When my husband and I moved to Windsor Park in late 2004, there weren't many dining out options in the neighborhood, unless you counted Church's Chicken, Hill-Bert's, and Subway. Fast forward to 2018 and we've got a plethora of choices, most of which are on the other side of 51st Street in the Mueller development. Until recently, Windsor Parkers were still dreaming of that ideal family-friendly dining spot within walking distance.
That all changed when Andy Means and Jessie Katz, the couple behind erstwhile South Lamar cheese shop and cafe Henri's, took over the empty space on Berkman that was once a grocery store and an aborted "Texas brasserie," and launched Hank's. Or did it?
The first thing you notice about Hank's is the decor, curated by Ben May Design and Claire Zinnecker Design, with a clear eye toward the Instagram demographic. Bearing a Western minimalism ethos, crisp white walls serve as the backdrop for dark metal and honeyed wood fixtures, hanging basket lamps, and cacti. The menu reminds diners that Hank's is on Instagram, and if you follow the right interior design accounts, like Domino, Sunset, and Lonny magazines, you'll note that Hank's is right on trend. Tremendous effort has gone into making this restaurant as photo-worthy as possible.
Unfortunately, that effort doesn't extend to what can best be described as an uninspired American menu. The most interesting thing among the soups, salads, and sandwiches is the crispy rice – a huge portion of crunchy, umami pink sushi rice tossed with extremely generous portions of mint and cilantro, served with a side of brightly flavored spicy green sauce. This dish is tasty, especially with a fried egg on top, but the kitchen would do well to add more greens (arugula or spinach) for a bit more interest and texture.
Among the entrées, the standout is the fried chicken – three pieces (a breast, a wing, and a drumstick) of juicy, flavorful chicken for $12. Because I wanted more than fried chicken for my meal, I ordered a side of crispy brussels sprouts ($5), which were delicious, if a bit overdressed (every mouthful was equal parts oil and brassica). It would be nice if the chicken dish were pared down to two pieces and a side in order to make it a more manageable meal. Or, better yet, offer a sharable fried chicken meal with four to six pieces and a couple of sides to reduce waste.
My dining companions enjoyed their bar steak and tagliatelle pasta, even if the latter was a bit underseasoned. On another visit, at lunchtime, my husband and I chose the $9 lunch special – he opted for the half-order of the steak and Gouda sandwich with fries; I chose the half brie and baguette, and arugula salad. While tasty, both sandwiches came out with fillings that weren't proportionate to the amount of bread. "It's like your mom made you a nice sandwich but wanted to save money and skimped on the more expensive stuff," my spouse said, disappointed with the parsimonious portion of steak and cheese. At least the bread was fresh and delicious.
The most economical way to explore the smaller plates menu at a discount is happy hour. The $5 frosé and frozen paloma go down dangerously easily. Our favorites from the starters menu were the artichokes and the baked ricotta. The artichokes, while plated a bit unartfully, came with a yummy caper remoulade for dipping. The baked ricotta comes served with a thick layer of pesto on top, along with spears of grilled baguette; it is especially delicious when it comes warmed all the way through (my experience has been inconsistent in this regard).
The real stars of the menu, though, are Chaney Means' desserts and pastries. The crème brûlée was perfect, and garnished with delicate slices of pear and edible flowers. The Chantilly cake was pretty as a picture and studded with fresh berries and pomegranate seeds; it had a tender crumb and a sweet buttercream that bordered on cloying, but split four ways was manageable. Over in the cafe, the pastry case boasts a sophisticated olive oil cake with a dark chocolate ganache, fresh berry kolaches, a deeply satisfying salted chocolate chip cookie, and a rotating cast of French pastries like chocolate bouchons and blackberry-flecked financiers.
I do have beef with Hank's, though, when it comes to service. Everyone's been friendly and well-meaning (apart from a few diffident hosts), but the attention to detail and overall professionalism just aren't there. For example, when we received our Chantilly cake for sharing, we didn't receive anything with which to divide and serve it among ourselves, and we weren't interested in double dipping with the spoons provided to eat it with. At lunch, my husband and I ordered a cheese plate, which was delivered along with a bowl of sliced baguette but no appetizer plates and no description or explanation of what cheeses we were being served. Every time we asked for the implements necessary to dine without having to set our food on the table or otherwise compromise our hygiene standards, the service staff seemed taken aback. These should not be surprising requests, especially in a restaurant that has the look and feel of a higher-end establishment.
And that's the rub, I think, with Hank's: If the ownership had spent a fraction of the energy and expense training its management and service staff as it did on making sure its interior was Instagram-worthy, the dining experience would be exponentially more enjoyable. I had a friend in college who used to joke, "You don't have to be smart if you're pretty," which I think is a fitting metaphor for the decidedly pretty Hank's. Wouldn't it be lovely, though, if it were both?
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