What: Root Down
Where: 1600 W 33rd Ave, Denver, CO 80211
When: Monday-Friday, 4:30 to 7:00 pm
Don’t Miss: Stand out cocktails (all $5) include the amazing Coconut Ginger Caipirinha, the Cucumber Daisy, and the Don Draper. For food, the Veggie Burger Slider, the Seared Colombian Arepas, and the Shrimp “Cocktail” are all excellent.
Since Root Down opened in Fall 2008, it has been a driving force towards elevating the Denver dining scene. Chef Justin Cucci has consistently put out fresh, innovative, healthy food in the now booming Highlands neighborhood. But while other restaurants might seem tired after a few years, Root Down is better than ever. Check out their happy hour to find out why.
Stepping into the renovated garage, you’ll notice that Root Down offers happy hour throughout their bar and front patio, but not in the main dining room. Don’t worry, there is plenty of space. Large groups will enjoy high tops that seat up to ten diners or comfy booths along the wall. I prefer sitting at the bar to chat with the friendly bartenders or, if it’s nice out, heading to the front patio. It may not have the same views as its counterpart, but the front patio is a lovely spot to relax and watch the restaurant buzz.
Once you’re settled in, the staff will go out of their way to ensure a pleasant evening. Service is prompt and casual, without being overbearing. Regulars will notice that in the last few months Cucci and friends have revamped some of the classic Root Down offerings. Remember the beloved Lavender Lemonade and Blood Orange Caipirinha? Sorry, happy hour goers, they are no more. In their place, however, are drinks that I find even more appealing. Take the Cucumber Daisy ($5), for example. Beverage Director Mike Henderson explains that he wanted to offer guests an easy-drinking cocktail in the style of the Lavender Lemonade, but with more depth. He succeeded by creating a drink that carefully balances Monopolowa vodka, cucumber, pomegranate, and lemon. It’s the perfect summer refresher, without feeling like you are drinking fruit punch. But while many of Denver’s top restaurants have a good summer cocktail, the drink that really impressed was the Coconut Ginger Caipirinha ($5). I don’t know of any other restaurant or bar that is doing a drink like this. If cruise ship piña coladas ruined coconut for you, dear reader, please head to Root Down immediately so they can show you how a real coconut cocktail is supposed to taste. With Cachaca, lime, and the perfect amount of ginger, this Caipirinha is sweet without being sugary and right on target.
I can’t imagine dining at Root Down without ordering the Caipirinha, but if cocktails aren’t your thing, Root Down’s happy hour also offers house wines for $5, a cold Ozeki “Kara” Dry Sake for $3, and a draft selection for $4. And if your hipster cousin just can’t resist a can of PBR or Miller High Life ($2 each), the restaurant happily obliges. Such a variety means that nearly every kind of drinker will be happy at Root Down. And when they try the food, they will be happier still.
If you order just one thing at happy hour (but really, who does that?), order the Veggie Burger Slider ($4). Sliders are a big trend right now, but this slider is truly a thing of perfection. Served on a fresh bun with a sprout salad and a side of spicy dijon, what makes the dish is the jalapeño jam. The combination is sweet and spicy and will make meat lovers stop in their tracks. In fact, Cucci’s menu is full of innovative vegetable-centered items that prove chefs don’t need to cover food in bacon for it to be great. Take the Seared Colombian Arepas ($4.50). This plate of delicious melty mozzarella goodness is also served with a poblano-pistachio pesto, achiote crema, and a fresh pico de gallo. Every time I go to Root Down, my table has ordered an encore of this dish. One is just not enough.
Diners will also enjoy the new Shrimp “Cocktail” ($7). I’ll admit, I was apprehensive about this menu item. I’ve attended too many parties with a bucket of still-frozen shrimp, served on wilted lettuce and with bottled sauce. But Cucci’s version is miles away from the 1970s hors d’oeuvre classic. Eight delicate Laughing Bird shrimp sit atop fresh avocado and a tomato salsa that takes the place of the dreaded cocktail sauce. The dish comes with fresh blue corn tortilla chips, making it a great summer appetizer. If it’s done right, and Cucci certainly proves it is possible, I am now a shrimp cocktail convert.
The rest of the happy hour menu won’t steer you wrong. Other highlights include the Spring Vegetable Fritto Misto ($5), the Steamed PEI Mussels ($7) that my husband swears are some of the best in town, and the Colorado Lamb Slider ($5). Impressively, all of the happy hour menu items can be gluten-free on request, and three (the Edamame Hummus, the Organic Sweet Potato Fries, and the Veggie Burger Slider) can be vegan by request. Next time you have guests in town with difficult dietary restrictions? Head to Root Down and everyone will be happy.
Overall, Root Down proves that even a five-year old restaurant can still be cutting edge. Cucci and company have tweaked their food, updated their cocktails, and shown how to produce consistently delicious food without turning stale. Their happy hour offers a place to imbibe and savor the best of Denver cuisine at affordable prices. I’ll meet you there, just don’t forget the Coconut Ginger Caipirinha.