TORONTO — When Scott Vivian bought Jamie Kennedy’s Wine Bar last year with his wife (and pastry chef) Rachelle, and partners Ted and Mary Koutsogiannopoulos, he had big plans for Hank’s deli next door. Having grown up in the American south, the executive chef always dreamed of opening a southern-inspired concept. At the new Hank’s, which he also owns, he’s done just that.
Walking into the restaurant is a bit like walking into a lively Memphis saloon. There’s an energetic duo playing folksy southern blues by the door. Across the room, the barman is pouring glass after glass of locally made beverages. And at a long communal harvest table, friends and family are chatting, loudly, surrounded by plates of barbecued back ribs, fried chicken and fish, grits, dirty rice, cornbread and gravy.
Except this isn’t Tennessee — it’s Toronto, and all the meats and produce are sourced locally. Indeed, good things grow, abundantly, in Ontario.
Vivian’s southern-style à la carte menu changes daily, although there are a few northern twists peppered throughout. For instance, his crispy fried chicken has the flavour of smoky maple syrup ($12), and grits come topped with Ontario aged cheddar and bacon ($7). Local microbrews like Beau’s from Ottawa and Creemore Springs are available alongside top Ontario wines.
To accommodate the new concept, the old Hank’s has been completely reconfigured. A wall was removed to double the size of the space, and the front display counter was moved to the side of the room to open up window-front seating. A wise decision, as the new eatery — with its more than affordable prices — should attract large crowds.
Customers can expect dishes like smoked lake trout with sweet potato hash and a poached egg ($12), cornmeal-crusted perch with coleslaw ($14) and a full rack of baby back ribs ($28). Classic sides include dirty rice with chicken livers ($8), baked pork and beans ($8) and biscuits and gravy ($8). For dessert, Rachelle Vivian offers an assortment of seasonal pies. Simple, traditional, but full of flavour — this is comfort food to sate your southern soul.
Over at the Wine Bar, sous-chef Marc Dufour regularly buys sides of beef, whole hogs and local game, butchering them himself. Much of the prime cuts are portioned for use at the Wine Bar, but with Vivian and Dufour both nose-to-tail devotees, almost everything gets used between the two concepts. With the mantra, buy it local, use it all, and cook it well, they’ve created the kind of enviable efficiency restaurateurs adore.
Before its transformation each night, Hank’s remains open from 8 a.m. through lunch, serving sandwiches, soups, stews and pastries.
Photo courtesy of Jo Dickens and Good Food Media.