By Suzanne Struglinski - 11/15/12 12:13 AM EST
Take one of the area’s favorite seafood places and pair it with a notable mixologist, and the result is Capitol Hill’s combination restaurant-bar Hank’s on the Hill and the Eddy Bar.
Earlier this year Chef Jamie Leeds opened a third Hank’s outpost, this one also aimed at satisfying seafood cravings, but she added a twist by teaming up with mixologist Gina Chersevani. Chersevani developed cocktail service at the 20-seat Eddy Bar inside the long, narrow space, which is just steps from the Eastern Market Metro station.
From the raw bar to the regular bar, Leeds and Chersevani turn out simple yet delicious dishes and drinks.
For the connoisseur, or even for those wanting to try raw oysters for the first time, the knowledgeable staff can describe in great detail the differences among the several varieties of raw oysters on the half-shell that are offered. The menu, which appears on a chalkboard, changes daily depending on what’s available. Options can range from sweet to briny, firm to soft, chewy to gooey.
To those just learning to appreciate oysters, the first few tries often taste merely like a cold piece of the ocean. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not necessary to swallow the bivalve whole. A few good bites can actually release more flavors that distinguish one type of oyster from another.
The staff seems used to the various comfort levels of oyster-eating and encourages even the hesitant diners to try at least one. And at just $2 a shell, it is not a huge investment.
Such attentive service continued throughout a recent visit. (Although some staff members were too eager to take away plates that clearly were still being enjoyed.)
For those who prefer their food cooked, the fried oysters still pack the ocean-flavor punch of salty seafood in a crunchy batter. The oyster po’boy sandwich arrived piled high with fried oysters nestled between a soft sandwich roll and a tangy mayonnaise. A few of the nuggets needed to be plucked off and eaten on their own before digging into the sandwich, just to test them. They passed.
Those with no interest in oysters won’t starve. Leeds offers other tempting sandwiches, namely a shrimp po’boy and a lobster roll.
The lobster roll honors tradition, coming with a lobster salad held lightly together with mayonnaise, celery and spices. But luckily, nothing masks the lobster flavor. The meaty shellfish is cooked perfectly and does not lose its firm texture or get soggy from the other ingredients. And the familiar, buttery, hotdog-style roll is the perfect vehicle for the cold salad, which is paired with a large serving of homemade french fries.
Other standouts include a seafood ceviche in a lime and jalapeño sauce that lends a sweet-and-sour flavor reminiscent of Thai cuisine. The bowl of shrimp and calamari is enough to share between two or more people, but it’s delicious enough that a single diner could devour it with no help. The meat is chewy but not rubbery, and the marinade enhances the dish with its piquant notes.
The menu includes plenty of non-shellfish options. A grilled trout entree came with a pleasant ginger sauce. The generous portion of delicately cooked flesh pulled away from the skin easily. It disappeared rather quickly. A lamb burger and a beef burger offer some carnivore options, along with short ribs, oven-roasted chicken and Southern-fried chicken.
Don’t overlook side dishes. A plate of Brussels sprouts, roasted cauliflower or grilled portabello mushrooms makes for nice pairings with the main dishes. A bowl of macaroni and cheese can satisfy younger diners and adults alike.
As for cocktails, it seems appropriate that the word “gin” can be found in mixologist Chersevani’s first name (Gina). She created the restaurant’s “Hanky Panky Hill Style” signature drink using citrus sage soda and gin (or vodka, if the drinker prefers). Another cocktail, the “VirGINia is for Lovers,” combines Catoctin Creek Watershed gin, strawberry and mint. The “Gnomes Water Rebellion” mixes Pimm’s No. 1, cucumber water and what is best described as a small bush of tarragon used as a garnish. It is clear the ingredients are fresh, and all the drinks go down easily — almost to the point where diners would do well to remind themselves that there is alcohol in them.
Leeds and Chersevani take their food and drink seriously, all while offering a welcoming, comfortable atmosphere. From the Goldfish crackers on the table when guests are seated to the kids menu that doubles as a coloring page, their collaboration is bound to become a successful neighborhood gathering spot.
Hank’s Oyster Bar
633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE
Hours: Monday and Tuesday, 5 – 10 p.m.; Wednesday through Friday, 5 – 11 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., 5 – 11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., 5 – 10 p.m.
Prices: Small plates, $7 - $19; entrees, $12 - $26.
Ideal Meal: Raw oysters, lobster roll, bartender’s choice cocktail