m. — and all day Monday.
P17 literally faces solid competition at dinnertime, where this part of Uptown seems more like a collection of patios and frustratingly unavailable parking spaces than a real neighborhood. The BSide, Humboldt, Il Posto... all are valid happy hour contenders. But this restaurant is packing the smarts of chef-owner Nguyen, whose instincts have historically served her and the city well.
I eyed the happy hour menu with a bit of suspicion. Pork belly? Duck tacos? A burger and PBR special Sounds more like Cherry Creek dining than cutting-edge modern cuisine. However, P17 retains a robust bar program from its previous incarnation. Specialty cocktails are $5 each, and all of them feature some sort of interesting ingredient. The vodka-based City Park sparkled with house-made lemongrass syrup and a splash of cucumber water, and I felt the freshness of a grassy picnic as I sipped it on the patio. The restaurant also lets you pick your poison — an infused liquor — and remedy — fruity mixers — for $5 at happy hour. Kaffir lime-blueberry rum, for example, was an inspired infusion with waves of flavors to surf in a single gulp. You can also take advantage of $4 wines and wells and $3.50 drafts.
Each of P17's half-dozen happy hour bites is a smaller version of an appetizer on the regular menu. Served on identically beveled plates that fit together like a sliding puzzle, these eats are tasty on their own, but couldn't make up a complete meal. The duck confit taco ($2) was rich, sweet, tender — and tiny. Toppings of caramelized pineapple and cotija cheese did make for good company. On another Latin kick was the huitlacoche sope ($3), a fried masa crust topped with sweet corn smut, salsa verde and cilantro crema. There was a disconnect between the cold sope and its delicious filling, but this is an intriguing snack nonetheless. And hearkening back to a favorite dish at the original Parallel 17, the pork belly bun ($2.50) is really beautiful in its presentation of pickled veggies and toothsome hog, all coated in XO sauce. It was demolished immediately, of course, but this is an impressive little bite that makes P17's happy hour worthwhile.
I swallowed maybe eight times this whole meal, severely overestimating the substance of the few things I ordered — my fault, not the work of the kitchen. That's why what's on offer works as a snack board to complement P17's great beverage program, rather than a meal in itself. But with cheap and substantial entrees like the Saigon crepe ($15) or classic pho ($10), it isn't hard to enjoy yourself for happy hour-level prices. Otherwise, you might leave hungry, but you won't leave angry.
Perfect for: Happy hour dining with a conscience. Watch P17's social media for its charity of the month, currently SafeHouse Denver, and mention it to your server. P17 will donate a portion of the bill, so you can justify that basket of fries ($2.50 at happy hour).
Don't Miss: Lack of happy hour sustenance drove me into the embrace of the lamb meatballs ($9, $2.50 at happy hour), which were dense and a tad gamy, just as they should be. They sit on top of risotto-like polenta in a bath of red wine. There are more memorable dishes on the dinner menu, but this plate is a solid choice to share with some friends.