Happy Belly on Vine is a necessary addition to the Over-the-Rhine food scene. I know: it’s hard to find food that is “clean” anywhere, including the hot dog, fried chicken and taco-laden Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Sure, every restaurant has healthy choices (I swear, I don’t eat pork belly buns every day!), but until Happy Belly opened, no place specialized in them, much less had grab-n-go options.
It’s a bright, cheery space on the corner of 14th and Vine, with the entire ingredient list written in chalk on the wall, and it’s all sourced from local vendors. You can pick up t-shirts and locally made cedar serving pieces, too. Take your lunch to go, eat on the sidewalk tables, or there’s a large space indoors as well.
The menu is small and limited (never a bad thing), and includes fresh-squeezed juices, a hummus wrap, a chicken wrap, some breakfast sandwiches, vegetarian burgers and a few sides. They focus very much on “clean” eating; that is, nothing is overly processed, and as many whole foods are used as possible. I can get behind that: I try to avoid overly processed foods when I cook (I say “overly” because many foods have to be processed– flour, for example– but are not as processed as, say, Doritos).
The first time I went with a friend and we both got the chicken wrap. The chicken was great — very moist and juicy– but otherwise a bit on the flavorless side. It needed seasoning: some salt, pepper, perhaps some Dijon mustard, something. My friend looked inside to see if there were salt and pepper shakers, but alas, there weren’t. Had I taken it home for lunch, I’d just have put on a bit of dijon and salt and it would have been perfect. We shared a small bag of popcorn as a side — it was simply salted, and for $1.25 a bit too expensive. If it were finished with some olive oil and fresh herbs, I’d be more willing to shell out the $1.25.
My second trip, I grabbed a hummus wrap. This definitely had more flavor than the chicken wrap– I’d like to have had a little bit more hummus and a few fewer carrots for a more well-rounded wrap, but I loved the combination of basil and hummus. You can tell that they are made fresh each morning — the vegetables were very crisp and the tortilla soft (but not soggy). I’ll order it again, for sure.
As far as beverages, they have fresh squeezed juice, but they also have Tazza Mia cold-brewed iced coffee (and hot coffee, of course), hot tea and Pellegrino, if you like a little sparkle — no commercial soda. I’m not complaining.
Happy Belly on Vine is definitely a needed addition to Over-the-Rhine, but I’d love to see a little seasoning to make these items really shine. Tahini, yogurt-based tzatziki, fresh herbs on popcorn or any number of healthy flavor additions would take these items from simply healthy fuel to a really top-notch, quick and healthy lunch experience.