It was about a month ago now, maybe longer, that I excitedly set foot into Michael Schlow's latest venture Happy's Bar and Kitchen for dinner with pals Megan and Lin. From the reputable chef behind upscale french cuisine and a killer burger at Radius in the Financial District, to Latin inspired small plates at Back Bay's Tico, (named one of Esquires best New Restaurants for 2011), comes a Fenway neighborhood spot serving the "greatest hits" or classic American comforts, with a distinctive flair.
In the airy urban space, graffiti splashed walls and subtle glistening chandeliers meet retro 50's decor including kitschy upholstered chairs and pressed tin ceilings. Place settings are clean and charming with vintage etched silverware and gauzy cloth napkins. The tone is more casual yet decidedly upbeat, compared that of its older siblings.
We settled right in with some cocktails, a Strawberry Basil Margarita ($13) made with Hornitos Blanco, Contreau, agave and lime was refreshing, followed up by "M.B.'s" (must be the bartenders initials) rendition of a classic Aperol Spritz ($12).
To eat we decided on a number of plates from the appetizers menu; everything we sampled was skillfully executed and easily shareable. Tender Duck Tacos ($9) feel like a Tico inspired dish, and I'm glad a taco plate made the transition here. While the two tacos are tiny, the duck is exquisitely tender like the name implies, where a full buttery richness encompasses the small bite. Cucumber, cilantro, chilies and mint add welcome pops of flavor.
With a name like The Greatest Wedge....Ever ($8.49) we couldn't pass up this version of blue cheese dressed lettuce, red onions, bacon and tomatoes.
I've actually been on a wedge kick lately, and just had one that would give Happy's a run for the title! Nevertheless, it was still an acceptable version and the menu name sets a comical, playful tone.
The Plate of Really Delicious Cured Meats with all the Garnishes ($10.49) is named in the same vain. But what can I say, those cured meets accompanied by dijon and spicy mustards, grilled bread and pickled vegetables were in fact, really delicious!
We raved on about the fluffy, spreadable Homemade Ricotta ($8.29) which came drizzled in olive oil and dusted with red pepper flakes and sage. Thick slices of toasted bread are just right, golden brown and lightly crisp.
When we saw a server whisk by with a cast iron skillet of Petra’s Super Mac n’ Cheese ($10) we knew an order would be headed for our table next. The visual appeal is one that delivers on taste as well, with the right accoutrements of bacon, peas, jalapenos and crunchy bread crumbs to boost the cheese drenched noodles.
There is no dessert menu but I'd advise you save room. Our incredibly friendly and attentive waitress listed off from a number of choices that included a Strawberry Shortcake and Mascarporeos. The latter, we learned from the manager who popped over to say hello, were developed by Schlow years ago in the kitchen at Via Matta, when a chocolate shortbread cookie accidentally fell into a tub of mascarpone.
The sweet creamy cheese together with crunchy chocolate shell is a divine elevation on the classic sandwich cookie. They also produce an excellent Strawberry shortcake, the manager sent this out with his compliments after learning we only chose one dessert!
The elements are nicely balanced as a heaping pile of fluffy whipped cream dusted in powdered sugar and cinnamon highlights the juicy berries and a sturdy, well made shortcake.
The bill gets delivered with another nod to an older time, featuring a handful of the sticky peanut butter-molasses flavored candy, Mary Jane!
Happy's is a happening neighborhood spot that offers good cocktails, food and fun in a vibrant setting. There is a fine balance Schlow seems to achieve of not taking himself or the menu too seriously, while still delivering tasty dishes. I look forward to returning, perhaps next time for a Ramen Noodle bowl or a Blue Plate special!