The cool evening air was heady with the wafting aroma of charred, broiled and baked everything from Charleston, SC’s mecca of culinary delights — an olfactory appetizer of sorts as my husband and I hobbled the cobblestones on our way to Hank’s Seafood Restaurant.
Balmy sea breezes whipped port side of 10 Hayne street as Hank’s Seafood Restaurant came into view. The faded brick facade of Hank’s is just timeless and tonight could have been any century Charleston. I could almost imagine fish hawkers shouting their catch at the City Market which is a hop skip and jump from Hank’s, making it a viable part of our evening if we choose to stroll after dinner.
Fresh, plentiful bounty in close proximity, that’s really what Hank’s is all about. According to Hank’s Restaurants’ overseer and first Executive Chef Frank McMahon, “From day one at Hank's Seafood Restaurant, our goal has been to use the best possible local seafood, and there are no suppliers more local than Dan Long from Crosby's Seafood, Tommy Edwards from Shem Creek for seasonal local white shrimp, and more recently, Mark Marhefka for fish, as well as David Belanger for caper blades oysters and clams and Kimberly Carroll for crab.”
Frank’s quest for quality is mirrored today by Executive Chef, Tim Richardson. Hank's Seafood Restaurant has been voted “Best Seafood in Charleston” by Charleston City paper for 16 consecutive years, coinciding with Chef Tim Richardson’s tenure.
I knew within minutes of entering Hank’s that this establishment was a well oiled machine. We were taken by the hostess to a perfectly set table in a comfortable surround booth and allowed to settle just long enough before a waiter took our drink order. The few minutes before they arrived, I took in my surroundings. The warehouse, though not nearly as old as it appears, was once a popular disco in the 70’s. Nothing vaguely reminiscent of that era remains. The disco balls have been replaced with masterfully designed décor by an award winning New York architectural firm along with designer Amelia Handegan. I felt as if I were simultaneously in antebellum Charleston, and oddly, in the galley of a fine old ship. Richly stained and polished wide pine plank floors met with the bones of the structure, huge mahogany frames. Light poured through hand blown leaded glass windows highlighting the beautiful bar.
Executive Chef, Tim Richardson came out to greet us. I patted the chair and asked him to sit for a second, not something that seemed to come natural to him but he obliged. I asked Chef Richardson to tell me of a constant, something that he never tires of and that he believes to be the key component to their success, he told me without blinking. “The bounty of our fresh local seafood, for both questions. Everything else revolves around the services of our local vendors and the appreciation of our patron’s.” Chef Tim made a few suggestions which we agreed heartily to and he sprinted off to prepare while we sipped our cocktails.
I tried the “New Old Fashioned” while my husband had “Hank’s Signature Oyster Shooter.” We love oysters, so keeping in the theme, tried several variations of them on Hank’s menu.
Our first was the ½ dozen oyster sampler, a beautifully presented collection of three distinctively different oysters on a bed of sea salt. Briny, less briny and mildly earthy, and finally a plump sweet. We loved them all. As French poet Léon-Paul Fargue (1876-1947) once wrote: "I love oysters. It's like kissing the sea on the lips."
We followed the half shell’s with a dish of “Oyster’s Casino” in Garlic Butter, Smoked Bacon, Asiago Cheese and bread crumbs.
Next and perhaps my favorite were the “Grilled Oysters” on the half shell with Red Wine Mignonette Gastrique, Crispy Andouille and Arugula.
Last but not least, we enjoyed “Hank’s Fried Oysters” served with Green Tomato, Sweet Corn and Blue Cheese Vinaigrette with Pickled Okra
Our entrée, “Seared Scallops with Red Rice and Collards” was exceptional. The scallops were hands down the best I have ever eaten.
All of our dishes were delivered perfectly by Hank’s efficient non-intrusive wait staff, they were amazing and were both there and not there in near perfection.
In our enjoyment of the evening I had not even noticed that the restaurant had filled to capacity. The community table, the first of it’s kind in Charleston was now full and lively as well. Towers of seafood dishes sashayed before us, glasses clinked and the low lively rumble of conversation over good food capped the best evening. Well, that was until our lovely waitress suggested dessert.
We finished our meal with a shared dessert of “Hank’s Creamy Peanut Butter Pie”, a delightfully rich end to our meal. Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Mousse, Chocolate Ganache, Graham Cracker Crust. I was so full that I had to leave a bit on the plate. My husband said I would miss that bite later, I have — every day since.