After a mixed experience at Fish N Beer last week, it felt as if Denver’s seascape might still be holding out on us. So this week my crew and I hit up Humboldt Farm Fish Wine to see if the East 17th Avenue restaurant could raise the tide on happy-hour fare. With a cutoff an hour earlier than FNB’s primo 7 p.m., Humboldt's happy hour can be difficult to hit before the regular dinner menu takes over. Bicycle parking is slim around the restaurant and street parking slimmer, but Humboldt offers a valet, which feels reminiscent of Strings, the location’s prior institution and many a Denver retiree’s old kibbitzing ground.
Humboldt impresses with a wealth of seating options, including booths, four-top tables, two long high-top tables, a sizable patio and an enclosed sunroom with exposed brick on one side, a vaulted glass ceiling and picture windows looking into the restaurant proper. It may be this size that allows the restaurant to seat incomplete parties, which, given my later arrival to our party, I appreciated. Our server stopped at our table with all the mannerisms of a hospitality lifer and professional accustomed to dealing with high-demand customers. Recognizing my harried demeanor, she gave me time to look over the menu while assuring me that she would return before that all-important 6 p.m. deadline. Our heroine also offered to put in second-round beverage requests and hold them for later; now, that’s top-level happy-hour service, folks.
A glance at the menu revealed similar attention to discerning happy-hour deal seekers: Both food and beverage menus clearly delineate between $5 or $7 options, with two Boulder beers on special for $4. Perhaps it was the phantoms of Strings that compelled us to start off with two martinis ($7), one classic and one dry, and a prosecco ($5) to pair with the $1.50 oysters. We couldn’t help but select most of the $7 dishes: poutine, crispy wings and steamed mussels, as well as the deviled eggs and fried green tomatoes from the $5 section. The food arrived in one fell swoop — not ideal, but to be expected when happy hour is ending and dinner service is about to enter full swing. This did, however, make it a challenge to decide which time-sensitive food to dig into first.
The poutine, with its fully intact cheese curds and flimsy fries, appeared at the biggest risk of an early demise, so we dug into the gravy-laden plate. A quick broil before serving could have really brought the dish together. The crispy wings with sweet Thai chili glaze held up their end of the bargain on the sweet, but fell short on the chili and crispy. Meanwhile, the deviled eggs were on point, with a smooth-and-creamy dollop of delight and a garnish of crunchy bacon on top. And while I was excited about my once-a-year fried green tomatoes, we were all let down when the small discs of nicely fried panko coating gave way to a juice-less, flavorless slice of tomato.
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As our second drinks and oysters arrived, these small let-downs felt easily forgotten. The Barnstable oysters (from Massachusetts) appeared fresh-shucked with no signs of shell trauma, their liquor still pooled around their plump bodies. Though I often seek a brinier oyster, these were clean and creamy, benefiting from, but not demanding, a drop of mignonette. Finally, we all had to deal with steamed mussels. I say “deal with," because the dish arrived in what was the smallest and narrowest possible vessel for the piled-high contents, including two precariously placed ciabatta toasts. The presentation made the chipotle cream sauce inaccessible to the first two-thirds of the mussels, or would have been had we not ingeniously relocated the mussels to our discard bowls and proceeded to dunk into the pool of broth left behind. And thank our lucky stars that we did, because Humboldt knows how to make a mean and creamy chipotle sauce, one that warms the mouth slowly like a fine curry, and had us scooping it up by the shell-full until the very last dregs.
Lazing over our second happy-hour beverages, we witnessed the kitchen turn out an array of appealing entrees, tempting us toward dinner. At the same time, the lighting awkwardly dimmed by half; we took that as a cue that folks like us could kindly retire with the rest of the former Strings clientele, so we paid our check and departed.
Humboldt and its decidedly non-hipster vibe has managed to maintain a level of class while offering true happy-hour deals. A few tweaks to presentation could make this a go-to for oysters, mussels and, in a pinch, a poutine fix.
Humboldt Farm Fish Wine is located at 1700 Humboldt Street and offers happy hour every day from 3 to 6 p.m. Visit the restaurant's website or call 303-813-1700 for more details.