Mike Johnson has over two decades of experience as an executive chef, serving dishes such as a pulled pork taco. (Photo by Darren Andrew Weimert)
The Happy Dishes food truck has been a local favorite for those looking for comfort food since 2018, and now the restaurant has added a brick-and-mortar home to Milesburg.
The restaurant serves smoked barbecue dishes and a Southern Creole-Cajun style menu.
Owners Mike and Kennita Johnson opened the restaurant last summer at 200 Mill Street, Milesburg. If this place sounds familiar, it should. For a long time the building housed Stover’s Tea Room, which was a popular watering hole.
Mike Johnson likes the location, but says it presents some challenges.
“It’s been difficult because we’re a bit further away from the students and families who live at State College,” he says. “But we had good turnout from the residents of Milesburg and Bellefonte.
“I met people and they wanted to do something special with the location,” he adds, “and we really wanted to help the community by delivering great food.”
According to Johnson, reviews from diners have been “completely positive”. On Google, there are 17 customer reviews. Each is five stars.
The Happy Dishes menu is eclectic to say the least.
“We are a restaurant and food truck that primarily offers Southern food. It’s definitely comfort food,” Johnson says.
“The food truck is awesome,” he adds. “You just try to attend as many events as possible.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the food truck became a particularly popular destination in the region.
“We had our menu outside and we were telling people to just text their orders. We had prepared their take-out bags. People reacted very well,” says Johnson.
The popularity of the Happy Dishes food truck kind of forced his hand, he says.
“Everyone was like, ‘We want to be able to come in and sit down.’ I was closed for the winter because it was too cold, but people still wanted food. That really helped keep it going,” he says.
Johnson knows how to handle herself in a kitchen. After all, he’s been an executive chef for 25 years, starting as a restaurant manager at a Hilton in Philadelphia and working at Cowfish and Rumba restaurants in the Hamptons, New York.
In Milesburg, Johnson says, the restaurant’s signature dishes are shrimp and grits, a fried shrimp po’boy, a langostino Philly roll and a pulled brisket cheesesteak.
“Those are the things that are really big. People love it,” he says.
Happy Dishes has something for everyone, he says.
There are a handful of entrees on the menu. Known as “Happy Starters,” there are Buffalo Shrimp, Loaded Fries with Pulled Pork, Loaded Lobster Fries, Lobster Mac and Cheese, and Chicken Fingers.
A trio of salads dot the menu. Look for the fresh avocado salad, a grilled chicken Caesar salad, and a basic seasonal salad.
Happy Dishes has a plethora of sandwiches. Along with the signature sandwiches, a top seller is the “Happy Burger,” an 8-ounce Angus burger topped with pulled brisket, Applewood bacon, crumbled blue cheese, sweet pickled coleslaw, and drizzled with gravy. barbecue. Other burgers include the “Cowboy Burger” (complete with onion rings and barbecue sauce), a spicy chipotle burger, a turkey burger and, of course, the basic but delicious house burger.
Johnson shops locally for meats.
“We use Hogs Galore in Philipsburg. This is an excellent local butcher. We get all of our brisket, pork butts and smoke it here, in-house,” says Johnson.
Entrees include pulled brisket tacos, shrimp tacos, and New York steak.
For the kids, there are chicken fingers and fries, as well as a “Happy Grilled Cheese.” “We do a bit of everything,” Johnson says.
For more information on Happy Dishes or to view a menu, visit the restaurant’s Facebook page.
This story appears in the January 2022 issue of Town&Gown.