50 Burgers, 50 Days: Hank's Garage

UPDATE: Hank's Garage closed in December 2011
Day 46: Hank’s Garage
115A San Jacinto Blvd. 520-8060, www.hanksgarageatx.com.
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Monday-Wednesday. 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday-Friday. 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 09.25.11
Hank’s Garage opened this summer just as a movement I call the New Tavern gained momentum at restaurants like Haddingtons, Contigo and Black Star Co-op. New Tavern embraces the idea that artisan food can arise from kitchens that refuse to take a backseat to high-profile bars. And don’t call them gastropubs, because that word evokes digestive anatomy more than a place I want to eat or drink. New Taverns are a mix of high and low design and sometimes even higher pretense. Hank’s fits the New Tavern ethic in all but that last notion, of high pretense. With loud concrete floors and decor that feels patched together from a liquor salesman’s promotional store-room, Hank’s feels like the mid-century garage space from which it was carved.
The burger: Hank’s Burger is $8 with fries, plus $1 for white cheddar. It’s a decent value in a restaurant where the values aren’t always easy to pick out among the glasses of beer for $6, $9 or even $15 or a $14 basket of fries and fish with its fresher days behind it. The burger’s doughy brioche bun cradled a thick patty of fresh beef, cooked — or barely cooked — a bloody rare, when the order called for medium-rare. The taste and texture supported the rare state and contributed to an overall luscious handful dressed with good tomatoes, lettuce and onion and rich cheddar.
Fries or rings? How about moules or frites? Hank’s menu and beer list are a mix of Europub and  Belgian bistro, with fries and mayonnaise and mussels and pub dishes like bangers and mash and fish and chips. It’s de rigueur to compare the regular fries (at left in the photo) with fries cooked in duck fat (at right in the photo) for an extra $1.50. The differences between the two aren’t nearly as important as the fact that both were flawless exercises in the french fry arts: tawny and crisp, expertly salted, moist and starchy inside. As a side or by themselves ($3.50 small/$6 large), fries come with two sauces. I’ll recommend curry ketchup and dill creme fraiche, followed by garlic mayonnaise.
Keeping with the Belgian theme, a small order of mussels was just $6. A promising tomato-saffron broth with chopped tomatoes, herbs and garlic dressed a big bowl of mussels, many of which tasted just fine. But “many” is faint praise for a bowl of mussels, because all it takes is a few to foul the batch, and a few of these had gone all the way bad, leaving the smell of decay on fingers and memory alike to speak for the whole bowl.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)