Happy Deals

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris February 01, 2024 10:34 in Dining Diary

We discovered the thrill of Happy Hours by accident. One afternoon after the show we headed to Del Porto and saw that we could go crazy ordering and still get out of there for $50 ish. We don’t drink at all, but there was just that much bar food on the menu.

It is worth it to us to go just for the signature app, the white bean puree, which comes in a smaller version than the regular price app. That is true for everything on the menu here, but you still leave full. The white bean puree is a must every time we visit. There is nothing like it out there. 

Besides the white bean puree, we love the Frito Misto, something I have not seen anywhere here. The owners spent a lot of time in Italy, where little baskets of fried things are everywhere. A mixture of tidbits of fish and vegetables, Frito Misto is like a delicious grab bag. You never know what is in it on any given day. Shrimp, fish bits, carrots, mushrooms, green beans. It is delicately fried and irresistible.

There is always a pasta dish on this little menu, and it comes in a baby dish. And it is always superb.

Another regular on this menu is the pizzette, a baby pizza. This is a fantastic pizza, with a sensational crust and great ingredients baked on it. Owner David Salazzo now offers a real version of this great pizza down the street at the Greyhound.

Other items rotate. We have had tuna crudo and a Stromboli at times. Always great.

A restaurant that does not seem to reduce portion size to accommodate Happy Hour prices is Desi Vega’s, both the Steakhouse and the Smokehouse.

Most places offer Happy Hour specifically at the bar. Desi Vega’s in Metairie has a smallish bar that was full when we arrived. But no one had food. This was a drinking crowd.

We made our way into the bar and ordered everything on the menu, but just tea to drink. I was astonished to see escargots on this menu for $9??!! That was the most expensive thing except for one other really odd one - brisket cheese fries at $10. Everything else was under $10.

After ordering their fries I switched to the brisket cheese fries, then we added their famous meatballs, shrimp remoulade, and BBQ shrimp. Our wonderful waitress brought us some warm bread in the bag while we waited, but everything came up quickly, and all at once as expected.

Tom dug into the brisket cheese fries with such alacrity I almost didn’t get to try them. I finally snitched a bite and they were superb. The brisket was tender debri-style but this wasn’t a pile of mess. It was terrific, with a hint of horseradish in the sauce.

When the cheese fries were gone Tom could turn his attention to his wheelhouse, the escargots. He hadn’t even noticed them. These were a half dozen snails in the requisite garlic butter sauce, and Tom was delighted to have them.

I kept busy with the BBQ shrimp, which was the thick-style Worcestershire-based sauce. It was a very good version of what is now a classic preparation. Nicely peppery and generous. 

The shrimp remoulade was also very good, with a creamy remoulade sauce draped over the shrimp. Another sizable portion with large shrimp sitting on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce.

And of course, we had to have the signature meatballs. These are so delectable I consider it the best amuse-bouche in town. I’m glad a bowl of these is also on the menu. This Happy Hour portion is four larger-the-usual meatballs sitting in the sublime red sauce heavily dusted with Parmesan cheese. I can’t get enough of these.

This was all so very good and the waitress so attentive that I think we set a “dining” record. The bill for all of this plus tea was about $60. To date, this is the best food and best prices, ergo the best Happy Hour deal of our experience.

Desi Vega’s Smokehouse Tavern in Mandeville is a licensing agreement, but the standards remain the same. This Happy Hour actually makes me feel guilty. All the apps are half-price for the same size portions. I have to order something else to assuage my guilt. Even the famous “Piggy Power Line” can be had in this deal, complete with the torched rosemary performance. A full bowl of the meatballs is also half-price. You could leave full enough to be rolled out for $35 or so. I feel compelled to drink, even though I never do, just to be fair. 

All of our experiences at steakhouses aren’t so good. We passed through Fleming’s recently for the Happy Hour and were reminded of what Tom always said about chains. You pay as much or more for food that is substandard to the stand-alone places. It was a harsh reminder.

We spent $92 on food I didn’t even want to eat. It looked good on the menu but not in reality. We got sliders, crab bites, meatballs, and tuna tartare.

The sliders looked unappealing when they arrived. Parker House rolls encased little burgers with melted American cheese and pickle, with some disturbing brown sauce underneath each patty. Two bites of this and I was done.

The meatballs had a weird glaze on them, and a weird texture to boot. One of these was enough.

The crab bites were marginally better, but still not good enough to eat. They came in a peppery butter sauce which was tasty. 

Tom had tuna tartare on crispy wontons. He was crazy about this. There was wasabi on the crispy wontons, which seemed to form a little dish.  A dollop of roe completed the dish.

The bar was filled when we arrived with a Metry crowd of Baby Boomers who appeared to be regulars. Everyone knew each other and they drank a lot. Most of them did not get Happy Hour food, so I don’t know who eats this stuff. But clearly, they are there for more than food.

We next made it to The Blue Crab for their Happy Hour. The main draw here is oysters: $1 raw and $1.25 chargrilled. These are good chargrilled oysters. The rest of the Happy Hour menu isn’t thrilling.

There are fried onion rings, Buffalo chicken bites, and fried eggplant. Any menu that is all fried makes me wary. The onion rings were very good. I used to like The Blue Crab onion rings more than I do now, but they are still good. They seem to get bigger each time I look. They are crispy and golden brown and were served with a piquant remoulade sauce.

The eggplant was not at all interesting to me. They were too meaty and came to the table dark. Dark fried things are inexcusable and I don’t like a mouthful of eggplant to chew. They came with a meager amount of marinara.

We fared better with the Buffalo chicken bites. These were little bites of golden brown chicken and the sauce was great. I’ve decided I love Buffalo sauce.

In short, the only reason to do the Blue Crab Happy Hour is the oysters, and that is what everyone does. I saw platters and platters of them going to all the tables.

Sala is the last of the Happy Hours in this survey. It also has a smallish menu and smaller portions. We ordered onion rings and spin dip, and their version of Bang Bang shrimp, as well as their housecut fries.

The shrimp had a weird coating. It was like a sweetened shell with a sweet chili sauce.

The spin dip wasn’t any more likable. It was heavy on feta cheese and would have been better as a stuffing for Spanakopita.

The truffle fries were also a disappointment. They were indeed housecut, so extra points for that. But they seemed like they had been sitting a while, nullifying the appeal of housecut.

Onion rings were the only thing on the table worth eating, and I would have gotten a double order, cause this was a small portion. They were crisp and flaky and very good. I loved the accompanying remoulade as well.

I would have gotten the crawfish bisque on the menu, but the service was astonishingly bad. I simply didn't want to wait for anything else. I had to keep getting up to search for the server inside every time I needed something. We were the only table other than one inside, and another came. I felt very strongly we were being punished for ordering just the Happy Hour and teas. 

Keith Young’s in Madisonville has a great Happy Hour. It’s my favorite. A bar menu of sliders, meatballs, housecut potato chips with his delicious Bleu Cheese dressing for dipping, ahi tuna, and fried shrimp offer ample portions at great prices. And I’m just nuts about the bar itself.

Ralph’s on The Park has another good Happy Hour. Same terrific food at Happy Hour prices. Served only in the bar, which is a wonderful and very different space from the main dining room.

Marcello’s in Covington has a great Happy Hour with half-priced apps of regular size. Worth visiting for the Crabmeat Contessa, but so much more.

I don’t know how restaurants offer such deals, but I’m glad they do. And if you don’t mind eating early, this is a great value.