Hank's Tavern & Eats is the fun beer-drinking cousin in the Chef Geoff family of restaurants, a group of white-tablecloth establishments in D.C. and northern Virginia.
It opened in 2008 in University Town Center, one of those walkable developments that combine residences, movie theaters, retail shops and restaurants without feeling like a movie-set Main Street. A large bar dominates the cavernous space, and plenty of televisions along the walls are tuned in to sporting events, but Hank's isn't one of those sports bars serving nothing but gloppy dips and deep-fried everything.
Though the menu isn't complicated, the dishes are packed with fresh and house-made ingredients, making Hank's a rarity — a restaurant casual enough for college students and quick meals with young children, but one that will also satisfy people who care about what's on their plate.
A spinach salad, for example, arrives with beautiful jewel-green leaves, crumbles of bacon, sauteed onion and dollops of goat cheese. A small tub alongside contains a tangy buttermilk dressing. It had clearly been assembled to order, not pulled from a refrigerator.
We were also fond of a heaping plate of nachos, a sports-bar staple that can go wrong in so many ways. The version at Hank's started with fresh, crunchy tortilla chips, which were topped with just a bit of meat-and-bean chili, melted cheese and yummy guacamole. We liked the flavors of the chili, cheese and guacamole, and the proportions of toppings to tortillas. (Hey, these things make a difference.)
Dinner options at Hank's include the expected hamburgers (made with nothing but Angus beef, salt and pepper), a crab cake sandwich and a vegetable sandwich with a portobello mushroom as the base.
In addition to the sandwiches, there are entrees including fish and chips, steak, shrimp and grits, and a fish burrito. Even the sides are just a bit beyond the ordinary, like super-thin crispy fries dusted in thyme. The trick, though, is that diners pay separately for sides, and some, like the mashed potatoes and the beans-and-rice, are $4.99, a hefty price in a place where the burgers are $9.99.
The fish and chips dinner, however, is one of the few dishes with the fries included. It was also, during our visit, the most disappointing of the things we tried. The fish was flaky and moist, but it was coated in a dull, almost soggy batter. It was an odd misfire from a kitchen that was otherwise so confident.
Chicken burritos were better. They're packed with yum, said my friend, as she took a bite (and then found a way to enjoy her fish by scooping out the flesh and leaving the batter behind). The three soft tortillas were folded over chunks of chicken, guacamole, a piquant salsa with chunks of roasted tomato, and strips of grilled red pepper.
Our server suggested the deep-fried banana wontons for dessert, adorably praising them as "unfulfilling" when she meant to say they were not particularly filling. She was wrong, though; they were filling, but in a good way. The plate arrived with a neat row of seven still-warm parcels of fried dough, each containing a single banana slice. The crackle of the dough provided a nice contrast with the soft fruit. A fulfilling end to a meal that was easy to enjoy.
Hank's Tavern & Eats
Where: 6507 America Blvd., Hyattsville
Hours: Open daily 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., with a late-night menu served at the bar after that
[Key: ✭✭✭✭: Outstanding; ✭✭✭: Good; ✭✭: Fair or Uneven; ✭: PooCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun