"Have you been here before?" the woman asked, settling into her seat on the patio at Masterpiece Kitchen. "Well, just for happy hour," her friend replied. "But that doesn't really count." Overhearing this made me wonder if happy hour does indeed matter at a place like MK, which opened back in March at Lowry's Hangar 2. You're likely to enjoy an evening of snacks and drinks here whether or not it's between 3 and 6 p.m. daily, but perhaps the slashed prices and focused drink list will convince you to show up before the east-side masses do.
There isn't much to see from Masterpiece Kitchen's patio, but that doesn't stop it from being crowded and a little bubbly right before six on a weeknight. Wedged up against North County, MK can hold only a few handfuls of diners, but with the doors thrown wide open and the patio full it fits this neighborhood —and the Hangar 2 development — like an F117 turbofan on a B-52 bomber. While Masterpiece Delicatessen offers thirty minutes of lunchtime paradise for downtown and uptown workers ditching the lunch pail, and Old Major is destination dining for brutal appetites, chef Justin Brunson and partner Steve Allee's latest is a mix of both. The decor and menu are laid-back to nearly horizontal levels, with just an undercurrent of naughtiness.
The food, specifically, shares a lot of DNA with that of Old Major — chops, charcuterie, carbs — while deli devotees will recognize the Cubano ($13) and housemade pastrami ($14) sandwiches. And there's brunch, because of course there is. The happy-hour offerings are a bit more muted compared to Old Major's exemplary mid-afternoon menu, with guests from all over the dinner menu popping up at more attractive prices and in smaller dishes. But first, Kitcheners and Kitchenettes, drinks must be served. Craft-beer selections and mule mixers ($4) each rotate daily, but $3 PBR tallboys are always in season, and a $5 Manhattan comes in at the right price. The pour is shallow, but the proportions are right, with plenty of vermouth and bitters for vibrancy and spice. One of Masterpiece Kitchen's summer selling points is the Prosecco on tap ($5), plenty refreshing but far from top-tier.
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The best part of happy hour at MK is the diversity of its mini-menu. Besides the aforementioned beverages, you can grab a burger ($6), veggies and tahini dip ($4), even a cheese plate ($5). A sign of the kitchen's confidence emerges early with fried Brussels sprouts ($4.50), a happy-hour cliché infused with a bit of aggression thanks to Red Boat fish sauce. Don't be alarmed; apart from a slight seaside odor, the emulsion just helps create a ravenous response from umami-sensitive tastebuds. It's a sodium bomb delivered by sprouts that are crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, the saltiness battled only by the slightly sweet chile dipping sauce that splashes across the palate with verve.
A small Caesar salad ($3) seems like solid mouth prep for what comes next — yet aside from addictive garlic croutons, this side is utterly unremarkable. What it sat next to, however, should be remarked on often and with gusto: the Royal Rooster sandwich ($6), imported from Brunson's lunch pop-up at Old Major. The fried-chicken thighs here clearly didn't know they were destined for a sandwich, having shown up to the party dense with meaty flavor and decked out in angelic breading. Gloppy sriracha aioli and wonderfully tangy pickles get mashed into squishy buttered buns for a broader spectrum of tastiness. For the price, it's a flat-out amazing happy-hour meal. If only because it dulls the slightly high prices at dinner, happy hour at Masterpiece Kitchen does indeed count, but MK makes sure that the fare and the fair-weather vibes are accessible to all, any time of day.
Don't Miss: There's no shortage of fried meats and sandwiches at Masterpiece Kitchen, but the restaurant does offer an uncommon taste of Midwestern comfort. The Iowa pork-tenderloin sammy ($12), served simply with mustard, onions and pickles, is a singular cultural experience, especially when paired with a happy-hour PBR tallboy.