When we look back at 2017 a few years from now, it’s possible — even probable — that we’ll remember it as the year that Denver really came into its own as a nationally acclaimed dining scene. Top Chef helped, of course, with putting the city in a new spotlight, but more important, last year brought the Mile High several examples of really exceptional dining. We have leveled up, Denver, and there is no going back now.
One such example is Annette, a passion project from chef Caroline Glover that opened in Stanley Marketplace last year and almost immediately began garnering national acclaim, including a James Beard nomination for Best New Restaurant just last week. Glover brings a novel approach to flavors in the seasonal fare coming out of her wood-fired kitchen, drawing on her experience farming as well as her time in such high-stakes kitchens as the Spotted Pig in New York City and Acorn right here in Denver. At the same time, the chef infused Annette with cozy charm; that she operates from an open kitchen and watches over the dining room has the effect of making it feel like you’re dining in her home.
When Annette first opened, it was serving lunch, but the restaurant has since dispensed with the mid-day meal in favor of a beefed-up happy hour that runs from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. That’s early, even for a city that needs little excuse to skip out on the last hour or so if its workday, which explains why the bar doesn’t really begin to fill up until 4:30 or so (though by 5, it’s hard to find a seat).
During these afternoon hours, Glover turns out a menu that’s distinct from anything else she offers: The only snack on the happy-hour list also available at dinner is the fries. And that is the main pull here: If you never find yourself at Annette during happy hour, you’ll miss out on a handful of excellent bites.
Although the list of dishes is short, it’s easy enough to pull an early dinner (or late lunch) together from what’s on offer. Start with the grilled cheese, which layers grilled mild rye with sharp cheddar, sweet apples and caramelized onions and is particularly good comfort food on a cold day. Or try the egg salad toast, a deli-style lunch offering that Glover has improved with the toasty notes of the bread and a layer of paper-thin radishes that add a crisp bite. Finish with the centerpiece of the menu: one of the best steak frites in town, built on a generous heap of addictive and crispy pencil-thin fries, and topped with a refreshing arugula salad. The addition of onion-flecked butter gives the steak extra savory decadence, but you might ask for a little aioli for the fries: they’re piled in such abundance that there’s not enough steak juice to soak them.
Accompanying drink specials during these hours center on boilermakers, the beer-and-shot combo whose roots are in working-class bars where shift workers go for fortification before heading home. At Annette, you can nod to this tradition with a Miller High Life and a shot of bourbon, rye or Campari, or a Modelo and a shot of mezcal or tequila; each pairing is just $5. If that’s not really your speed, all of Annette’s cocktails and cold-brew coffees are discounted by $2, beers are discounted by $1, and a rotating selection of wine rings in at $20 a bottle. There’s also a special Montenegro spritz and a canned Albariño.
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If a full meal isn’t your M.O. at 3 p.m., you could pair those drinks to something a bit snackier, like the popcorn dusted with nutritional yeast (an unappetizing name for the tasty sprinkle), chili and cumin.
One final note: While Annette’s happy hour is long on compelling cooking, it is not particularly cheap — that spritz was $10, the sandwich $9, the steak frites $15. It’s best, then, to think of this more as a chance to see a slightly different side of Glover’s cooking than an opportunity to get buzzed at a discount.