At Hank's Tavern & Eats, Burgers Are King
By Julia Beizer
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, March 27, 2009
At a glance: There's a lot going on here.
At Hank's Tavern & Eats, a four-month-old restaurant in Hyattsville, there's always something to look at, whether it's the vintage movie and advertising posters or one of 20 flat-screen televisions that blare sporting events, cable news and, curiously enough, the Food Network, on continuous loop. A water feature bubbles behind the bar and glowing red pendant lamps dangle over booths and tables.
The resulting space is a mix between a nicer-than-average sports bar and a casual family restaurant. The dining room seems like the best fit for families or couples who pop in before or after a movie at the theater next door. Want to watch sports? The bar's the place to be. The booths are outfitted with television screens that allow diners to control the channels.
"We want to be the place you could just stop off for a burger and a beer on the way home, and we also wanted a place where you could take Mom out to dinner," says general manager Steve Greehan. Bridging the gap isn't always easy. Whether I ate in the dining room or the bar, I found my eyes twitching from screen to screen. Come for the games and a brew and you'll feel much more at home.
On the menu: Geoff Tracy, the chef behind Lia's in Chevy Chase and the two Chef Geoff's restaurants in the District, developed the menu for Hank's and runs the restaurant with his brother, Chris. Diners will notice similarities between Hank's and both Geoff's, particularly with Hank's emphasis on its burger.
The finished product stands about five inches tall, its brioche bun propped up by a sturdy onion ring. The only way to manhandle the monstrosity into one's mouth is to employ what one of my companions called the "compress and cut" method: mashing the bun into the burger and cutting it in half. The patty is cooked perfectly to order and sweetened by a dose of steak sauce on the side. Order one during happy hour (from 3 to 7 p.m. "every day that ends in Y") and it'll set you back just $5. Only the truly brave and/or ravenous should order the Impossible Double Hank Burger with Double Everything: a five-inch burger times two. Greehan reports that the restaurant has sold about 100 of the big boys since December, much more than he expected.
The half smoke is also large, wedged into a plump sub roll and topped with thick rings of softened onions and a spread of chili. The dog is served with a side of coleslaw, but most other items on the sandwich menu come with a pickle. Sides such as the divine sweet potato fries and garlicky spinach cost an extra $3 to $5. I almost didn't order the fish burrito, but I'm really glad I did. Wrapped in a spinach tortilla, the crispy fried tilapia tastes light over rice, bea ns and avocado.
The appetizer list reads like a gourmet game-day menu. Fresh spinach swirls with cheese and the surprising addition of tomatoes in the restaurant's very good spinach dip. The popcorn shrimp came with zippy aioli made with a Southeast Asian spice blend.
Cheesecake blew away every dessert I had at Hank's. The crumbly graham cracker crust is filled with a fluffy cream cheese mixture and came topped with a tart strawberry sauce that tasted fresh.
At your service: Friendly, but detached is the best way to describe the service at Hank's. You may have to flag someone down if you need something, but when the server comes over, he or she will care of you.
What to avoid: The salads are large, but I have yet to taste one that doesn't go overboard on dressing or rest on tasteless lettuce. Grease overpowers every other flavor in the mushroom spring rolls. The hockey-puck-size crab cake is heavy on the cake, light on the crab. Milkshakes are thin.
Wet your whistle: The bar offers margaritas, mojitos and other cocktails, but beer seems to be the drink of choice among patrons. Draft beers come in 12-ounce mugs or 33.8-ounce supermugs. Red and white wines are also available. Drink prices are slashed during happy hour, and bottles of wine are half-price on Sunday nights.
Bottom line: "We are local -- not some big chain. We cook it all here in our kitchen," Hank's menu proudly proclaims. The restaurant tries hard to prove that with an ambitious menu. Some of the dishes miss the mark, but when Hank's connects -- as it does with the burger -- it really works.