When you want a more elegant happy hour, Balzac offers deals on great wine, beer and food.
After five drink-centric happy hours I figured it was high time to throw some food in the mix. When I think of going a little more upscale for a happy hour, one of the first places that comes to mind is Balzac, the popular Brady Street area restaurant and wine bar.
Before I get to my happy hour, let me describe my first experience going there about a month ago with a date. There was a humid chill in the air as my companion and I walked arm in arm down Arlington Place. When we arrived at Balzac the hostess sat us near the back where glass panes look out on their patio. My date was struck by the ambiance; candlelight, dark wood, vintage framed pictures. Our waitress described the specials and pointed out that it was going to snow. When you haven’t seen snow in half a year the mention of it doesn’t really register. But as the white flakes began to float from the heavens our eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. There’s nothing like the first snow of the season to crystallize an utterly romantic evening.
That’s the thing about Balzac, it oozes romance. The award-winning food and drink selection compliment their cozy atmosphere and amicable staff. This wasn’t a happy hour night, but the food was still affordable — and delicious. The cuisine seems to model itself after French and Belgian, but head chef Rebecca Berkshire has incorporated multiple tastes and regions. The first item I got my hands on was succulent Nashville-style spicy chicken livers with a buttermilk black pepper dipping sauce. The Korean meatballs, crispy pork belly and cocktail olive mix rounded out our light but delightful meal, which we paired with glasses of luscious Spanish wine.
Like many of Milwaukee’s finest eateries, Balzac does small plates, but they do them well. They are the heart of the menu (17 choices), which changes twice a year (Fall and Spring) and mostly sources locally, and they are the happy hour food menu. You can get four different small plates at $5 each, plus a $5 cheese plate featuring two 1 oz portions with generous amounts of nuts, fresh fruits, bread and crackers.
The happy hour plates change regularly; sometimes they are leftovers from the weekend specials, sometimes they are possible new specials or menu items. Basically, the happy hour small plates are where the chefs get to experiment and you get to save money.
The happy hour runs Monday through Thursday from 4-6pm and offers $5 wine specials and $1 off tap beers. But it’s really about the food here. I tried a portabella, crimini and shiitake mushroom strudel in a flakey croissant pastry with a caramelized onion crème, and it was delectable. But my second choice, a spicy italian sausage and chopped olive ciabatta hash with potatoes, tomatoes, buckwheat, topped with a sunny side egg stole the show. I almost ordered another one. But those two plus the cheese plate was just enough at $5 apiece. I washed it all down with a decent glass of their house red at $5.
After spending my birthday weekend in New York City eating plate upon plate of oysters I was crustacean-ed out, but had I been in the mood, Mondays at Balzac feature a pound of mussels (prepared three ways) for just $7, which is a deal and a half. On Tuesdays from 6-11pm they have $12 half liter taps of wine. Wednesdays are half off glass pour bottles. It’s also worth noting that the kitchen stays open until 11pm Sunday through Thursday and until midnight on Friday and Saturday. So come for the romantic decor, but stay for the food, drinks and then more food.