To a restaurant, happy hour is many things: a way to fill up the slow early afternoon hours, an effort to build a loyal following in the neighborhood, and a means of offloading cheap food and liquor stock. But how do places with a holistic approach to cooking and dining adapt to happy hour? How do they please patrons who want value and convenience at the same time they demand quality ingredients and craftsmanship?
Old Major, Justin Brunson's ode to nose-to-tail eating in Highland provides a way forward, with a happy hour menu that makes its own identity. But -- shhh -- don't tell anyone.
Why the hush-hush? Well, after nearly two years of hype (and a Westword award for Best Late Afternoon Happy Hour), it's safe to say the secret is out. Even on an otherwise unremarkable Monday evening, I had to jostle, cajole, and do other things I'm not proud of to slide into the last remaining seat at Old Major's bar. Meanwhile, the stunning dining room was nearly empty. Denizens of LoHi know where the weekday action is, from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday and 4 to 6 p.m. on the weekends.
With only a couple of crossover items from the restaurant's regular menu, Old Major's happy hour takes the restaurant's motto of "seafood, swine and wine" in a different direction. Pretzel rolls ($2.50 each) are the appetizer of choice here, something that few of my close neighbors at the bar could resist. They're also a great way to kick off a meal, with a golden brown, crispy finish and some strong mustard butter. I washed it down with an Old Fashioned ($6) that was on the straight-and-narrow, in opposition to the rest of Old Major's pop-culture-riffing cocktail menu.
Heavy on fried comfort food like seafood fritters ($6), pork fat fries ($4) and bacon nuggets 'n onion rings ($7), the happy-hour menu takes a break from the kitchen's dinner list of advanced preparations and unique cuts of meat. I probed what I thought might be Old Major's weak spot: pizza -- and from a white tablecloth joint that doesn't even offer pizza on its regular menu. Fortunately, it was an inspired pie topped with kale, mushrooms, bleu cheese and onions. You'd hardly guess that Brunson and crew don't sling pizzas for a living.
Still hoping to sample some of the charcuterie room's handiwork, I ordered a plate of house sausage ($5) which was one of the most beautiful happy-hour dishes I've come across: a puck of Polish sausage resting on a bed of onions and cabbage, streaked with pale mustard. With a crispy sear and a lot of tasty fat, this small dish proved the kitchen's mettle.
To render Old Major's happy hour down to its essence, I'll say that it channels the ethos of its restaurant with style. The fact that much of the menu is chef's choice -- everything from the kind of oysters ($2 each) to the pizzas and charcuterie plates ($15) -- is a sign that this is a different sort of happy hour. That'll do, pig.That'll do.
Perfect for: C'mon, there's certainly someone in your circle who's been begging you to take them here since the place opened almost two years ago. Go to happy hour and you won't feel bad about sticking them with the bill.
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SHOW ME HOW
Don't miss: The sausage plate is the easiest way to sample Old Major's butchering prowess, but you should ask your server to walk you through the day's charcuterie plate.