Chef Matt Hearn has a lot of irons in the fire at Happy Hour Bar & Tapas.
Within the next two months, Hearn is planning to roll out appetizers prepared table-side. While that may have you thinking guacamole, he's aiming a bit higher-end, with options like mussels bianco (currently on the menu) and shrimp scampi. The restaurant may also offer a raw bar, shucking oysters and littleneck clams to order.
"I believe people should take something with them besides a meal," he said of the plan to offer a little showmanship too.
The menu is already a mix of what the 30-year-old chef said he's discovered in his travels and his cooking. He competed in last season's “Hell’s Kitchen” on Fox, advancing to join the final 10 contestants berated by chef Gordon Ramsey, and he triumphed in MTV’s “Snack-Off” in 2014, taking home the coveted Golden Spork necklace for his late-night munchie dish of nut-crusted chicken strips with a sweet marshmallow sauce.
And speaking of award-winning chicken, Happy Hour already has one honor under its belt. The chicken tenders featuring the kickin' cayenne honey mustard sauce took top honors in June at the Bakersfield Wing Festival. Taking home the trophy for tenders versus wings AT a wing festival? That's impressive.
Of course that's no surprise to the restaurant's owners, Chasity Goodson and Sophia and Justin Cummings, who found a kindred culinary spirit in Hearn — someone also driven to bring something different to Bakersfield.
"I thought you guys were missing something," Hearn said of the local dining scene prior to his arrival. His local favorites? His downtown neighbor, Centro 18 Cuisine & Lounge, and a food truck, El Taco Loco.
For his own menu, he looked into incorporating a variety of cuisines and options. Top sellers include the customizable mac and cheese (with the top combo being sharp cheddar, bacon and jalapeno) and the burger rings, bringing hamburgers and onion rings together in the most delicious way.
"The burger rings are ridiculous. ... We go through 12 to 20 a day," he said.
Seafood, sliders, salad — there's a lot going on with this menu.
"It's hard to put a label on what we're doing here," Hearn said.
Fresh might be a good word. Hearn doesn't even have a freezer in his kitchen, meaning the seafood flash-frozen in Santa Monica and delivered to the restaurant is kept chilled but not left to linger in a deep freeze.
Also missing from the kitchen? A microwave.
"There was a microwave and I threw it in the basement. I believe you can't cook things in the microwave."
More than just table service is coming to the 18th Street restaurant, which celebrated with a ribbon cutting on Thursday.
Sophia Cummings said plans include live acoustic music, paint nights, cooking classes and maybe even a murder-mystery event.
Until then, Hearn will keep things updated and plan for the change in season, which will bring cranberries, turkey and pumpkin into the mix.
"I can't wait until pumpkin comes into play," he said.