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Starbucks' new small plates: Not so bad

Starbucks is now serving beer and wine

I was drinking a cold Jai Alai IPA ($5) from Tampa's Cigar City Brewing. My colleague was sipping a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ($8) served in one of those chic, oversize stemless glasses. Both drinks came with a tiny bowl of spiced pumpkin seeds.

The hottest spot for happy hour this week isn't a brewpub in a once-abandoned Broward County industrial park or an artisan-cocktail lounge in downtown Miami. It's at the seven South Florida Starbucks locations now offering craft beer, fine wine and a menu of 10 small plates that are surprisingly not so bad.

Not so bad if you don't mind that every food item is reheated in the same miracle oven that takes the chill off Starbucks' pastries and panini. Yes, this is heavily processed food.

Not so bad if you don't mind being served by an erstwhile barista who's now required to know just as much about chorizo and goat cheese as about macchiatos and frappucinos. They retain their friendly corporate demeanor while not knowing the difference between prosecco and pilsner.

Unlike with daytime cups, team members don't use a black Sharpie to scribble your name on the wine and beer glasses.

Seven South Florida locations — Pembroke Pines, Coconut Creek, Deerfield Beach, West Palm Bach, Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter and Surfside — have added booze and the so-called Evenings menu, since it's only served after 4 p.m. Ask for a cheese plate ($6.95) or artichoke-and-goat-cheese flatbread ($6.95) in the morning, however, and most stores will accommodate. First tested in Seattle in 2010, the new menu is now offered at more than 70 Starbucks across the country.

Said a Starbucks spokesperson in an email: "The expanded menu gives … customers a new occasion to gather, relax and connect with friends or be alone in a trusted, comfortable environment while enjoying our shareable small plates that are expertly paired with our coffee, tea and hand-selected wines and craft beers."

At the Deerfield Beach Starbucks on West Hillsboro, we got the distinct impression that the fine young trio behind the counter hadn't yet warmed up to the idea of warmed-up small plates. But they managed just fine, and like so many small-plates restaurants, the food was ready in no particular order.

There were also some definite winners and losers.

Winners: Truffle mac and cheese ($5.95) was served in a paper-lined plastic tart pan. The truffle oil wasn't overwrought. The herbed-breadcrumb topping had a nice buttery, Parmesan flavor. While reheating often rids spinach artichoke dip ($5.95) of its texture, this one held up quite nicely. Bacon-wrapped dates ($4.95) are first stuffed with chorizo. While we couldn't taste the sausage, the bacon was magically crispy and the balsamic glaze added still another flavor.

Losers: If you've ever bought a bag of frozen chicken tenders to feed your toddler, you understand Starbucks chicken skewers ($4.95). The menu says they're marinated and then coated with Parmesan and panko. Kids will love them, although the accompanying honey-mustard dip seems more adult. Meatballs with tomato basil sauce ($4.95) were also a dud. Made with beef and Italian sausage, they were downright rubbery. Likewise, texture was a problem for chicken-sausage-and-mushroom flatbread ($6.95). The pastry had lost it flakiness. We tasted mushrooms more than sausage.

Whether you partake in Starbucks Evenings menu will probably depend on whether or not you've developed a Starbucks habit. Wi-fi users will love it. Who knows? I might add spinach dip to my usual order of a grande Americano.

jtanasychuk@SouthFlorida.com or 954-356-4632

Starbucks Evenings

These seven locations are now serving beer, wine and small plates after 4 p.m. More are expected to offer the service in the coming weeks.

9560 Harding Ave., Surfside, 305-867-8162

9700 Pines Blvd., Pembroke Pines, 954-436-3564

6111 Lyons Road, Space 101, Coconut Creek, 954-428-9759

3349 W. Hillsboro Beach Blvd., Deerfield Beach, 954-570-8042

226 Clematis St., West Palm Beach, 561-655-9933

10925 N. Military Trail, Palm Beach Gardens, 561-625-3805

287 E. Indiantown Road, Jupiter, 561-741-4225

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