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Happy Hour for a Foodie

The trend of having a cocktail before dinner began in the Prohibition era when colleagues would gather at local speakeasies to have drinks before eating at a restaurant where spirits were illegal. Later known as “happy hour,” this marketing trend has remained steadfast through the last 90 years in most of the United States and has grown from simply drinks to food specials as well. In Myrtle Beach, happy hour has many incarnations. Most of which revolve around a modestly priced beer and some filling pub grub to absorb the effects of the beverages. However, given the economic status of our country, many of our local finer dining restaurants have taken the idea of happy hour to an exciting new level for the, ever-growing, population who are savvy in their food and drink choices. These folks are known as foodies.

So where does a foodie go for a great happy hour along the Grand Strand?

Sea Blue Restaurant in North Myrtle Beach is a frontrunner in stellar cuisine and great beverages. When it started featuring half-priced wine, cocktails and tapas between 5 and 7 p.m. weekdays, the crowd at the bar grew exponentially. Day Boat Scallops, Shrimp Skewers, Savory Risotto Cake and Crab Spread are some of my favorites for $3.50 each. While the price is small, the flavors from the kitchen are huge. This is some of the best food at the best price on the beach. When it comes to wine, Sea Blue is holding its own. The wine by the glass selection goes well beyond the usual offerings. Wine from Spain, Greece, Argentina and New Zealand nestle nicely among the California favorites. The sexy décor and attentive staff complement the menus and make this a true dining experience with happy hour prices. In other words, you can eat it the bar during happy hour and have close to the same experience in the dining room for a fraction of the cost.

Just down the road in Barefoot Landing, Le Grand’s Prime Alaskan Seafood and Steaks has been a pioneer in the reinvention of happy hour in the Myrtle Beach area since it opened. Prime Beef Sliders, Smoked Salmon and Ponzu Oysters are all offered for $3.50. The flavors are fresh and the presentations are creative. An eclectic selection of cocktails is available for $5. The Cucumber Mojito combines fresh lime, mint and cucumber and is as refreshing as it sounds. Perhaps one of the best deals I’ve seen is a $2 pint of Blue Moon. Just add some Kettle Chips for $2.50 and you’ve got a happy bar scene. Le Grand’s also extends the happy hour menu an extra hour until 8 p.m. every day, which is a nice touch for the locals who work in the area. The stylish staff and atmosphere create a big city environment while maintaining the unpretentious character of a beach restaurant. The dining room was as busy as the bar on a recent night I visited. That’s a very good sign.

A few years ago, I ate at Thoroughbreds Chophouse and Seafood Grille for my brother’s birthday party and was impressed. When I heard about happy hour at this long-time Myrtle Beach fine dining eatery, I was very excited and I recently went back to check it out. The atmosphere at the bar is quaint and serene. The staff is professional and well versed in their menus. When I ordered the Blackened Lamb Lollipops, the bartender asked if medium rare was OK. The answer was “yes” and I appreciated his confidence in the food and the chef. The plate of Lamb with Sweet Potato crisps arrived and I was, first, astonished at the considerable portion for a happy hour plate. Beyond that, the lamb was expertly cooked and seasoned. The Duck Tenderloin with Orange Sauce arrived and the meal took real shape. The duck was succulent and crispy with a great balance of sweet and spice. The best part was that each dish rang in at $5 each. I added a Caesar salad for $4 and I was content. I am certain that the $5 house label wine and $7 cocktails added to my bliss. It was a nice touch seeing classics like the French Martini on the cocktail menu at happy hour. The setting, the service and the outstanding food makes for a top notch happy hour at Thoroughbred’s between 4 and 7 p.m. daily.

Even though our days consist of strict budgets in a down economy, there are still places where good food, wine and company are offered with a modest price tag. While we may feel like we are living a similar life to Americans during the Great Depression, we most certainly don’t have to eat like we are. Cheers!

Kevin Hoover, a local food and beverage manager, is engaged in the endless pursuit of the perfect cocktail and dining experience. Check out his blog at http://lushlifeonline.wordpress.com.

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