Western Europe? That's so 2006, darling. Everyone's thinking Scandinavia these days, thanks to Frozen, sexy Nordics cropping up all over pop culture, and the trickling infiltration of Scandinavian cuisine into American dining culture. The invaders have staked their claim in Denver for close to four years now at Chef Ryan Leinonen's Trillium. The happy hour here has always been acclaimed as a cheaper way to experience the vision of Leinonen and company — served from 5 to 7 p.m. daily in the bar, lounge and patio.
Full disclosure, I had been looking forward to dining at Trillium since I heard about its tasty concept, and reports of inconsistent service and execution did little to dissuade me. The Ballpark eatery was nearly empty on a weekday evening, but I plonked down on the narrow patio and pointed immediately to the Viking's Garden cocktail ($6). With Krogstad Akvavit liquor from Portland bracing cucumber-basil soda and bitters in a layered swirl of rose-colored liquid. So dry it's almost homework, this tipple was still a complex and worthwhile study.
Like the similarly-themed Charcoal, the happy hour food is a crowd-pleasing stepping stone to the more advanced work on the dinner menu. First, there's a $5 little sandwich that ticks some of the best — if overused — happy hour boxes: a slider, with pork belly, on a pretzel bun. But as the thick fat melded with beer mustard and pickled red onion, I conceded that this dish was more than routine. It paired quite well with the summer salad ($6), a verdant haystack of Cure Organic Farm greens, shallots, plump peas, and cheddar croutons. This bounty is lightly dressed in a elderflower vinaigrette, one of the few clear Scandinavian influences at happy hour. Shamefully, I prefer the smoky bacon dressing that slunk into my life with the mini radish salad beside the slider.
While the board offers advanced fare like roasted bone marrow and marmalade ($8) or a pork terrine to spread on Finnish flatbread ($6), I still needed some comfort food, dammit. And if Norwegian fur trappers could forsake fermented rakfisk for an order of Trillium's truffled tater tots ($6), they probably would. Six bucks only gets you a handful of these nuggets, but what a handful — like a combination of the best malt-vinegared chips from a Scottish chippie and the tastiest truffle fries you've ever had. A ramekin of Hollandaise alongside is almost too much.
Leinonen's glossy happy hour may not be the best education for those unfamiliar with the rich texture of Scandinavian culture, but there are many delicious offerings at this nearly flawless happy hour. Bring someone to impress, look up a traditional drinking song and just Let It Go, baby.
Perfect for: Ballpark is a mess on game day; even Trillium can get busy. But if you like the atmosphere they've got a couple TVs to catch the action while enjoying better-than ballpark cuisine. Then join the throngs at Star Bar across the street for post-game celebration or lament.
Don't Miss: Trillium makes its own akvavit infusions in a variety of brain-teasing flavors. If you're up for a tongue-burning, stomach boiling challenge, the lemon verbena-pink peppercorn infusion ($5 a shot, $9 for three and $13 for five) matches the burn with a fantastic spice to puzzle out.
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