Chef Michael Schlow is a Boston celebrity. His Italian restaurants, Radius and Via Matta, are staples for the city's upper crust, and two years ago he opened Tico, his take on Mexican. A few weeks ago Schlow opened his fourth downtown restaurant, Happy's Bar + Kitchen.
In an interview with Stuff magazine, Schlow described his vision for Happy's, "I wanted to have the classic local neighborhood joint — with the saloon-keeper type who wears a bow tie, knows everybody who comes in, and is always standing behind the bar polishing glasses. I knew this guy in upstate New York who had a joint called Gus’s and was the quintessential saloon keeper. I thought a lot about Gus’s when I came up with the concept for Happy’s. I want Happy’s to feel like it’s been there forever."
When asked what would be on the menu, he answered, "Everything I really like to eat and cook. I am going to have a ball. I am not aiming for Michelin stars. Blue-plate specials, chicken nights, Saturday steak nights, a raw bar, and a real bar. Black-and-white milkshakes. Huge breakfast platters with fresh-squeezed OJ. We’ll serve our pastrami sandwich with a side of Dr. Brown’s celery soda — whether or not you’ve ordered it. We call our chicken soup 'international, non-denominational, bi-partisan chicken soup,' with matzo balls, basmati rice, and Sardinian fregola. The real problem is that the menu is so huge because I want to put everything I love to eat on it."
After reading chef Schlow's goals for Happy's, I was expecting a hodge podge of decor and menu items.
Happy's is in the space formerly occupied by Burton's Grill on Boylston Street behind Fenway Park. The sign above the awning is cartoonish, with a giant red arrow pointing you to the front door.
My gut instincts about the hodge podge were correct and the front bar area of the restaurant was an explosion of bright paint colors and a menagerie of wild print furniture.
We had a reservation and the hostess walked us to our table which had tangerine colored chairs and robin's egg blue colored napkins. This may seem an odd duo, but blue and orange are actually complimentary colors on the color wheel.
Across from our table, set into the wall, were two intimate booths. The charcoal gray leather banquettes were set against a midnight blue wall. If I were to come again, I'd definitely call and request one of these booths.
On the opposite wall, there were antique style chandeliers above each and every booth. Are you sensing the hodge podge of decor?
While I was standing and photographing the chandeliers, our waitress tapped me on the shoulder and said, "If you like those chandeliers, you have to see the light fixture above the hostess stand! Did you catch it when you came in?" I hadn't, and so she walked me back to the front and pointing upward toward this:
The fixture is made of tea cups, silver serving trays and spoons! Each tea cup is hanging from a spoon curved up into a hook. This is so "Alice in Wonderland" and I loved it!
After extensive snapping, I was finally ready to sit back down and start eating! The menus at Happy's have this strange, blurry picture across the front. The hodge podge strikes again!
The inside of the menu sports happy faces. How appropriate!
We were having a tough time deciding on food, but we didn't have any hesitation ordering drinks. My dinner date ordered the drink special - a basil margarita. She let me have a few sips and I thought it was flavorless. It tasted like water. I ordered the A&P cocktail which tasted like juice and came with a bonus - a sugar rim!
While deciding what to order, our waitress brought us a big piece of doughy bread with a plate of olive oil and a side of salt and black pepper. This white dish with floral, rose colored designs reminded me of my grandmother's house.
To start, my friend ordered the french fries with gravy. She decided to order it because we saw a dish go by that looked like a terrarium of gravy as soil, with french fries sticking up as the plants. Later we found out the dish we saw was actually the reverse potato skins. We were disappointed when this plate arrived instead of the terrarium, but that disappointment quickly vanished with the first bite of fries. These french fries were fantastic! They were perfectly crisped and salted and they were majorly addicting!
For my first plate I ordered the homemade ricotta served with toasted bread. The cheese was topped with red pepper flakes, sage and olive oil. The ricotta mixture spread across the toast so easily and that smooth, creamy taste coupled with the crunch of the bread was sublime.
For dinner, we both went the salad route. My dinner date ordered the sashimi salad which came with tuna and salmon over a bed of mixed greens, cucumbers and carrots. She said the fish was fresh (it should be, it's raw!) and that she loved the garnish - tempura chunks!
I chose the arugula salad which came topped with large pieces of freshly shaved parmesan cheese, lemon and olive oil. This salad is a restaurant standard and Happy's version wasn't anything special.
What was special however, was my side dish of cauliflower with creamy chipotle and "crunchies." This dish was outstanding! The cauliflower is creamy (like mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving), but the chipotle added a welcomed kick and the "crunchies" added a depth of texture. I would go back to Happy's just to eat this.
Though we didn't order them, next to us two girls ordered the Buffalo wings which smelled amazing! Even I was drooling!
In the middle of our meal the lights dimmed unexpectedly. I asked my dinner date, "What time is it? 8:00pm?" Sure enough, 8:00pm is the start time for the mood lighting! Ha!
After cocktails and two great courses we were completely stuffed. We had heard our waitress tell another table there was Nutella pie on the dessert menu, but we just couldn't manage another bite.
A few moments later our check arrived decorated with three pieces of candy. I think this is a very cute touch and it reminded me of the fun, surprise factor of trick or treating.
Dining at Happy's is like being inside Michael Schlow's teenage boy mind. The restaurant has photos of Garfield and Tony the Tiger. The wait staff wear concert t-shirts from Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd shows. The menu has nachos, potato skins, wings, meatballs and mac and cheese. In the words of Katy Perry, it's a teenage dream.
Have you been to Happy's? Did you dig the hodge podge vibe?