Taking over the old spot of the now defunct JK Wine Bar (RIP - though I'm still upset about my birthday dinner there a while back), Hank's satisfies the need for a mid-range dining spot with a relaxed feel in the neighbourhood. Joining the movement toward more local fare, Hank's delivers the goods. They've done double duty by also incorporating Southern fare into their menu, which all the 'en vogue' / new restaurants seem to be doing. Countless Southern-themed restaurants have opened up in my neck of the woods as well - each one featuring their take on Southern classics, like Fried Chicken and waffles.
The space is pretty much the same as the old JK spot. There is a false wall that separates the two dining spaces that are now Hank's and The Wine Bar (Don't get confused. One is located at 9 Church St, the other at 91/2 Church St.). I feel like they probably could have gotten better flow between the two restaurants if they left it open, and just separated it by a heavy curtain... but that's just me. Maybe perhaps then people would have known that Hank's was now open for dinner? We were the only ones dining there that evening, whereas The Wine Bar had quite a few patrons.
Fat Tuesday's (week) special was a pancake with pulled pork. I would have to say that Hank's got off to a wobbly false start for me. The pulled pork wasn't very tender, nor was it juicy. It was like the typical, dry BBQ fare that I've found littered around mid- to higher-end dining places around the GTA and Boston. The pancake the mound was atop was pretty solid though. It was fluffy and had a nice thin crust. Overall, the dish was pretty mediocre and forgettable.
Pancake Pulled Pork: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
I've been having a craving for fried chicken, well, ever since I had a mind-blowing experience at JG & Perry St. in NYC, as well as Guu (during my last visit). So of course when I saw fried chicken on the menu, I had to order it. There was no stopping it. The delivered product definitely hit the spot. It was well fried with a mildly spicy batter. The batter wasn't too thick, and crumbled lightly when bit into. There wasn't a hint of oiliness to the batter either. The chicken itself could have used more flavouring (a punchier marinade, perhaps?) IMO, but it was a small glitch. Overall, the chicken was pretty great. It wasn't close to being the best I've had, but it was solid. The waffle on the other hand.... OK, so when it was delivered, I was like...."where is the rest of the waffle? What do they do with the rest of the waffle instead of just putting it on my plate?"... and then I took a bite and realized what I GOT was indeed someone else's "rest of the waffle". It was pretty rubbery, thick and stale tasting. Darn. Maybe it was played with a bit too long, but my stick of waffle was not the satisfying confection I was hoping for.
Chicken Waffle: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
Hank's Shank was next up. I've had my share of this cut of meat, and this one wasn't a standout. It wasn't particularly tender, nor tasty. Nothing really popped for me, so overall, I wouldn't recommend this dish. It wasn't bad by any means, it just wasn't really worth ordering (IMO). Maybe I've just been jaded by ordering too many shanks in my day.
Now the reason why I loved my experience at Hank's so much (besides the great waitress. She was a hoot! I loved her personality) was because of their pork chop. It was absolutely divine! Never have I had such a juicy, tender and sweet piece of chop in my life. Maybe I've just had some bad pork chops in my life, but I just went yesterday to order a Chop at a AAA 4 diamond award-winning restaurant yesterday and theirs didn't even compare (yes, I was missing Hank's Chop). The healthily-portioned chop was dressed minimally with a red-eye gravy. It didn't need much else because it was just that good. It had quite a bit of fat on it, but this time, the fat didn't bother me at all. Most fat I've disliked has always been gristly, or bland. This one blended seamlessly with the meat and was every bit as sweet. Amazing! I'd got back JUST to get this chop (around $14).
The sides came at the same time. We ordered the Dirty Rice and the Grits. I've never been one to like grits. But then again, I'm not a huge fan of polenta either (so take that as you will). It's nothing I would order here again. I'm sure I just haven't had a good version (like how for the longest time I couldn't understand why pulled pork was so huge...and then I discovered pulled pork in Philly....wow). Dirty rice was just okay for me. It was pretty limp and soggy. The livers were chopped in too big a chunk, making them difficult to integrate into each bite, or share. The livers were a bit overcooked and rubbery. Texturally, the dish failed and flavour-wise, it was okay. I wouldn't order it again.
Fries were also ordered. They were okay. Fluffy, more like steak-cut fries, they weren't close to being the best fries I've had. For the price, I would have expected better. Especially since nowadays, everyone's got their version of haute-fries. The condiments were house-made and one was of note. The ketchup was house made, but tasted like Heinz. Nothing was really in it to set it apart. I would have hoped for maybe some extra kick with spicing/smokiness if they took the trouble to house make it. The mayo was pleasantly refreshing with a lemon finish. I really enjoyed the mayo, even though I've been known to hate mayo.
Apple pie was suggested by our waitress/hostess/busgirl/barista/sommelier. She was pretty bang on with some of her other suggestions, and was super enthusiastic, so I had to try her favourite house dessert. Personally, I don't really enjoy apple pies, but SO and DC really did, so it made for a solid choice. The pie reminded me of McD's version (OK, not in a bad way). It was fried with a pretty good crust, and the apples inside were moist, and had some texture (not amorphous and mushy) to it. The shape and texture was much like an empanada. I enjoyed it and the ice cream (which wasn't really noteworthy) that it was paired with. The dulce de leche didn't really do anything for the dish, and was a bit too thick for me to enjoy it. It was almost like a paste/peanut butter, so it was hard to smear onto my pie. It was a strong end to a solid meal.
Overall, I would have to say there were definitely some hits and misses at Hank's. I did have a great experience, and that was due to a combination of a fantastic pork chop, a great hostess, and brilliant company. The dining room was completely empty, so we did have a pretty private evening. I wonder how long it'll take Hank's to realize that they forgot to update their website stating that they're now open for business? Thanks to PSP for bringing it to our attention that they were open for dinner. Otherwise, we probably would have missed the opportunity to try it.
9 1/2 Church Street
Toronto, ON M5E 1M2, Canada
Cheers and Happy Eating!