The hip-hop booming from Los Chingones fades into '80s AOR as you enter Sugarmill. Though conjoined physically as well as spiritually as part of Troy Guard's TAG Restaurant Group, the two restaurants take very different places in the TAG empire. Chingones is loud, spicy, lascivious. Sugarmill is forthright and laid-back, but not cowed. Known for flagship desserts and bakery-case goodies, the cozy eatery also does a tight dinner trade and opens up daily with a light happy hour, served Tuesday through Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m.
With Lucky Cat in Lowry and Mister Tuna in the Industry building joining the TAG ranks this summer alone, Guard's empire includes some splashy establishments; Sugarmill remains the group's smallest and humblest outing. Chef/partner Ryan Witcher is head of the kitchen on site, devoted to perfecting those desserts and serving up hot dishes for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.
This isn't a restaurant that seems to need a happy hour. It could carve out a space on Larimer as a sweet evening addendum, opening late, closing early and offering a few savory dishes with limited demand on kitchen equipment. But Witcher's Sugarmill operates more like a regular restaurant, one that just happens to be known for its desserts. Happy hour eschews the sweet in favor of light small plates to be paired with simple cocktails. It's an unassuming collection that seems to say, "Maybe you like it, maybe you don't. Whatcha want, a macaron?"
It's well worth inquiring about the happy-hour cocktail of the day ($5), which presents one of the house drinks for half the price. A puree of summer fruits made for a bright-red Bellini — intensely sweet, with a vivacious stream of Prosecco bubbles. If you want to save the sugar for later, house red and white are on hand for $5 a glass.
Though not a joint known for charcuterie, the fruit and cheese plate ($6) here gets the job done, clearing the palate for the coming conflict of flavors. The fruit is a little underwhelming, sure: a few assorted grapes, raspberries and a single strawberry, like your plate at the office birthday party before the cake is cut. A funky blue cheese and a delightful triple-cream brie are on hand to save the day, along with a glob of yellow sunshine in the form of Colorado honeycomb.
Heirloom tomatoes ($6) appeared bright orange and ventricular, with the expected toppings of micro-basil, burrata and balsamic. A steep price for a mini Caprese salad, perhaps, but if you're in need of garden refreshment, you know what to do. Muscling their way to the fore, the Korean pulled-pork sliders ($2) quickly became the MVPs of the evening. They're cheap, simple and quite satisfying; I wouldn't blame you for sneaking a couple of these out in your purse. The flavor is more backyard barbecue than K-BBQ, but white-cabbage kimchi takes the place of pickle chips along with tangy sauce and surprisingly tender pork. If the other snacks here are a bit overpriced (we missed out on a jumbo shrimp cocktail [$7] which may make a difference), these sliders are a gesture of charity and goodwill toward men.
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SHOW ME HOW
Happy hour is over, guess we're done here.
Hmm, what's that? You're right: we couldn't leave Sugarmill without trying one of the signature desserts. Anyone is welcome to grab a cupcake or fruit tart from the case, but the menu of $11 to $14 desserts is the centerpiece here. There are more decadent and technically impressive entries than the wild Colorado cherry shortcake ($11), but none, I think, quite as elegant. Based on the tartness of local cherries, it's a showcase of technique that's not a show-off. Bite-size lemon-pepper madeleines are plated with cherries, micro-basil and clouds of bay-leaf ganache. Simple flavors, eminently shareable, resulting in deep satisfaction: This is an ideal capper to a happy-hour evening, or any evening I can think of. Sugarmill's happy hour may not be the main draw, but it's a loose and light ticket to a restaurant that deserves a second look.
Don't Miss: After happy hour ends on Friday, Sugarmill offers live music on the patio from Eric David between 6 and 10 p.m. It's a quieter antidote to the electrified madness up and down Larimer Street.