Bar Crudo: Happy Hour Report Card
The Spot: Crudo, 3603 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix, 602-358-8666, www.crudoaz.com.
The Hours: Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at Crudo. Happy Hour: 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at Bar Crudo. The bar closes at midnight.
The Interior: Crudo is tucked away on the backside of the Gaslight Shopping Center, and Bar Crudo, located to the left of the entrance, sits under the same roof. Both concrete-floored spaces are so clean-lined and sparely furnished they represent a complete 180 from the cluttered, feminine fustiness of the Backstreet Wine Salon, which occupied this space previously. Gone are the velvet settees and the Jane Austen lovers who perched on them, replaced by a hipper, younger crowd who settle in at the bar, grab small tables near the single bow window or lounge on the cushy leather couch and arm chairs near the entrance. A huge blackboard opposite the bar boasts a handwritten selection of beer, wine, and cocktails.
The Food: Chef-owner Cullen Campbell's regular menu is divided into four parts: Crudo/Raw, Mozza/Mozzarella, Cotto/Cooked and Griglia/Grilled.
Happy Hour selections draw primarily from the Crudo and Mozza sections, but Campbell throws in a few outrageously good side dishes such as crispy pig ears ($5 and not to be missed) and meaty, heavily smoked Castelvetrano olives -- so irresistible that three orders wouldn't be out of the question ($5).
Nikki Buchanan Smoked castelvetrano olives at Crudo
Sweet popcorn is never my go-to when I'm sipping a cocktail, but Campbell's truffled version could probably change my mind ($5).
From the crudo section comes glistening albacore, topped with truffle oil, black garlic and matchstick green apples -- a combo that proves raw fish can be just as compelling in Italian (or Italian-inspired) iterations.
Nikki Buchanan Crudo's albacore with truffle oil, black garlic, and green apple Nikki Buchanan Farmer's Crudo
Also first-rate, a Farmer's crudo of juicy, thickly sliced tomatoes, strewn with purslane and drizzled with lemon vinaigrette.
It's impossible to pick a favorite among slippery burrata with pancetta vinagrette and arugula, fluffy ricotta (the best in recent memory) with dried tomato, olive oil and basil and fresh mozzarella with caramelized onion and bacon relish -- all served with toasted bread that begs for schmears of fresh cheese.
Although it's served on a soft brioche bun, Crudo's Meatloaf Burger is really more meatloaf than burger -- thickly sliced and finished on the grill. But never mind nomenclature. It's a smoky, messy, altogether heavenly thing -- stacked with cheddar, balsamic tomato, housemade pickle and arugula and sided with bacon relish, which adds its own smoky-sweet component ($12). I love it.
Nikki Buchanan Meatloaf Burger
The Drink: Micah Olson, who is both a certified wine sommelier and talented mixologist (not to mention one of the crew who made Jade Bar such a smash in its 2010 heyday), presides over all things drink. He offers Four Peaks Sunbru ($3), Four Peaks Hop Knot ($4), and $5 wines by the glass (one red and one white from a frequently changed selection that skews French and Italian). Five-dollar cocktails include the Old Fashioned, Paloma, Lime Daiquiri and Tom Collins.
The Conclusion: If you expect quality and creativity -- even at happy hour -- run, don't walk, to Bar Crudo. The Meatloaf Burger excepted, this is fresh, light, elegant food you can wolf down tonight and still look yourself in the eye tomorrow.