If one thinks of cuisine Belge at all they probably don’t in Austin’s 100+ degree heat. However, after reading a favorable review of Hank’s Garage, a newish Belgian themed restaurant, in Austin’s “local liberal rag” I was compelled to grab the wind-brimmed hat, the Wayfarers and trek downtown to see for myself.
What is Belgian food? Oddly enough it is a good fit for many Texans – uncomplicated, mostly hearty dishes, lots of it fried and served with (or smothered in) cheese or tangy sauces. Stew, waffles, chocolate and mussels (with butter) are featured items.
All of this is well represented at Hank’s Garage. Care for duck fat frites? Hank’s got ‘em; mussels, poutines, Croque Monsieur, Belgian Waffles and Eggs Benedict too. Hank’s serves hamburgers, salmon, chicken breast, salads and eggs and biscuits if you don’t fancy European.
The staff we met is courteous, helpful and efficient. Jeffrey, the chef/owner, is knowledgeable and pleased to share comments on ingredients and preparation of the dishes. The restaurant is dark and cool with a minimalist pub décor. The bar is well stocked with thirty draft and nine bottled beers with about a third of them dark top fermented ales with dizzyingly high ABVs (and even higher prices). There is a good selection of wine by the glass or bottle and an impressive collection of signature cocktails and mixers. They serve a good, Euro-test, cup of coffee and all popular espresso drinks.
On our first trip we had two entrees, mimosa, beer, wine, cappuccino and a desert sampler. From that I think Hank’s has a successful formula and spot-on execution. I’d like to use more evocative adjectives to describe the food we had, Fish and Frites and Beef Carbonnade over mashed potatoes, but after thinking about both dishes awhile the best I can do is to say that they were simply perfect.
A tasty batter stuck to the succulently fried cod when cut and dipped. The duck fat frites are better than the plain fries -- not fatty or gammy tasting and perfectly, that is not over or under, done. The mashed potatoes were, again, perfect – light and creamy but potato tasty and a fine base for the Carbonnade’s savory gravy. The meat in the Carbonnade was fork-tender and almost melts in your mouth. You’ll likely find a desert you like but we had to try the 3 Creams. Each of the small cups was marvelous with Cappuccino and a side of Mandarin Napoleon.
Lured by the promise of “…fresh biscuits come out of the oven at 10:00AM” we decided to return for breakfast a week later. We started with an “appetizer” of fresh-from-the-oven biscuits, jam and lots of their fine coffee. For breakfast my spouse ordered eggs over medium, bacon and house- made sausage (so we could taste both), potatoes, brioche and another mimosa. Her eggs were done to order and she was pleased with the potatoes and thick-sliced bacon. The brioche (light airy white bread) and sage flavored patty sausage were good but neither fit our preferences (the biscuits and bacon or ham are top notch).
I had to try the Eggs Benedict. Hank’s assembles theirs with delicately poached eggs, a large square of at least 5/8” thick and marvelously tasty fried ham on a fresh biscuit with a generous ration of a unique Béchamel or light colored and thin textured Hollandaise sauce with a hint of smoked paprika. While I prefer English Muffins and a creamy Hollandaise Sauce, Hank’s spin on this dish is very tasty. The light but crusty biscuits stood up to the flavorful sauce and egg combination and the ham is awesome.
I encourage you to seek out Hank’s – it’s easy to find on lower San Jacinto Boulevard between P.F. Chang’s and Casa Chapala. It is across the street from the Hampton Inn and a short walk from Austin’s river front hotels if you stay downtown. I’m sure it is very active on Friday and Saturday nights but it’s a comfortable, laid-back brunch spot that opens at 10:00AM on weekends. Enjoy!
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