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I thought I knew downtown. But here I am walking up First Avenue from Broadway, heading past the Bristol Hotel for the trolley when something at the bottom of a sign on the sidewalk stops me. You could miss it if you blinked.

It’s a li’l sandwich board outside.

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“Happy hour 7 days a week, 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. featuring…clever snacks from the kitchen.” Hmm. First Avenue Bar and Grille (inside the Bristol Hotel, 1055 First Avenue, downtown, 619-232-6141). It’s a businessman’s hotel. I’m not exactly in business attire and I don’t exactly got a businessman’s rack of gold cards, but I go in anyway.

“Is it happy hour?” I ask at the reception desk.

“It is, sir,” says the gal. And she hands me a card that says “Enjoy a glass of our craft beer or featured wine for only $1.”

Wow.

Not sure how long this is going on but I’ll take it. I head through some doors and then someone points up three steps to the left and here I am in a dark-paneled half-circle bar.

Maroon carpet, low lights, a bunch of customers on the stools, some of them eating on white china, all chatting with the barkeep, Melissa.

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When she comes to the wall table I’m sitting at, I ask for the Stone Pale Ale. She leaves a card with the HH offerings. Draft beers are normally $3, already a great price, so this little card is a total deal. Guess it pays to stop at the reception station.

On the food menu, they’ve got “fire-roasted” Brussels sprouts ($3), thyme-flavored fries ($3), poutine (Canadian fries and gravy, $4), Caesar salad ($4), prosciutto-wrapped shrimp ($7), and a burger with bacon, cheddar and fries ($7).

Hmm. Burger would be the obvious thing, but for some danged reason I go to the things I hated as a kid, the Brussels sprouts. Partly because they’re only $3. Then I order the poutine as a belly-filler.

Oh man. I needn’t have bothered.

One, the sprouts. OMG the sprouts.

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They are totally dee-vine. Sweet, sautéed, carbony, crunchy, with almonds on top…I have to stop the chef, Kirk Kocurek, as he passes.

“I kind of brainstormed this up with the corporate chef,” he says.

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“They’re made with roasted tomatoes, sriracha sauce, honey, lime juice and toasted garlic in there, along with caramelized onions and almonds.”

Lord. If I’da known I would have done two things differently. I’d’ve ordered a ($1!) sweetish white wine instead of da beer, and I would have canceled the poutine, which is great, but not necessary. I’m full after the sprouts. And don’t want to spoil the aftertaste.

And I’da loved the thought of getting out of this swank hotel with its classy little bar totally satisfied for …$4.

I mean, the poutine’s good. None of the traditional cheese curd, but really rich all the same.

“We animalized it,” says Kirk.

Animalized?

“It’s a California thing. Really means we made it extra messy. It’s got extra sauce, cheddar cheese, caramelized onions. Rich for one person. Really, it’s for sharing.”

I get about halfway through the poutine by the time I have to leave. But what a great feeling. Even with the poutine, I’m out on the street for $8 plus tax and tips. Say ten, eleven bucks total.

I ain’t complaining.

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