Happy Place: Shells and Sauce, 2600 East Twelfth Avenue, 303-377-2091.
The Hours: Tuesday through Sunday from 4 to 6:30 p.m.
The Deals: $2-4 beers; $4.50 wines by the glass and well drinks; $4.95 antipasti.
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The Digs: Shells and Sauce caps one end of a block in Congress Park where an Ace Hardware and a handful of eateries landed smack in the middle of a neighborhood that is otherwise residential. It's a local's restaurant where couples in biking gear gobble pasta aside families and their next door neighbors. The rectangular room -- painted in warm Tuscan hues which compliment the simple, unclothed tables -- holds plenty of seating, an open kitchen line, and a bar that features a flat screen and a large selection of booze and vino. Shells and Sauce boasts two patios: a rooftop deck that draws sleepy thirty-somethings in for weekend brunch, as well as a smaller patio along Twelfth Avenue.
The Verdict: A college girlfriend wanted to meet in the middle, and suggested Shells and Sauce for happy hour. We agreed to meet after mutually deciding that "Shells and Sauce" is quite possibly the worst name ever for a restaurant. We arrived towards the end of happy hour on a Thursday night to discover that Shells and Sauce is actually very popular. So popular that we ended up waiting thirty minutes for a barstool. We had a few beers, scoped out the upstairs patio, and bid adieu.
We returned on Sunday night, and although the bar was nearly empty, the patio along Twelfth Avenue was full, as was the dining room. The bartender brought us a menu and a warm mini-loaf of bread, along with a small dish of dipping sauce created with olive oil, herbs, parmesan, and a massive amount of balsamic vinegar. We glanced at the drink list, decided on a cocktail and some snacks, and then waited ten minutes for our barkeep to return to take our order.
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Shells and Sauce offers small antipasti plates for their happy hour treats. We decided to order popcorn crawfish and proscuitto-wrapped asparagus. By the time we had placed our order, the bar had filled to capacity with neighborhood folk happily chatting about their weekend happenings and the Rockies game. The popcorn crawfish arrived first, soft tender bites of lightly breaded crawfish served with a large ramekin of lemon garlic aioli. The large spears of asparagus was delivered atop a drizzle of sweet, syrupy reduced balsamic. The proscuitto, wrapped around the asparagus, had been seared to a crisp and we found ourselves disliking the crunch. We celebrated the end of happy hour by ordering a bottle of wine, and discovered that the busier our bartender became, the more efficient he was. Or maybe we were just drunk. Either way, Shells and Sauce is a happening little place if you're looking to catch up over a few drinks and enjoy some Congress Park love.
Overall Grade: B