Family-Friendly Happy Hour in Bexley

Even the kids know it simply as "Happy Hour." This biweekly Bexley get-together - always on a Friday evening, always at one of several households in the neighborhood south of Montrose Elementary School - has been going for four years now, nearly half of Charlie Robertson-Boyd's 10-year-old life.

"I like playing with the other kids and the food is one of my favorite parts," Charlie said before galloping off to the backyard of his home where this session of Happy Hour was being held.

Four families with seven kids between them, ages 4 to 10, had convened, bearing food, juice boxes and the makings for mojitos on a mid-summer's evening.

The Happy Hours happen all year, but the menu always reflects the season, said Charlie's mom, Laura, as she put the finishing touches on her fruit tartlet desserts. She had just bought fresh, local fruit that day at Downtown's Pearl Alley Farmers'
Market and plucked tomatoes and mint from her backyard garden.

"We tried fancier dinner clubs with all the kids at someone's house with a group babysitter," explained Laura. "It kind of worked, but it got too hard after a while."

"And the babysitter just added to the expense," added Lynne Miller, who was prepping a baking sheet loaded with crostini topped with a beet hummus and goat cheese mixture. "So we decided to do something where we brought the kids."

The rules are simple: Feed the kids first.

"We found out after one Happy Hour that if you don't feed the kids right away, you'll have to go home sooner," said Lynne. "So that's pretty much our one rule - the host family does provide the mac and cheese."

Beyond that, the meal is an inventive mix of food traditions, paper plates and plastic cutlery. Doug and Carrie Meeks brought a pan, straight from the oven, of roasted fingerling potatoes and garlic with a whipped ricotta, parmesan, chives and lemon zest filling.

There was homemade guacamole, garlic-stuffed olives, a multi-layer Mexican salad, German-style potato salad, and grape tomatoes tossed with bocconcini, tiny mozzarella balls. Kevin Brashear is from Louisiana and likes to do crawfish dishes when he can get a good supply, but on this day he and wife Carrie brought Ambrosia salad, that staple of Midwestern buffets.

Kevin is also a budding mixologist which reflects the party's other tradition: Everyone is within walking distance of home which makes for responsible adult-beverage consumption. And when do they know when it's time to go home?

"Usually it's when the kids start to misbehave," observed Bob Robertson-Boyd.

"The first meltdown," Carrie Brashear added. "That's when we know the party's over."

Mexican Layered Salad (serves 8)
from Laura Robertson-Boyd

1 package (9 oz.) cornbread mix 1 head of Romaine lettuce, torn or chopped 1 can (15 oz.) black beans, rinsed & drained 1 can (15 oz.) whole kernel corn, drained 1 red pepper, diced 3 green onions, chopped 6 plum tomatoes, diced 1 package (8 oz.) shredded Cheddar-Jack cheese Dressing: 3/4 cup light mayonnaise Juice of 2 fresh limes (or 4 Tbls. bottled lime juice) 1/4 bunch fresh cilantro 1-1/2 tsp. cumin 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
Prepare cornbread mix according to package directions. Allow to cool, then crumble into small pieces. Place dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor and mix until well combined. In a 4-quart glass bowl, layer ingredients as follows: half the lettuce, half the cornbread, 1/3 of the dressing, and half each of the remaining ingredients (beans through cheese). Repeat layers and top with the last 1/3 of the dressing. Cover and chill 1-2 hours. Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Lemon Ricotta (Serves 6 as a side dish)
from Doug Meeks

2 pounds fingerling potatoes 2 Tbl. extra virgin olive oil Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste 1 cup ricotta cheese 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan Zest from 1/2 lemon, finely grated 2 Tbl. minced fresh chives
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place potatoes in a glass baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Roast until cooked through, stirring occasionally, 35-40 minutes. In a small bowl, combine ricotta, Parmesan, lemon zest and chives. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut a small X on top of each with a paring knife and gently squeeze open. Dollop about 1 Tbl. ricotta mixture into each. Serve warm or at room temperature.