Yes, I know it’s only been open for a few weeks. Normally I would give a new restaurant a month or 2 to hit its stride before a review, but with pros like Carlos and Debbie Nieto (of Carlos’ and Café Central fame) running the show, an early visit seemed like a safe bet.
Yes, there were some minor bumps on the road, but overall, I can say that the Happ Inn will be around for a while. It feels like a hit.
Located in the same strip mall that houses the Three Tarts Bakery and Lori’s Shoes, the restaurant space previously housed Brasserie Hausmann, MK North, Brasserie T, Melange, and perhaps a few others. Empty since Hausmann pulled out last year, the large space has segued neatly into its new iteration. The interior has a dark, clubby atmosphere, with exposed brick and dark tables and chairs, brightened by a few well-lit walls with some tongue-in-cheek artwork.
The place was packed on both of my visits, one a weekend dinner and the other a mid-week lunch. We had a reservation for dinner, but walked in at lunch. Both times we were greeted with a smile, and I was pleased to see Carlos and Debbie strolling around the dining room, greeting old and new customers alike.
The menu is a crowd pleaser, and divided into “Happetizers,” Soup and Salad, Burgers and Sandwiches, Thin-Crust Pizza, Tacos (available either in corn tortillas or lettuce cups, a nice touch to the weight conscious) and entrée specialties. There is something for every palate, young and old, glutton or dieter. In a nod to Carlos’ Mexican heritage, there are many south-of-the-border flavors, signified with a star to denote a “signature family recipe.”
We loved the “Happetizers” ($4.99-9.99), especially the chunky guacamole paired with warm, fresh tortilla chips; “Cecy’s Taquitos,” a vegetarian rendition filled with potatoes and topped with tomato salsa, sour cream, beans and queso fresco; the “Northfield Sliders” (the hamburger version); and the not-to-be-missed-under-any-circumstances, completely delectable and perfectly fried sweet potato fries, served with mustard seed ketchup. You can always substitute them for regular fries for a small up charge, but why compromise? Get both. We did.
The wood-oven fired, thin-crust pizzas ($9.99 and $10.99) were impeccably cooked and served on top of a small metal grate, which prevents the bottom crust from getting soggy with condensation. We had the Margarita Pizza, which came drizzled with a thin pesto sauce. The crust was perfect, and the flavors bright and bold. Interestingly, they have a gluten-free pizza option, unusual in a mainstream restaurant.
A main course Salmon Salad ($14.49) sounded fantastic, promising field greens, quinoa (an Incan grain), green onions, carrots and cilantro, all tossed with a creamy cilantro dressing. Requested with dressing on the side, it arrived tossed, and although the ingredients were fresh—especially the salmon, which was delicious—the dressing didn’t taste like much of anything, wanting both seasoning and some acidity. Much more flavorful was their take on the classic Caesar salad, with a generous amount of mustard seeds in the dressing ($5.99/9/99), enjoyed at a recent lunch visit.
The Mexican Turkey Burger ($8.99), stuffed with cilantro and onions and topped with avocado and tomato salsa, was very tasty but a bit overwhelmed by the large (albeit yummy) bun. The fries that accompanied it were crispy and hot. The Mushroom Surprise Burger ($10.99), generously topped with sautéed mushrooms, Swiss cheese, onion rings, BBQ sauce and a creamy horseradish sauce was cooked exactly medium rare as ordered, and split in half in the kitchen and plated with those delicious sweet potato fries (I’d marry them if it were legal).