A Thursday evening happy hour is often the perfect only way to make it through a long and seemingly endless week. This past Thursday, I unintentionally succeeded in crossing not one but two restaurants off my list.
Having read so much about the amazing cocktail program at Seven Lamps, I convinced my fellow happy hour-goers to meet me there for drinks and apps. Prior to my arrival, they got a head start with an order of oysters on the half shell. The oysters weren’t a great start, and things only went downhill from there.
While I’m guessing they were trying to be “cool” with the presentation, it missed the mark. I’m not sure anyone actually wants to eat cocktail sauce that comes out of a test tube. A mini bowl or ramekin would have been sufficient. On second thought, horseradish would have been nice as well. The crackers were another problem. Not only were they too small for the oysters themselves, their convex shape caused the oysters to slip off mid-bite.
I arrived post-oysters, and not a single server or bartender approached our table for at least fifteen minutes – until we flagged someone down, that is. We were the only patrons in the restaurant. The bartender only acted slightly annoyed that we were inconveniencing him by ordering drinks – two “75 Souths” and one unmemorable cucumber-vodka concoction.
We got two of the three drinks and the bartender finally showed back up at our table to inform us he had forgotten about the third. He must have been busy making drinks for all the other patrons in the restaurant…except that there weren’t any. We switched it up and went with the “Snow White beer-tail this time.
The Snow White was the final straw. It tasted like an unappetizing, watery Hoegaarden. At this point, we decided to forgo our original plan and went in search of appetizers elsewhere.
We walked around the corner to Cook Hall, and the evening made an immediate 180-degree change for the better. Our server, for one, was absolutely phenomenal. He was attentive, provided delicious suggestions, and was very knowledgeable about pretty much every item on the menu.
We arrived just in time for happy hour and decided to try all five of the $5 “snacks”, plus a few extras. Everything we tasted was good and perfect for sharing.
The duck tacos were my favorite. The duck was crispy, the tortillas were housemade and fresh, and the chipotle coleslaw was refreshing and slightly spicy.
The popcorn shrimp was a clever, tasty, and quite literal dish. The fried shrimp were served atop a bed of buttery popcorn, and drizzled with a bit of ranch. The strange combination of flavors came together quite nicely, although the popcorn did get a little soggy under the ranch.
The roasted radish bruschetta was bright, flavorful, and light. The sourdough bread was grilled, smeared with a layer of delicious honey butter, and topped with roasted radishes. The clean flavor of the radishes perfectly complemented the rich and creamy honey butter.
The pimento mac & cheese surprisingly didn’t taste much like pimento cheese at all – a good thing, because I do not care much for pimento cheese. The mac was served right in the skillet and topped with panko crumbs for a little extra crunch.
The deviled eggs were my least favorite dish, probably because I don’t really like deviled eggs to begin with. The eggs were made with gulf blue crab and dusted with paprika. I probably could have done without them.
Per our server’s recommendation, we also ordered a few non-happy hour extras. The house made ricotta was the best thing I tasted all night. The ricotta was light and fluffy, drizled in honey, and dusted with black pepper. When smeared atop one of the olive oil brushed flatbread pieces, it made for a delicious bite.
The jalapeño-cheddar fritters were another winner. They were crispy and salty on the outside, creamy and spicy on the inside. They basically melted in your mouth and left you wanting more.
As an added bonus, the cocktails at Cook Hall were spot on as well. I tried the Grapefruit Cooler, which combined tequilla and grapefruit with a splash of Monday Night Fu Manbrew.
The Basil Shandy combined basil-infused vodka with an IPA and raspberry. Both cocktails were refreshing, unique, and beautifully presented.
If the rest of Cook Hall’s menu is as delicious as our appetizer sampling, this is certainly a place worth returning to. Seven Lamps on the other hand, not so much.