21 East 5th St
Let me begin by stating that I do not eat seafood. I know there are vegetarians who dabble in seafood but I am not one of them. Because of that simple fact, I’d never bothered visiting McCormick & Schmick’s even though it is an easy walk from my office.
So imagine my surprise upon stopping in for a drink after work one Friday with my husband, we learned that the restaurant has a terrific bar menu during happy hour. Obviously most of the offerings are seafood related (fish tacos, salmon bites and etouffee, to name but a few), but there are a few vegetarian items worth mentioning.
The bar menu is broken down into three price categories: $1.95, $3.95 and $4.95. Luckily for vegetarians, our selections fall into the $1.95 range. There’s spinach & artichoke dip served with tortilla chips, waffle fries with gorgonzola cheese dipping sauce, cheese quesadillas, and fried zucchini with pomodoro sauce. Not the healthiest of offerings, sure, but very tasty and filling nonetheless.
At less than two bucks each, we opted to try several selections just to see what they were like. We had wrongly assumed that each item would be a scaled-down version of a “regular” menu item, but each was a full-sized order. McCormick & Schmick’s doesn’t skimp - the portions are very generous. I ordered the cheese quesadillas and fried zucchini, while my husband opted for the mahi cakes and cheeseburger, and we split an order of the waffle fries. We were hard-pressed to finish even ONE item each, let alone the entire table of pure gluttony spread out before us.
I was particularly impressed with the cheese quesadillas. Normally I find them to be barely passable as a foodstuff, but at McCormick & Schmick’s they were not only edible but nicely so. Whereas most restaurants simply grill a slice of cheese between two flour tortillas, here they include diced tomato and green pepper inside and a thin ribbon of sour cream on the outside, which makes a nice change. Another plus is that the dish is served with a side of savory yellow rice and thick’n’creamy black beans. I had concerns that the beans may have been cooked with a ham base, but our server checked with the kitchen and gave them the all clear. Unfortunately on a return visit the black beans were garnished with bacon, so it's probably best to leave them untouched.
The bar area fills up quickly during happy hour, which runs from 4-6:30 p.m. M-F. If you are lucky you can get a booth along the bank of windows facing Fountain Square, or there are a few bar tables near the door. Of course you can also sit at the bar and admire the Tiffany-style lamps overhead (sporting Bearcats, Bengals and Muskie logos) but seating there is crowded and a little uncomfortable. Still, sitting at the bar does have its advantages, as the bartenders usually have some witty banter going and you never have to worry about an empty glass.
Speaking of glasses, there’s a $2.50 minimum beverage purchase per person; easy to fulfill with their drink specials. Michelob Light is on draught for $3 a pint and their house wines run $4 for a 5 oz. glass, $5.25 for an 8 oz. glass or a bottle for $20. There are a number of discounted cocktails on offer as well. At McCormick & Schmick’s, they take happy hour seriously, and the packed bar is a testament to their success.
One more noteworthy tidbit – the restaurant resumes happy hour pricing in the bar from 9:30-11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, as well as Sundays 4-9 p.m. after Bengals home games.