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Hank's "Southern-Ontario" fare (review + pics)

BokChoi Feb 26, 2010 07:27 AM

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.

Room: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/4385176148/

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-snowpea/4385234818

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-snowpea/4384414281

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.

Shank: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/4384414369

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).

Chop: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/4384414501

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.

Sides: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/4384414575

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.

Fries: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/4385176022

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.

Pie: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-snowpea/4384414711

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.

www.9church.com
9 1/2 Church Street
Toronto, ON M5E 1M2, Canada
(416) 504-2657

Cheers and Happy Eating!
BokChoi

  1. Googs Feb 27, 2010 06:42 AM

    Interesting review BokChoi. Not enough to convince me to spend my hard-earned's there. Am I missing something?

    In the "best of" competition, I'd put the fries at Cava on the list. The secret, aside from fried to perfection is the fresh sage topping. The pork chop that occasionally shows up as a special at Fusilli is simply amazing. Wish, wish, wish it'd be on the regular menu. Grilled to start for flavour ooomph then finished, well I won't give away all his secrets. Let's just say it's packed for maximum flavour and melt-in-your-mouth tenderness. No sauce required.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Googs
      BokChoi Feb 28, 2010 01:14 AM

      I guess overall, my impression was that they were pretty good. I wasn't disappointed with my meal there and it would be something I'd recommend friends if they were in search of that type of food. The ambiance was nice, service good, and the food more than half-decent. There were some good items, so the meal could have been much better if only those items were ordered. But it's probably not something I'd go back to frequently. Not something that I'd go out of my way to avoid if friends suggested it as a get together joint either. (This brings back nightmares about my last visit to Nota Bene.... ugh. But I'll save that for another time. Comments on my flickr if you get a chance.)

      The chop at Fusilli sounds great. A great chop is something that I've been on the hunt for for the past couple of months (not sure why. I just had a craving). Thanks for the tip - and for the fries at Cava suggestion, Googs!

    2. b
      bogie Feb 27, 2010 07:43 AM

      Excellent review and insight, BokChoi. FYI on one little thing though, Chicken and waffles is not a "Southern classic", rather it is an dish that originated in Harlem later popularized by Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles in LA (In fact, the owner came from Harlem).

      BTW, have you tried the Fried Chicken at The Stockyards yet? It's superb and a tremedous value at $12 for 4 large pieces (1/2 a chicken). It's brined, crispy and well-seasoned. Check it out!

      Also, I love the fries at the Queen & Beaver, not wimpy Yukon Gold frites, but thick cut Russet fries w/skins. I can't get them out of my mind.

      1 Reply
      1. re: bogie
        BokChoi Feb 28, 2010 01:16 AM

        Sorry, bogie, my bad. I just kept seeing it on all the "Southern-themed" restaurants and assumed. I've heard about Harlem and Stockyards - both were on my list of potentials, but DC's and I settled on Hank's for the ambiance. I'll have to get around trying Stockyard's next time. It sounds fabulous. I'm going to be eating a lot of friend chicken next trip it seems!
        Thanks for the suggestion of Queen & Beaver. I walk past it often, but I've never stopped in for anything.

      2. Rabbit Feb 27, 2010 08:01 AM

        Thanks for a fun read (with great visuals!)... but I'm with Googs. Sounds like you had a successful night out in spite of the food and not because of it (even if there were a few good moments). And that communal table is a turnoff for me too. Maybe we'll get there eventually, but Hank's just moved further down on my list.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Rabbit
          BokChoi Feb 28, 2010 01:19 AM

          Thanks Rabbit. There are individual tables as well. We got a separate (private) 4 top when we dined there. There were a lot of seating options, so you don't have to worry about sharing (especially with their lack of customers). The place really isn't that bad. Maybe it didn't come across well in the review. If you order the chop and the chicken, it was a solid experience. The extras were what pulled it down.
          Hope that helps!
          Cheers!

          1. re: BokChoi
            t
            Tatai Feb 28, 2010 03:50 AM

            I'm going to interject here and let people know that, in my opinion, these sides are the strong point on Hank's Southern menu. I adored the grits and the dirty rice, didn't care for the baked beans. I enjoyed the fried chicken, as well, but found the portion (2 pieces, no sides) to be skimpy. The fried chicken at Harlem and Stockyards is great, as well. I did not love the ribs, a huge portion but no smoke and a mediocre barbecue sauce.

            1. re: Tatai
              s
              syrahc2 Mar 3, 2010 06:46 AM

              Hubby and I went shortly after the introduction of the night menu and also thought the sides were the strong point on the menu. After looking at her photos, BokChoi received a very different dish. Ours was like what pinstripeprincess described, like a risotto. Hers looks more like what a regular dirty rice is like.

              1. re: syrahc2
                BokChoi Mar 3, 2010 10:33 AM

                That's too bad. I wonder why they decided to change a good thing! I doubt I'll go back to order the dirty rice again - but that pork chop. mmm...

              2. re: Tatai
                BokChoi Mar 3, 2010 10:32 AM

                I'll have to try the chicken at the two places you've mentioned. I would agree that the BBQ sampling I had (pulled pork) makes me think their ribs would NOT be a strong point either. Thanks for the feedback Tatai.

          2. y
            Yum2MyTum Mar 1, 2010 12:02 PM

            Went for dinner recently at Hank's as well.

            I'd echo BokChoi's review, food wise. I didn't really care for the sides, personally. I loved the pork chop, and enjoyed the chicken and shank.

            I felt the great thing about Hank's was the price point. I left not amazed but not expecting to be, considering the price for four, including a pint and a generously poured glass of red wine was $130 including tip and tax. Two men (both big eaters), two women (with average appetites) all left satisfied at this price.

            I love Toronto, and I love eating out. But I don't necessarily love eating out in Toronto. The main reasons is that I feel there are not enough places that offer the following: (1) solid, unpretentious, good cooking, (2) a nice atmosphere, and (3) GOOD PRICING. Hank's does that so it fills a void nicely.

            So, I will be back, not expecting to be blown away by stellar creative cuisine, but rather to enjoy a nice meal with friends, in a pretty room, with competent cooking, care and thoughtfulness in service and food, and well-sourced ingredients.

            There's one other place I left feeling that was one step above in terms of cuisine and value for money: Local Kitchen at Roncesvalles and Queen.

            10 Replies
            1. re: Yum2MyTum
              grandgourmand Mar 1, 2010 12:05 PM

              You should check out Weezie's. Jumps to mind in terms of hitting your 1/2/3 criteria.

              1. re: grandgourmand
                y
                Yum2MyTum Mar 1, 2010 12:50 PM

                grandgourmand - thanks, and I completely agree. I've been to Weezie's in the past, and I'm going again this Friday.

                1. re: Yum2MyTum
                  grandgourmand Mar 1, 2010 12:56 PM

                  Let me know how it goes. It's been a while for me. Hoping it's as good as ever. Aside from the food, I've always been amazed at the waiter/bartender who handles the entire room pretty well for a solo effort (water gets refilled too!).

                  1. re: grandgourmand
                    BokChoi Mar 3, 2010 05:36 AM

                    Love that waiter/bartender as well. He's great. Definitely one of the best in the city. I'd like to know how Weezie's is nowadays as well. I haven't been there in ages.... the last time I wasn't too impressed with their burger. It was dry and overcooked. Too bad! The first time I had it, it was fantastic.

                    1. re: grandgourmand
                      Googs Mar 4, 2010 04:34 AM

                      My most recent Weezie's was on Valentine's Day. 100% packed house. 100% perfect service as usual. Try her boudin noir. Smashing with a glass of the Malbec.

                      1. re: Googs
                        grandgourmand Mar 4, 2010 05:50 AM

                        Great suggestion. I'm trying to go tomorrow night.

                        1. re: grandgourmand
                          y
                          Yum2MyTum Mar 4, 2010 06:50 AM

                          Tried it last night. The boudin noir was deeply flavourful, earthy and luscious. Great with the potatoes and tomato-y beans it was paired with. Not my favourite dish of the evening but that's mainly because I loved everything else too...

                          Started with mac and cheese. So good. So rich. So delicious. The bacon really elevates this dish. A little on the salty side for my personal tastes.

                          Dining companions enjoyed the celeriac root soup - a thick puree, tasty but not particularly noteworthy and the steak tartare - definitely enjoyed. Perfectly (i.e., not too) picante.

                          Enjoyed a medium burger. SO beefy. Purer than the Nota Bene version I love so much with a tasty ripe tomato, nice cheddar and thin slices of purple onion to cut through the beefiness. Bun held together well and sided with slender frites, a touch oily but delicious and well fried and salted. Also enjoyed the housemade mayonnaise.

                          Dining companions had boudin noir discussed above, and the char - which was sided with PERFECT beets and rapini ... a tasty piece of fish.

                          Service was efficient, cordial, professional and impressive. The chef was serving as well and remarkably composed! Love this place. Third time there and going back soon!

                          1. re: Yum2MyTum
                            Googs Mar 5, 2010 04:26 AM

                            I couldn't agree more. Her seafood dishes are always the star of the show. The boudin noir is fabulous. It may not be the standout of the night, but only when you compare her work to her other works.

                            1. re: Googs
                              n
                              norfolk Apr 15, 2010 04:12 AM

                              Constance has added smoked arctic char profiteroles which we had along with the frise salad last night. One of those unexpected combinations that just makes you smile. For mains we had Trout with beurre blanc and her grilled sardines. I would go back for either one. This place is small, comfortable and Constance and the bartender handle the whole room and couldn't have been more charming.

                              -----
                              Weezie's
                              354 King St E, Toronto, ON M5A1K9, CA

                              1. re: norfolk
                                Googs Apr 15, 2010 08:05 AM

                                My mouth is watering. Must go to Weezie's.

                                -----
                                Weezie's
                                354 King St E, Toronto, ON M5A1K9, CA

              2. r
                raebmv Mar 11, 2010 06:22 AM

                My DC and I were nearby last night (Wed), so we decided to give Hank's a try. We got there around 7PM. There were 3 other tables and the vibe was nice, but casual. I ordered the fried chicken, my DC had the pork chop and we shared an order of mac & cheese.

                Of the three, the pork chop was the most successful dish. It was very moist and tender. And it was definitely a generous portion. My DC gobbled down the entire dish with great gusto and obvious enjoyment. I found my fried chicken to be a little bit dry and under-seasoned. Although, I must commend them on the excellent crisp coating (without any heavy greasiness). With the chicken, I received 2 slivers of waffle. But these were a big disappointment - no crunch on the outside; dry and doughy on the inside. DC and I did not care for the mac & cheese (it was of the watery variety), but I suspect that is an entirely subjective topic.

                Overall, for the price (~$55 including 2 pints, before tips), I left the restaurant content. I would return if in the area and looking for a reasonable dinner in a pleasant environment. But I won't be going out of my way, or having any mouth-watering cravings for the food.

                1 Reply
                1. re: raebmv
                  BokChoi Mar 18, 2010 07:27 AM

                  Thanks for the review raebmv. I guess we're in agreement about many of the dishes offered by Hank's. Thanks for the tip on the mac & cheese, I didn't try that one out. And I'm glad you enjoyed the chop! It was my favourite dish of the night as well. I agree with you that they're solid, but not a destination stop.
                  Cheers & Happy Eating!
                  BokChoi

                2. j
                  julesrules Apr 15, 2010 06:43 AM

                  So why are they serving biscuits and gravy for dinner, isn't that BREAKFAST? Just annoyed because I can't really go out in the evenings and I really want some B&G.

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