Hank’s Oyster Bar
By Andrew Kahn
“So we’re kind of new to this whole oyster thing…” my sister shyly says as the waiter approaches. My sister and I sit and wait expecting a pretentious scoff followed by a carefully rehearsed list of the available crustaceans. However, the response we actually received was the exact opposite.
With a genuine smile our waiter replies “no problem at all, let me walk you through it.”
Hank’s Oyster Bar is an oasis of relaxation located on King Street, the busiest of places in Old Town. While the street can be loud from the traffic and crowds, the volume of the restaurant is reasonable; parties are able to converse without having to raise their voices. The tables are relatively close together and even though other party’s conversations are audible, it makes the dinner seem like a large family dinner with multiple conversations rather than a nuisance. The waiters and the bartender are constantly talking with customers providing the place with a friendly neighborly feel.
After we ask about the selection of raw oysters, the waiter goes into a detailed description of the six varieties they are serving at the moment. Three are from the west coast and three are from the east coast. Each has a unique taste owing to the harbor it came from. My sister and I decided on a local favorite: the Shooting Point from Virginia. According to the website, it is described as “Shells with honey hues, slightly sweet plump meats, and an incredible pure brine finish that can only be equated to kissing the sea herself.”
While waiting for the shucked oysters to arrive, I notice the décor, which provides a similar neighborly feel as described above. The floors are bare, the walls are exposed brick and a there’s a metallic theme throughout the dining room reminiscent of a fishing boat. Rather than bread or chips, a small bowl of gold fish are placed on each table. The restaurant is quite narrow, yet the walk through in easy and unobstructed. There are ten unclothed tables in the front and another ten in the back. Multiple blackboards on the walls advertise the freshest oysters and the daily specials. The walls that are not brick are a comforting tan color.
Within minutes of ordering a couple Shooting Points, they arrive at our table in elegant form. After dressing them up with lemon and a cocktail sauce, my sister and I tap our half shells together and chow down. While I did not feel I was kissing the sea, the oyster had a distinct brine taste that truly tastes like you have a mouthful of sea in the most delicious way possible.
After quickly finishing the oysters, our waiter comes over. In any other restaurant, I would say he simply took our order. However, in Hank’s Oyster Bar everything is a conversation. We briefly talk about the chef and owner Jamie Leeds and her illustrious culinary career. We discuss the restaurant’s predecessor, the Hank’s Oyster Bar located in Dupont Circle. From talking to our waiter I learn that from the time Leeds closed on the venue, it only took thirty-five days to open the new Hank’s. This is due to the fact that the floor plan remained almost exactly the same and the restaurant is practically a carbon copy of the one located in Washington D.C. Everything from the menu, to the décor, to the music (a relaxing mix of artists such as Jack Johnson and Coldplay) is the very similar. At the end of our lengthy chat, my sister and I remember that the man we are talking to is in fact a waiter and we should probably order something to eat. I decide to get an Oyster Po’ Boy, which our waiter strongly recommends and my sister orders fried oysters with a side of collard greens.
When the entrees arrive at the table, I am thoroughly impressed. Sitting in front of me in a unique, toasted white bread bun is a mountain of fried oysters. I attempt to pick it up to take a first bite but oysters begin to fall off the top like boulders running down a steep cliff. I set the extra fried oysters to the side, put a liberal amount of tartar sauce over the top of the sandwich and take a huge bite.
The taste of the Oyster Po’ Boy amazes the consumer with its layers of taste. On the outside, there is the perfect amount of breading that provides the oyster with a crunchy and salty flavor. Underneath that layer, the large west-coast oyster, which can handle the fryer without falling apart, is somehow still fresh and juicy. Hidden under a canopy of oysters, fresh spinach and the sauce, which tastes creamy with a slight spicy taste, provide necessary contrast from the complex taste of the oyster.
The setting, atmosphere and food of Hank’s Oyster Bar are truly impressive. I would definitely recommend the restaurant for anyone in the mood for seafood.