Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Happy Joe's Taco Pizza

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I am a pizza lover. Love, love, love it. My favorite meal is pizza and beer. Can you believe it? I am this foodie writer, I'll eat anything, and my favorite meal would be pizza. My sister affectionately calls pizza "Circles of Death." I say, ya gotta go somehow, why not with a delicious whole wheat crust, hot, stretchy mozzarella and delicious toppings?

I make a lot of pizza. Mardi Gras Pizza with crawfish, peppers and andouille, Muffaletta Pizza with meat and cheese and yummy olive salad, Grilled Pizza with anything on it, and a few weeks ago a Caesar Salad Pizza, stupendous. But this week I was at the grocer, and there on the shelf was Taco Doritos, they even came in the throwback bag from the 70's. Taco Doritos mean only one thing...Happy Joe's Taco Pizza.

Happy Joe's is an institution in Eastern Iowa. It started in 1972 in Davenport, Iowa in an area known as the East Village. A charming street of shops, bars and restaurants. Happy Joe's was an old time ice cream parlor up front, pizza restaurant in the back. The floors were wood, there were barrels of taffy and candy sticks and an old fashioned bar where you could order ice cream sundaes and banana splits in a tulip glass complete with a sugar wafer. In the old days, the wait staff girls wore the cutest red and white short dresses with a little fluff in the skirt. Red and white saddle shoes rounded it out and the guys wore vests and straw hats. On your birthday they would honk an old fashioned bike horn and they would all sing to you and bring you a sundae.

Times have changed, the ice cream parlor is gone, the original Happy Joe's is gone, but the pizza has not changed and they boast more than 50 stores in the Midwest. Thank the Lord. Their signature pizza is Canadian Bacon and Sauerkraut. Trust me, it is a tasty pie. But my all time favorite is Taco Pizza. Forget any Mexican type pizza you have ever had, there is no comparison. Until today that is, I have finally mastered the taco pizza at home. Now I would really rather be at a Happy Joe's, but boy was my family excited when we had dinner tonight!

You will notice this Taco Pizza has no jalepeƱos, no salsa, no cilantro. This is not a pizza of 2011, this is a pizza of my childhood. Don't mess with it!

One recipe I found online is here at Pizza Maniac posted way back in 2004. He puts black olives on his, although I can't remember them on the original, and I didn't have any on hand. He also never mentions Happy Joe's, but most of the comments do. You see, people like me, never forgot how delicious that pizza is long after we move away.
I started with this whole wheat dough ball from the Fresh Market. They are super easy and work great in the oven and on the grill. I like to thaw them overnight in the fridge, although a half hour or so on the counter will do it too. One dough ball will make a pizza big enough for about 4 people (or 3 really hungry ones). When we do build your own pizza night, we split the dough into 2 pieces and make individual ones, with pizza leftover.

Happy Susie's (Joe's) Taco Pizza

2 dough balls
1 can refried beans (best to find the kind that are smooth, my Rosarita were too chunky)
Taco Sauce (I buy Happy Joe's, but there are brands at the grocer. This is not salsa)
Pizza Sauce (less than 1 cup)
1 pound ground beef
1 packet taco seasoning
Mozzarella cheese, shredded
Colby jack cheese, shredded
Shredded lettuce
Chopped tomatoes
Taco Doritos

Brown the ground beef, drain any excess fat. Add taco seasoning and a little water. When it is cooked through, remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Roll out, stretch, toss your crusts until they are the desired thinness. Preheat oven to 480° degrees. I baked my pizzas on a pan, but the crust did not get sufficiently crunchy, perhaps a stone would be better, or grilled is always good.

Mix taco sauce, beans and pizza sauce together. How much? Well, I used about ½ can of beans and ¼ cup taco sauce and ¼ cup pizza sauce. You can alter it to your own taste. Spread this over the crust. Top with a mozzarella, then ground beef, then Colby Jack.
Bake until cheese is bubbly and crust is golden, about 10 minutes in my convection. Let sit for a few minutes to allow cheese to set a bit and slice pizza. Then cover the pie with lettuce, tomatoes and Doritos (crush them into manageable pieces). Serve with additional taco sauce. It is, in many ways a taco salad on a pizza. It is not easy to eat, toppings fall off with every bite. But when you have nibbled the last of the crust, there is a little "salad" on the plate. I have to admit, I am quite enamored these days with salad on my pizza. The California Pizza Kitchen's Club Pizza is a perfect example. I am looking forward to my trip to Iowa this summer so I can indulge in the real deal at Happy Joe's. Until then, get in there and make it yourself!


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  2. I live in Illinois and my parents live in Michigan. We both LOVE Happy Joe's. She found Happy Joe's Taco Chips on sale at Big Lots for $1.50, they sell them for about $3 in the store! She brought a bag down to us and now I'm going to use your recipe to make our very own Happy Joe's Taco Pizza! Thanks!

  3. I said the same thing when I saw the Doritos at the store! I had several birthday parties at Happy Joe's when growing up in Iowa.

    The black olives came with the Taco Supreme that also added sour cream I think.

    Thanks for the recipe.

    Wilson, NC

  4. I always have this when I go back home to visit. I can't wait to try the recipe.

  5. Yum! I'm making this tonight since I now live in Austin and have a crazing for it. Could you also post a replicated recipe for the nacho pizza?

  6. Kristen, I have never had a HJ Nacho pizza....am I missing out? Now that it is finally fall, I am in the mood for Canadian Bacon and sauerkraut!

  7. I live in Austin too. Maybe we should get a pizza joint to offer same.

  8. You can make a Happy Joes Nacho Joe pizza by following the same recipe except instead of using the mixture of refried beans and pizza sauce as the sauce, use a can of plain nacho cheese sauce instead.

  9. Thank you so much for the recipe. Since we moved from Iowa we have been searching for a comparable Taco pizza only to go home disappointed each time. Making this for dinner tonight!!

  10. I Worked at Happy Joe's while I was in high school. You are frighteningly close on this. The Taco pizza came regular and supreme. you have described the regular. The supreme had black olive and onions cooked with it and a layer of sour cream added before the lettuce.

  11. Ha! Jason, I knew I was close because it totally takes care of that home town craving! Thanks for the affirmation!

  12. I'm from the Illinois side of the Quad Cities but have long since moved away to Texas. I miss Happy Joes and their wonderful food (between the taco and BLT, the taco wins by a small margin but I love both). People here give me an odd look when i mention taco pizza (no one here makes one, something that makes me want to cry) so I really miss Happy Joes. I was getting a craving for it so I tried to find something and found you. YES! I cannot wait to try this! Thank you!

  13. I have a really dumb question...why is there corn meal pictured? I think I missed something.

    p.s. NACHO Joe is my FAVORITE!!!!

  14. Finding this recipe made my day. I grew up in Illinois and we had a Happy Joe's in my hometown. I try to have the taco pizza whenever I go home. The taco chips, the sauce, the refried beans... wow. LOVE it!

  15. The corn meal is to allow the pizza to slide on and off the rack and pizza peel. It does add a little crunch to the edges where it sticks, but it really is just for sliding. Kind of like the bowling alley arcade games we played in the Midwest where you sprinkle the fine sand to make the puck slide!

  16. Love happy joes!!!! Grew up in Moline, now live in Chicago. Love that my oldest wants to go there now when visit home! Thanks for sharing!!

  17. The best knock off I've had! Wish we had happy joes in MA. If you want to do the special the tip is to drain the sour kraut and then put it in paper towels and get all the moisture off. :) delicious!

  18. I am so going to make the Canadian Bacon and Sauerkraut! Sounds like a good summer thing...stay tuned! Thanks for the reminder Kalena, and I can't imagine there isn't some GREAT pizza in MA!

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