Name of restaurant: Cooks County
Happy hour: 6 to 7:30 p.m. Sunday to Thursday. Regardless of what's on the menu, this is a happy hour you can actually make it to if you get off work at 6 p.m. On top of that, every wine by the glass is half-off and there's Racer 5 IPA ($3.50) and Stiegl Gold ($4.50). Chef Daniel Mattern is offering discounted prices on some of the restaurant's most popular items, as well as using the menu as a place to test out a couple of new dishes. There's pickled shrimp with roasted tomato cocktail sauce ($5), chicken liver crostini with frisee and cornichons ($5), black kale salad with farro, pepitas and Parmesan ($7), avocado toast topped with cherry tomatoes and tahini ($4) and more.
Best bang for your buck: If you're hungry, get the $9 clams and mussels. They come in a white-wine and roasted-tomato sauce topped with shaved fennel and garlic. There's also a slab of garlic toast perfect for sopping up the leftover sauce. The cardoons ($6) are expertly fried. And it's hard to say no to one of Roxana Jullapat's spretzels ($2), made with spelt flour and all-purpose flour, at any price. The addictive spretzel mustard dipping sauce doubles as a dip for the cardoons, your clams and eventually your fingers.
What are you drinking: A glass of the 2013 Kamptal Grüner Veltliner ($5.50), but any of the wines by the glass end up being a good deal at 50% off. A $3.50 Racer 5 IPA goes great with a spretzel.
Who's at the next table: Two girlfriends chat excitedly over glasses of red wine and a plate of spicy carne asada tacos (only served Tuesdays). A man undoes the top buttons of his dress shirt and rolls up his sleeves before digging into a big bowl of clams and mussels, and a romance sparks between a nervous-looking young man and woman sharing a cheese plate.
Uh-oh: The happy hour is relatively new, so if you're looking for company at the bar, you'll be looking for a while. After an hour, I was the only diner on a bar stool, with everyone else sitting at actual tables. The staff, however, has a station directly behind the bar, and is eager to start a conversation.
Service: Charming, good-humored and attentive.