Happy Child recently opened in the former location of Double Deuce Saloon on West Queen West. Its only signage is a sandwich board and the logo of a somewhat deranged looking Big Boy-style child's face (replete with swollen cheeks and ominous eyebrows) that is more or less the space's calling card. And yes, they have T-shirts for sale.
Inside, the space is not quite cozy. It has the worn-looking, long wood communal tables that are becoming ubiquitous (i.e. just-opened Oddseoul), and unpleasantly so--you try having an intimate conversation with your significant other while a gaggle of girls gossips beside you. The lighting is dim, red-tinged, and mainly provided by a scatter of candles and the Double Deuce's huge, retro-looking sign proclaiming "Cocktail Bar." Don't expect an expansive menu of signature drinks, though; Happy Child is keeping it classic for now.
Happy Child toes that same line between bar and restaurant as so many recent west-end openings, with a fairly affordable bar menu; draught beers including Sapporo and Hoptical Illusion come in around $7, and a succinct but thought-out list of wines by the glass tops out at $10. I try the Rosehall Run 2009 Pinot Noir, which is fruity with a touch of oak-infused smokiness.
The food goes beyond simple bar snacks, though, with a classics-turned-upside-down approach to late-night, drunken standbys (they're serving until 2 a.m.) like fried chicken, noodle soup (Happy Child's comes with Peking duck), and grilled cheese (with a side of tomato soup). Each of the ever-changing menu items are $10, and they're conceived by Fan Zhang, who has previously worked at the Drake Hotel, and (more pertinent to this particular dining set-up) 416 Snack Bar.
Around dinnertime on a Wednesday (with the city well in the grips of winter), the place is somewhat deserted, although the sandwich board outside proclaiming "new bar!" draws some craned necks. Service is quick, attentive, and knowledgeable.
The Philly cheesesteak is incredibly flavourful, thanks to beautifully seasoned short ribs, a soft, slighty crusted bun, sautéed green peppers and onions, and a housemade cheese sauce that blends old cheddar and parmesan into a combination that's surprisingly reminiscent of elevated Cheez Whiz. I have one complaint, though, and it's a big one--the cheesesteak comes in at about half the size of what you'd expect, and even with the meager helping of Miss Vickie's-style chips, it's not exactly a meal.
It's a similar story with the KFC-style hen--tender Cornish hen is brined, sous-vided, then buttermilk-fried for a batter that's tempura-light, and accompanied by a sadly too-small side of tart and creamy coleslaw. I found no fault with the taste--the batter is lightly-salted and thin enough to let the meat itself shine through--but the portion size is in keeping with the spot's tapas mentality.
Happy Child is, for now, still something of a quiet secret, but I'd wager it'll soon draw big crowds, as soon as it expands past its current Wednesday-Sunday hours, and particularly if those crowds come prepared to order generously, and share. That, or have a special affinity for big-eyed boy mascots gone terribly awry.