Happy Jack’s Brings Smiles & Full Bellies


Did you miss Dalton’s, Rockaway? Well there’s a reason to smile again as Chef Mike Dalton is back behind the kitchen, serving up some of your old favorites, and mouthwatering new additions to the menu at his new restaurant—Happy Jack’s Burger Bar.

Over Memorial Day Weekend, Rockaway was introduced to Happy Jack's at 108-13 Rockaway Beach Drive. The new building offers a much smaller space than the old Dalton’s Seaside Grill that was nearby, but good things come in small packages, and there’s certainly nothing small about the stacked burger options or the many appetizers that will leave you feeling full and satisfied.

Imagine a charbroiled, half-pound beef patty freshly ground on site, with your favorite toppings from cheese to bacon, lettuce, tomato, raw or sautéed onions or mushrooms, stuffed on a freshly baked Kaiser roll. This signature dish, the Happy Jack Burger, and all the other burger options, come pinned to a surfboard shaped platter, by a thick knife, ready to be used to cut up the massive meal, and if you still have room, each burger comes with a side of curly fries. Hungry yet? How about some classic Dalton’s wings or famous Dublin Egg Rolls to start?

It’s no wonder the many who were lucky enough to test out the new joint over the holiday weekend, left, well—happy. However, Chef Mike Dalton says there’s some irony behind the name of his new restaurant. “We named it Happy Jack’s after my father. But the name was more of a joke. He was Happy Jack because he was cranky. He was a cop for 23 years, protecting the city, and he had 12 kids—you’d be a little cranky too,” Dalton joked. Dalton’s father passed away a few years ago, but he believes he would’ve enjoyed the name. “He’d think it’s hysterical. He’d love the place,” Dalton said.

Besides the name stemming from Dalton’s father, Happy Jack’s is a complete family affair with Chef Mike behind the kitchen with his son, Aidan, and his other son, Liam, behind the bar, plus his wife, Kerry being instrumental behind the scenes.   Also, coming from a family of 12, many of Dalton’s nieces and nephews are the ones serving up those delicious dishes to customers, and it was a job well done over the busy opening weekend.

Why did Dalton choose to open a burger bar? Well, it’s what he does best. “I chose to open a burger bar because during my career as a chef, when I would come home from work at a country club, my dad would say, ‘what are you tired from? You’re a glorified hamburger flipper.’ So I named the place after him and after all, I am a glorified hamburger flipper,” Dalton said. But that’s not all that he’s known for. “I graduated from the Culinary Institute 34 years ago and I’m known for an egg roll,” Dalton joked, referencing his popular Dublin Egg Roll, stuffed with corned beef and sauerkraut.

Throughout the soft opening, feedback started to pour in over social media and it seems the atmosphere, customer service and of course, the food, aimed to please. However, the food reviews were expected. “I could say the food is really good, but it’s hamburgers. If I can’t make a hamburger after 40 years as a chef, I better give this s*** up,” Dalton said with a laugh.

The Memorial Day Weekend soft opening served as a test and the menu was just a preview of what’s to come. With a smaller kitchen to work with, Dalton is limited, but that won’t stop him from serving up a menu of various goodies. “We’re going to have different daily specials once we get our feet wet and get the swing of things. We’ll have steak, fish, nice chops and even smoked baby back ribs, plus maybe Sunday breakfast with things like biscuits and gravy,” he teased.

The scheduled hours are still in the works. Dalton said he expects to open on late afternoons, as a lot of time and effort is put into preparing meals for the day with freshly ground beef and fresh bread baked on the premises. He also plans to be open at least five days a week, from Wednesday through Sunday, but may extend that as time goes on.

As for what’s going to happen with the Shore Shack food truck that Dalton operated for the past few summers? “I’m going to have to sell it. I can’t operate both, but I keep saying that and then I still wind up opening it. But you won’t see the Shore Shack this summer. Happy Jack’s is the Shore Shack without the wheels,” he said. Plus, this version of the Shore Shack has it’s own bar. In addition to the roughly 10 tables and a booth, the bar serves as an extra seating area for customers grabbing some grub, and it’s fully stocked with liquor, and wine and beer on tap to wash it all down.

Happy Jack’s is a nice addition to an up-and-coming area, with Boardwalk Bagel, Healy’s and Coastal Frozen Yogurt on the strip, that’s close to the new ferry landing. The area will also be joined by the highly-anticipated Rockaway Beach Hotel in 2020, which Dalton says he’s looking forward to seeing. “I’m 110 percent for the hotel. The more business, the better, and it’s being opened by neighborhood kids—The Tubridys. We’ll get their overflow here and it’s really going to be a nice addition to the block,” he said.

Dalton says he’s happy to be back on the block as well and from last weekend’s crowds, its clear that Rockaway is happy with Happy Jack’s. “It’s good to be back in the kitchen and we had a great weekend with the neighborhood coming out in full support. I’m very happy. You can tell the neighborhood misses Dalton’s.”

Happy Jack’s will have its official opening at 2 p.m. on Thursday, June 7, with an updated menu and full business hours.

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