On the NBC show Hannibal, the titular Dr. Lecter dazzles his dinner guests with an parade of effortless, elegantly crafted dishes made with, ahem, distinctive ingredients. The two-month old Ophelia's Electric Soapbox doesn't offer "long pig" on the menu, but it shares the show's atmosphere of haute cuisine, lust and music. It's too early to stamp Ophelia's as a success, but no doubt its generous happy hour will be the next big thing in Ballpark.
Entering the retro-chic Airedale building and following your host into the dining room is one of the year's must-have experiences. The space seems to expand all around you, dark but touched with sexy lighting, lurid art and supple leather. Happy hour is served throughout the restaurant, Tuesdays through Fridays from 4 to 6 p.m., but happy-hour hunters will probably be staking their claims at the bar. I was seated over the back glass of the wonderful Dolly Parton pinball machine — a good sign.
Like sister restaurants Linger and Root Down of Justin Cucci's Edible Beats company, Ophelia's offers a menu with no theme, niche or specialty to weigh it down. Created by Cucci, executive chef Jeremy Kittleson and chef Daniel Asher, dry-rubbed ribs rub against duck meatballs, to be paired with a quail-egg flatbread pizza. The happy-hour menu picks from appetizers, noshes and entrees to present a full if confusing sample of the restaurant's offerings. Although Ophelia's aesthetics are clear, its culinary design is not. Looking at the menu, I worried that a Cheesecake Factory-style mess was on my hands.
Maybe it's just the ghosts left behind in this former bordello, but the happy-hour food I tried was imbued with the same decadent spirit as its surroundings. Steaming in a shiny pot and garnished with fresh blood orange, the Belgian mussels ($5) are a dish worthy of Hannibal Lecter's table, both in presentation and taste. Dredge its depths with a spoon and you'll find giant white beans, lentils and tomato, pregnant with spicy saison/curry broth (#EatTheStewed). Mussels are de rigeur at happy hours, but Ophelia's offers a unique experience in a familiar shell. I also opted for a classy Prosecco cocktail named for the building's predecessor, the Diamond Lil's ($5). It was pleasant enough, but I wished I had opted for something that better captured the building's atmosphere, like the Airedale ($5).
Also familiar to my fellow happy-hour travelers is the sight of flatbread, but this kitchen's gourmet take on pizza is an instant winner. The mushroom flatbread ($5) gets its earthy flavor from a truffle-shroom duxelle (minced and sauteéd into a paste) so rich and savory I could have sworn there was pancetta or bacon in the mix. Fat chunks of goat cheese and pickled red onion just gild this particular lily, but it's seriously impressive that this young restaurant has already mastered the art of flatbread. The only oddness I experienced came in the form of fried plantains ($5), which were nice and crisp, but paired with cotija cheese and cilantro pesto for an uncomfortable meeting of savory and sweet.
Admirably, Cucci has made it his mission to deliver important happy hours at his restaurants, and Ophelia's Electric Soapbox continues this tradition, with as much care put into it as is evident in every inch of this space. Even with its astonishingly affordable prices, this happy hour doesn't cannibalize the best features of the restaurant, but rather enhances them, which is why Ophelia's happy hour will doubtless be the most talked-about couple of hours in this part of the city.
Perfect for: Club kids and their foodie friends — or vice versa. Motown Thursdays' move from the closed Beauty Bar to a monthly gig at Ophelia's was a godsend, and the basement stage, dance floor and bar offer the perfect setting for the talented DJs on tap.
Don't Miss: It would be a shame to miss out on the wonderful mussels or flatbread, but make sure you don't leave without taking in all the little details installed upstairs and downstairs, like the Jagermeister bar or the awesome skin-flick posters strewn about.