Do Fries Come With That Shake? Get Down to Hang Town

by Virginia B. Wood Hang Town Grill

2828 Rio Grande, 476-8696

Open daily 11am-10pm Have you ever noticed that there are certain restaurant locations that just seem to be doomed, as if some force in the cosmos had marked them with an "X" to ensure that no restaurateur ever made a living in that particular space? The old McKedricks Treehouse location on Barton Springs Road comes immediately to mind, but the southwest corner of Rio Grande at 29th Street has certainly seen its share of failures as well. Until now. That corner has been redeemed and is now the proud home of the Hang Town Grill. Hang Town is the newest venture from the man who brought you Granite Cafe, Mezzaluna, and The Bitter End: Reed Clemons. The new restaurant is a real departure for Clemons; it represents his first foray into family dining and take-out food. Hang Town is a comfortable, no-frills sort of place where you can take the kids without fear of damage to carpeting or fancy fixtures, and where overhead doors lift up to reveal a pleasant, fenced patio. You can just as easily call ahead and pick up dinner at the take-out window if your kids are beyond behaving in a restaurant of any description. In addition to accessibility and kid-friendliness, Hang Town also rates well in the category of affordability. Kids under 12 can get a small pizza, burger, or chicken tenders with fries or salad, a small drink, and either a cookie or a small serving of frozen yogurt for $3.50. A family of 4 could easily eat for $20.

Hang Town's menu is fairly simple. As in Clemons' other restaurants, you'll find a selection of wood oven pizzas. At Hang Town, the eight-inch pies ($5.50) are made on fresh, rolled sourdough bread and can be topped with grilled, roasted, or barbecued chicken, fresh basil, and four cheeses, Italian sausage, or grilled veggies, depending on your tastes. We enjoyed the Bistro Chicken Pizza with tender, succulent pieces of rosemary-roasted chicken, grilled onions, and wild mushrooms atop mellow mozzarella and provolone cheeses.

The burger section of the menu offers six different certified, mesquite-grilled, Angus beef burgers served on a good multi-grain bun. The Hangburger ($3.75) with mustard, lettuce, tomato, onions, and pickles is a good all-purpose burger. I tried the Rowdy Burger ($4.25) with jack cheese, jalapeños, grilled onions, lettuce, and hickory sauce. While the meat was tasty and perfectly cooked, the hickory sauce was so subtle as to be nonexistent and the jalapeños were plentiful to the point of overpowering. The burgers are good with generous portions of the crisp Twister Fries ($1.25), Wedge Fries ($1.25), or onion rings ($1.75).

I was particularly impressed with the sandwiches and salads at Hang Town. The Green Chile Chicken Sandwich ($5.25) is wonderful: a juicy mesquite-grilled marinated chicken breast with grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, and jack cheese, with just enough green chile to give it a little zing. The Grilled Veggie Sandwich ($4.75) is also excellent, with a melange of grilled mixed vegetables, pesto, feta cheese, and calamata olives. One of the sandwiches with a small Reed's Salad ($2.50) - mixed greens, tomatoes, caramelized pecans, feta cheese, balsamic vinaigrette, and red onions - makes a delightful meal.

If you are a milkshake lover, the main attraction at Hang Town will be the vanilla, chocolate, mocha, and strawberry shakes ($2.25). These rich, elegant delectables are made with Haagen-Dazs Lowfat Frozen Yogurt, so you can enjoy both their virtue and their taste. The mocha shake is my new favorite thing. I'm also partial to the Stewart's Root Beer, Cream Ale, and Orange Cream Soda they have on tap.

If all of this seems like a perfect franchise concept, you guessed correctly. Clemons developed Hang Town with franchising in mind, and he intends to export the Hang Town concept in the future. Clemons is ably assisted in this venture by longtime Austin restaurateur Mike Dyer. Dyer's fine- dining experience includes the fondly remembered Sixth Street restaurant, Alana's, and he learned the franchise business in the Schlotsky's organization. Judging by the quality of the prototype restaurant, my guess would be that the Hang Town concept will make for a successful chain.

Out of curiosity, I compared Hang Town to the similar EZ's (the local outlet of the San Antonio-based Cheers, Inc., chain) at 3918 North Lamar. EZ's is doing a brisk family business in the old 2-J's location across from Central Market. Comparison of the two menus reveals that Hang Town's prices are a little higher for some items and a little lower on others, but both restaurants would qualify as "popularly priced." The truth is, however, that there is no comparison where the food is concerned; the food at Hang Town is just better. It's fast and affordable, but doesn't seem like fast food. Seems that a former bad location has been redeemed by what could be called righteous fast food. n

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