A Happy-Hour State of Mind at Lower48 Kitchen

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Lower48 Kitchen has gotten a lot of attention for refined food served in an accessible way. The "Each" menu, with small bites on offer for only a few bucks apiece, helped capture our imagination and snag Westword's Best New Restaurant award this year. In ideology and presentation, this approach isn't too different from happy hours seen all across the city -- but Lower48 has its own surprises in store, taking its complex approach to New American cooking and adapting it for the after-work crowd.

See also: Happy Hour at La Cour: Bohemian Rhapsody

Lower48 is celebrating its first birthday this week -- a happening restaurant toasting itself on richly deserved success. Modesty, however, was the order of the day on my visit. From 5:30 to 6:30 Monday through Saturday, Lower48 serves a small but substantial happy hour menu at the bar and community table; my server was kind and accommodating even as big-ticket meals piled up around me. To match a robust booze selection, happy hour also includes $3 drafts, $5 glasses of wine and $6 cocktails.

My eyes popped when I saw the "Each" sampler, offering three items from the small bites menu for $3 -- half the regular menu price. This is my Platonic ideal of happy hour food: an amuse bouche that's an inviting preview of a restaurant's modus operandi. The plate this week includes a shooter of caramelized squash soup, a beignet and a mini corn dog. I lapped up the soup until I realized I wasn't having the time of my life. Flecked with yogurt and cardamom, it was achingly rich and yet oddly bland and flat, forcing me to finally put down my spoon.

I had high hopes for the beignet, an item that shows up on the menu often in different configurations. This one was filled with a reduction of Colorado beets and citrus, which surprised me with how little sweetness it was willing to offer. A dusting of sumac only made it more serious -- it was a puzzle out of my reach. Now, the corn dog: finally something I could understand! More than an ode to Middle America, it's doused in a house-made mustard that's tasteful where other joints' efforts are overbearing.

For something that would stick to the ribs, I ordered a $6 B.L.P. sandwich -- Bacon, Lettuce and Pickles -- which doesn't appear on the regular menu. It was more conventional, aside from the neon pink pickled slice of cauliflower, but immensely satisfying, with pulled heritage pork and sourdough bread both well-executed and working in concert.

I love the idea of the "Each" item sampler so much I want to marry it and move to Luxembourg with it. But I felt like I wasn't educated enough to understand the flavor profiles on display here. The sandwich was evidence that Lower48 can do the simple things just fine -- as if a year of plaudits and ovations wasn't proof enough. Think of Lower48's happy hour as a low-risk introduction to the restaurant everyone's been talking about.

Perfect for: Off the clock waiters, cooks and chefs looking to see what all the fuss is about. The adjacent Service Bar keeps the same happy hours, along with all-night specials every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Don't miss: The menu at Lower48 changes on the regular, so it's worth ordering the sampler to see what's up. And don't ignore the wine and cocktail lists; the bartender made me an excellent spritzer with Aperol, vermouth and rosé ($6).

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