Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Happy Belly Tacos releases bright new menu to mark first anniversary

Posted By on Tue, Oct 8, 2019 at 6:00 PM

click to enlarge Nobody will notice the humans in this photo since they'll be focused intently on the two-month old Pomeranian puppy. That's Chef Mark Henry's new doggie (Mark's in the middle), visiting his dad at just the right time for this reporter to snap a pic. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Nobody will notice the humans in this photo since they'll be focused intently on the two-month old Pomeranian puppy. That's Chef Mark Henry's new doggie (Mark's in the middle), visiting his dad at just the right time for this reporter to snap a pic.
Happy Belly Tacos just celebrated its first anniversary, inspiring Chef/Owner Mark Henry, also of Rooster's House of Ramen, to release a new menu to mark the occasion. Everything's overhauled save for the popular carne asada and pastor tacos.

When I ask if this is a seasonal menu that we should expect to change again in a few months, he says, no, "I'm so happy with what's on this menu I don't want any of it to go away. But we'll do some daily specials, things like flautas and crunch wraps."
click to enlarge From left to right, three new menu items: a buffalo cauliflower taco; bulgogi carnitas; and the Happy Belly Taco with mojo pork belly. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • From left to right, three new menu items: a buffalo cauliflower taco; bulgogi carnitas; and the Happy Belly Taco with mojo pork belly.
Henry invited me to sample some of the new offerings, including the above taco trio — all constructed with Denver-made Raquelitas Tortillas, regarded for its use of Colorado-grown corn, all non-GMO and organic.

On the left is a gluten-free and vegan-optional buffalo cauliflower taco, inspired by his New York roots, says Henry. Before frying, Henry brines the cauliflower with salt, sugar, cumin and chili powder then breads it with corn starch. For plating it's dressed with house chipotle ranch sauce in addition to the house Frank Bonanno Sauce fortified with butter. That's a playful jab at the Denver celebrity chef, whose concept restaurants Henry respects, and who Henry says he defeated at a Pony Up French Dip cook-off event. The awesome,  spicy sauce, set in bottles on tables for self dispensing, is made with chile de árbol peppers, garlic, vinegar, water and salt. 
click to enlarge New tacos for a new year — Happy Belly just reached its first anniversary. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • New tacos for a new year — Happy Belly just reached its first anniversary.
Next up is the bulgogi carnitas taco, obviously Korean-cuisine-inspired. "We're known for big, bright flavors and fusion," says Henry. "But I have to make sure that's balanced. Because one wrong bite on a six-inch tortilla and a taco can be fucked. It's a small artist's palate to work with."

He braises the Korean barbecue beef-carnitas style, but it's actually pork shoulder, slow-roasted and shredded. He takes the same kimchi he makes for Roosters and purées it with xanthan gum to thicken it a bit, to basically a ketchup consistency. The idea's to even out the pungency that whole kimchi cabbage leaves can lend to a single bite. Pickled onions and jalapeños as garnish lend nice, complimentary acidity and bite to the tangy meat — it's a delicious taco.
click to enlarge A trio of the house salsas: a verde, ranchero and chipotle. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A trio of the house salsas: a verde, ranchero and chipotle.
Lastly for the tacos, and my personal favorite, the Happy Belly Taco features badass mojo-marinated pork belly slices, à la a Cuban cuisine but with a soy twist and an assist from Henry's wife's garden (thyme and oregano). The combo of that mojo pork and a chipotle salsa rojo, plus pickled carrots and jalapeños, make for a symphony of smokiness punctuated by acidic notes and a respectable spice that helps cut the fat. If you are going to name an item after your eatery, it better taste this good; a year was worth the wait.
click to enlarge A newly added, gluten-free and vegan green chile (pork belly addition optional). - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • A newly added, gluten-free and vegan green chile (pork belly addition optional).

Another new item: a gluten-free and vegan green chile, unless you elect to pay extra for that same mojo pork belly to be added. For it Henry uses a roasted tomatillo base, with Hatch chilies, yellow onions and jalapeños plus annatto seed and cumin for seasoning. He thickens the soup with crumbled pieces of corn tortillas, which float about offering some chunkiness sans toothsomeness, and garnishes with Mexican crema and queso fresco. It's a spicy bowl, unique from every other green chile in town.

click to enlarge Yucca fries tossed in chimichurri, with queso fresco garnish, also on the new menu. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Yucca fries tossed in chimichurri, with queso fresco garnish, also on the new menu.

The final dish for my sampling, yucca fries, offer their textbook starchy bliss, with a zesty edge from being rolled in chimichurri. Queso fresco garnish adds a little counterpoint. As fat fries, basically, they're always a treat, well handled here.

In closing, and before I can steal his stupid-cute dog, Henry says that because there are so many taco shops in town, he really has tried to stand out by "getting away from the traditional." Anyone who knows the chef knows that ever since he's been on the Springs scene, he's shown himself to be anything but. 

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