Last Sunday, Nov. 12, was National Happy Hour Day. Now, in my house, every day is Happy Hour Day, but I figured we ought to make an occasion out of it. So, before seeing a movie, the hubby and I checked out happy hour at the newest addition to The Paseo in Pasadena. Opened just three weeks ago, Great Maple (not to be confused with Maple at Descanso Gardens) occupies a prime location on the corner of Colorado Boulevard and Garfield Plaza, the throughway revealed when a chunk of the old mall was bulldozed several years ago. Now the Pasadena Civic and City Hall can gaze lovingly at one another and diners at Great Maple can gaze at both.
Third in a mini-chain of restaurants opened by San Diego restaurateur Johnny Rivera, Great Maple Pasadena is an airy, indoor/outdoor affair fitted with modern takes on midcentury design in various shades of green, blue and brass. A long line of tall, padded chartreuse bar chairs stand out and attract patrons. The whole thing looks like the centerfold of a West Elm catalogue, well-appointed and highly calculated. The calculated design is not a bad thing. It creates an ambience of cool comfort, a space in which single diners and bar flies can feel at ease, like he or she owns the place. It seems particularly attractive to women whom I noticed on both visits outnumbered the men. As a single woman, I would definitely stop here on my way home from work for a glass of chard and one of their Happy Hour Lunchables with chorizo, manchego, olives and bread for a mere $10. It just seems like the kind of place frequented by the females in the airplane magazines: well-dressed women going somewhere.
That being said, there were plenty of men there for happy hour. Men enjoying manly things like reduced price house-smoked brisket sliders and truffle deviled eggs alongside their $5 domestic beer. My husband is definitely more of a cocktail man so he opted for the Clean Margarita, a lime-agave-tequila concoction (no icky sweet & sour) hand shaken and strained over one big rock. Disappointingly low in the glass but tasty nonetheless. I got the Moscow Mule with Bundaberg ginger beer which was all sweet and no heat and did not come in a copper mug (for shame). Both were $7.
The happy hour food choices are typical and trendy save for one exception. We went for the classics: Steakhouse burger, truffle fries and a salad. The two-inch thick burger was perfectly done and made special by the aged white cheddar and pickled red onions ($8). The truffle fries ($4) were pretty much what you’d expect — addictive. It was the salad that surprised and delighted us. The Half Cobb Wedge ($6) tastes like neither a Cobb nor a wedge salad. And it’s wonderful. Even though it has no tuna or potatoes, it tasted akin to a Nicoise salad. Pulled chicken, pecan wood-smoked bacon, avocado, egg, toy box tomatoes and shaved radish are scattered over a wedge of Romaine lettuce. The delicate gorgonzola vinaigrette is the perfect foil for all those goodies, particularly the bacon.
Bacon plays a big role at Great Maple. So does maple. The pecan wood-smoked bacon in the salad is scrumptious, but it’s their maple chile bacon that graces things like mac & cheese. They have maple bacon syrup for their French toast and a maple glaze for their salmon. But the piece de resistance is their fried chicken and maple bacon donut entree, available at brunch, lunch and dinner.
I remember first hearing about a bacon donut back when The Nickel Diner opened downtown a decade or so ago. I rushed down to try one and was gratified to find that the sugar-bacon combo made perfect sense. I mean who doesn’t drench their bacon in maple syrup along with their pancakes? The donuts at Great Maple are pretty amazing too. Puffy, moist, large donuts are topped with maple glaze then sprinkled with smoky bacon. One donut would have been plenty on the chicken-donut plate ($16), but they give you two leaving less room, unfortunately, for the fantastic fried chicken. Two boneless pieces are coated in a crispy buttermilk crumble and deep fried to a dark golden brown. It’s all delicious but you’ll need to double up your workout later.
Flying high on the memory of the Wedge Cobb Salad, I tried the Great Maple Signature Chopped Salad on a subsequent visit. Reminiscent of an Italian antipasto salad, this one with manchego, chorizo, piquillo peppers, kalamatas, corn, walnut pesto dressing and more, was good but didn’t hit the “gestalt spot,“ as I like to call it: the experience that delivers more than the sum of its parts.
Figuring they know their autumn-y, sweet things at Great Maple, I ordered their award-winning individual apple pie. I do believe it deserves that award. The shape, to start, is unique, a high-sided cylinder of crust. The apple filling is not too liquid, not too dense with the right amount of spice and sugar. It’s the toppings that take it over the top. A lovely caramel sauce and a Chantilly cream with spicy candied pecans. All in all, a solid dessert for two at $9.
Happy hour at Great Maple happens every day of the week from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.. Lunch and dinner go from 11 a.m. to 9 or 11 p.m. daily. On Saturday and Sunday, they offer brunch as of 9 a.m.
With its trendy, all-pleasing menu and stylish decor, Great Maple is a “Modern American Eatery” (their words) that is so 2017 it almost hurts. But it’s a comfortable, pretty place for refreshment when holiday shopping or seeing a movie at The Paseo.
300 E. Colorado Blvd., Suite 114, Pasadena| (626) 714-7625 | thegreatmaple.com