It's no secret that many fine-dining restaurants in Greater Hartford offer fantastic happy-hour deals, with deeply discounted food specials and bargain beverages. And Dish Bar & Grill, in the heart of downtown, has some of the best offerings around.
But it helps to know the particulars before you go. Dish doesn't publicize its specials widely online, or even with simple signage at the bar tables. The specifics of its happy hour promotions are scrawled on chalkboards behind the bar, and you've got to look closely for them.
THE VIBE: Dish is one of the city's most stylish restaurants, with large windows overlooking the bustle of Main Street. The chic dining room is done with modern touches — white stone pillars, cool blue accent lighting and a floor-to-ceiling wall waterfall outside the restrooms. After work, the bar attracts a large and varied crowd of all ages, clad in everything from jeans and casual T-shirts to tailored suits and ties.
THE FOOD: Happy hour officially runs Monday through Friday, 3 to 6 p.m. in the bar area, exclusively. During that stretch of time, snacks and individual pizzas are half-price, with selections such as spinach artichoke dip, crispy chicken wings and "Jersey shore" clams with garlic, herbs and olive oil. The flatbreads are topped with traditional tomato and mozzarella, pesto shrimp and wild mushrooms with goat cheese and truffle oil.
Drink specials include $3 house wines by the glass (a choice of five,) $3 draft beers and $6 Skyy martinis. House-infused vodkas in pineapple, red grape and "hot and dirty" varieties are $4 on the rocks; $5 straight up.
When the clock strikes 5, the $1 raw bar deal kicks in, with oysters and littlenecks on the half shell and shrimp cocktail priced at a buck apiece. That promotion runs until 9 p.m. seven days a week.
We sampled several of the bar snacks: light yet sizable veal and ricotta meatballs in a rich tomato sauce, served with garlic crostini; meaty chicken wings drizzled in vivid orange hot sauce and "Elvis bites," six breaded and fried cubes of macaroni and cheese flecked with onion. The crispy coating enveloped the elbow macaroni nicely and kept it gooey; the proffered ketchup and cheddar cheese sauce both made for great dipping.
The offbeat Reuben pizza, a thin-crust flatbread loaded with pastrami, sauerkraut and Swiss and finished with Russian dressing, was a pleasant surprise, all the flavors working together agreeably in unison. But the pizzas are rather small for their regular pricing at $7 to $13. These are a much better deal during happy hour.
Raw bar items didn't fare as well. The littlenecks were fresh and briny, but several of our dozen oysters were weak and watery and riddled with pieces of shell. I've enjoyed better quality happy-hour oysters at Dish in the past, and hope this was just an off night.
THE BILL: Thanks to the bargain, our three snack plates and pizza ranged from $3.50 to $5 apiece. A dozen oysters, six clams and six shrimp came out to $24. With the addition of four alcoholic drinks — one at full price — the total bill came to just under $70.
THE PARTICULARS: Dish is open seven days a week: Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Valet parking is available.
THE VERDICT: Dish offers decadent dining and drinks at a discount, and now you're in the know.