By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
Swarthmore Avenue north of Sunset Boulevard has gone through radical change in the past five years, when a lazy Sunday morning once meant ambling down to the Village to sample fruit at the farmers market, enjoying coffee and a croissant at Maison Giraud, or meeting up for a Mayberry brunch.
Occupying the spot where the legendary, beloved Mort’s Deli stood until 2007, Hank’s is a gem amid an abundance of restaurant riches in Palisades Village.
Credited to Bromberg Brothers Bruce and Eric, who founded the Blue Ribbon Sushi empire in 1992 (with locations around Los Angeles, Manhattan and Brooklyn, Las Vegas, and across Palisades Village) and Rick Caruso, Hank’s has made the classy move of paying homage to the much-missed Mort’s on the menu with the Mort’s Reuben and Matzo Ball Soup options.
Inside the inviting tavern atmosphere, the tasteful, deep-track playlist rocked everything from The Clash’s “Hate and War” to Bon Scott-era AC/DC “Girl’s Got Rhythm” as a superior team of bartenders and servers tended to customers enthusiastically and efficiently, exchanging good humor with guests and one another.
Starting with the sturdy signature cocktail program, we opted for the pungent, potent Hank’s Old Fashioned, comprised of Long Branch Wild Turkey, Cherry Cordial and bitters; Sunset Spritz, a particularly powerful yet fresh and summery concoction of vodka, St. Germain, Aperol, lemon and sparkling wine; and the killer Royal Mary, with Tito’s Vodka and a house-made pickle, plus a hulking morsel of spicy chicken wing shooting out of over the top.
In general, I’m not big on Bloody Marys but this one won me over while my photographer inhaled the poultry portion in an instant.
So imagine his excitement when the Pancake and Chicken plate arrived, with three wings perched atop a giant griddlecake. Again, pancake is not one of my go-to choices, as it quickly leaves me feeling bloated and full, but this one, while massive, tasted light and airy and particularly flavorful, and I could easily see myself coming back here just to order this as my main meal.
One of the best appetizers came recommended from our waitress: Cream of Tomato Soup arrives as delicious as it is colorful. This simple yet ample bowl will satisfy.
My other recommendation—splurge on Cheese Fondue; a spread that includes sliced apples and cauliflower, bacon bits, and morsels of sourdough ready for the dipping in a hot amalgam of Gruyère, Parmesan, white cheddar and Swiss. This is an excellent way to kick off a Hank’s meal and, even sharing it, goes a long way. But note: if you are poised to order Mac & Cheese—perfectly fine and technically not macaroni but orecchiette pasta—that starter utilizes the same four-cheese mix that arrives in the fondue cauldron.
Fish dish options abound at Hank’s, and while Blackened Catfish and Seared Ora King Salmon seem perfectly enticing, we tried Seared Branzino, a formidable option in which the sea bass, cooked to perfection, offers fluffy white fish and a crispy skin that is perfectly savory and flavorful. This large side of fish arrives on a tasty bed of cauliflower puree, topped with fennel and herb salad.
Other meal directions include salads topped with either salmon, shrimp or steak strips; or the promising Paella Basquez, loaded with Jidori chicken, chorizo, shrimp, mussels, clams, red pepper, peas and saffron rice.
But easily the most expensive plate, the mouthwatering 12 Oz. Black Angus Rib-Eye Steak, cooked medium with anchovy butter and a baked potato on the side, proved heavenly. For extra side-dish prowess, the magnificent and monumental house-made onion rings come dusted with the house’s special spices, a mix of paprika, pepper and salt.
Us being big gourmet burger fans, we could not help but try the much-talked-about Butter Burger, which lived up to its legend as two beef patties marinated, in red wine and bone marrow butter, delighted our palates. The winning Lamb Burger, topped with tzatziki sauce with cherry tomato and arugula, is basically a Greek meal on a brioche bun.
For dessert, there are two
varieties of sundae but we went for the best-selling Warm Monkey Bread, a seductive cinnamon bun-like base topped with a boule of vanilla ice cream.
As the sun set on perhaps the first picture-perfect Pacific Palisades day of the month following a long streak of June gloom, I welcomed summer by taking this portion of my meal out to Hank’s charming patio and, coupled with cappuccino, savored every sweet spoonful as I watched the locals breeze by.