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Originally published April 7, 2010 at 8:44 AM | Page modified April 7, 2010 at 8:44 AM

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Happy Hour: Carmelita sprouts a fine meat-free bar-food spread

After years of homing in on fine vegan and vegetarian dining, the owners of Greenwood restaurant Carmelita shuttered a section of its dining room, plopped down a cocktail bar and rolled out happy hour. And what a pleasant surprise.

Seattle Times staff reporter

I didn't have visions of incense sticks, yoga or kumbaya. But I half expected tofu, quinoa balls and some play on salad. Carmelita is — can you guess? — a vegetarian restaurant.

After years of homing in on fine vegan and vegetarian dining, the owners of this Greenwood restaurant shuttered a section of its dining room, plopped down a cocktail bar and rolled out happy hour.

What a pleasant surprise. It's one of the best happy hours in the north end. No vegetarian qualifier to that pronouncement.

Cocktails are seasonal and made from scratch, even the tonic water, which is infused with dried flowers, lemon grass, cinchona bark and citrus.

But let's get to the bar food. A bowl of sunchoke chips tossed with white truffle oil. That's Jerusalem artichoke, and it tasted like a sweet, nutty, flaky version of a potato chip when deep-fried.

Mushroom is the meat here: An aromatic foraged-mushroom pizza with seasonal greens atop a nettle-spinach pesto base.

Even better, a hen-of-the-woods-mushroom pizza with a roasted sunchoke and truffle purée, toasted pecans and sunchoke chips. A rich, winter-y grub, but topped with a hint of spring — watercress.

A plate of pickled fruits and vegetables is available. But you can do better. A coddled egg over a hedgehog-mushroom ragout, for instance. Take those crostinis and scoop the yolk-covered mushroom up. Do it again and again.

Carmelita, 7314 Greenwood Ave. N., offers happy hour Tuesdays-Sundays (closed Mondays) from 5-7 p.m. with $5 bar food and well drinks, $2 off on specialty cocktails, 206-706-7703 or www.carmelita.net.

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com

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