I don’t spend a lot of time in the heart of downtown these days. I think this is true of many folks who live outside of the city center, especially when so many of us have had to work from home. But this summer and fall, as one silver lining to the pandemic, riding the city streets has become uniquely pleasant and peaceful, especially for cyclists (and scooterists). There are fewer cars, drivers seem less impatient, and with the various expanded outdoor dining options, many streets provide a fun block-party feel. Another positive: The price point that sometimes keeps me away from the finer downtown establishments can be rendered moot by a happy hour, depending on what I'm looking for.
Urban Farmer is a “family” of three restaurants — one in Portland, one in Cleveland and one just a stone’s throw from Union Station. From the outside, Urban Farmer doesn’t stand out from the other brick-and-steel facades on the block. A line of seven or so umbrella-topped tables surrounded by a low fence divides the patio from the sidewalk. Even if you intend to eat on the dog-friendly patio, I highly recommend walking in through the corner entryway first to take in the restaurant’s midcentury-modern cowboy decor. While the reclaimed-wood tables and floors give off that rustic Western aesthetic, the rest of the large space is a polished blend of retro furnishings, penny tile and a marble-topped bar, similar to the look of the Kitchen, Mercantile Dining & Provision and other farm-to-table-chic restaurants built at about the same time.
Unlike those other sustainability-inspired eateries, though, Urban Farmer brands itself as a modern steakhouse, so you can dispense with the notion of "eat food, not too much, mostly plants." That said, if you’re looking for beef, happy hour is not for you. In fact, if you didn’t know about happy hour, you might miss it entirely. Like many restaurants, Urban Farmer currently utilizes hands-free QR code menus, from which happy hour is mysteriously missing. One might think this would give the kitchen an opportunity to rotate items, but given that four out of five offerings come right from the lunch menu — for the same price — I wonder if that’s true.
With drinks maxing out at $6, including wine, a daily beer and four cocktail options, that’s where the real happy hour specials lie. My dining partner and I agreed to go halfsies on a simple daiquiri and a contrastingly complex Family Jones Distillery collaboration: a vodka, blueberry-hibiscus sake, lime, cranberry and ginger beer combo. As promised, the daiquiri harked back to the original delight of Havana — sweet, tart and oh, so boozy (no blended tiki-type drink here). I’m not sure if I was impressed by the other drink because its ingredients melded into a single refreshing beverage, or underwhelmed that it doesn’t hit more notes given its novel-esque recipe. Regardless, it popped with citrus (my style of drink) and went down smoothly.
All of our food arrived at once, and it was all I could do to take a photo before shoving a pulled-pork slider ($5) into my mouth. While it’s difficult to criticize pulled-pork anything, this stuff was savory more than sweet, with onions that had hit peak caramelization and banh mi-style toppings including shredded carrot, raw onion and cilantro. The bun seemed house-baked and put store-bought Hawaiian rolls to shame. We were also smitten by our flatbread ($12), even if was topped with chipotle cashew cream, not molten cheese — a boon to the dairy-sensitive. The same caramelized onions that topped the slider showed up here too, this time lending an ultimate combination of savory, creamy and tangy, which came from big bites of heirloom tomato. The crust beneath the toppings, though, was a not much more than a necessary but passable delivery vehicle.
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Our fries ($6) came medium-cut, perfectly salted and even edible (high praise considering that I'm always apathetic toward fries) once they cooled off a little. If you’re doing a non-happy hour steak frites plate ($30 at lunch), you'd definitely be in for a good time.
A charcuterie board ($10, which is $2 off the regular price), while underwhelming in presentation, came with two kinds of speck, cut thicker than usual and offering a depth of flavor I found surprising. Like the base of the flatbread, the accompanying toast was not impressive on its own, though it may have been grilled in some sort of animal fat. We left none of it to waste, including an accoutrement of addictive giardiniera — but of our happy hour samplings, it's the one I'd most likely skip next time.
With no outdoor heaters for now, patio season is near its end at Urban Farmer. But for the next few weeks, you can find a simple but classy downtown happy hour outdoors before moving into a warm space with thoughtful decor.
Urban Farmer is located at 1659 Wazee Street at the base of the Oxford Hotel and serves happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. daily. Call 303-262-6070 or visit the restaurant's website for details.