In the spring of 2012 we visited a delicious-yet-clumsy American BBQ pop-up in North Melbourne.
On that night, demand far outstripped supply and many were left unfed after being stuck in a lengthy queue. It was an early glimpse out Melbourne’s desire for fare from the South of USA.
Four years on, American-BBQ is so ubiquitous that mere mention tends to draw eye-rolls from Melbourne diners. However if there is one pit-team that have earned their stripes, despite these early missteps, Fancy Hank’s is it.
Moving on from their pop-up days, which included an extended stay at the (soon to be closed and demolished for apartments) Mercat Cross Hotel, they are now in swish permanent CBD digs at what used to be the Tuscan Bar on Bourke St.
With a rooftop bar to follow, we were treated to a preview of the main restaurant.
Up a staircase, past the immense smoker proudly on display, you enter a place with a slightly odd fit out.
Remnants of the Tuscan bar remain, with decorative ceiling flourishes and the long marble bar still in place. However the table tops and serving trays keep the classic stainless steel BBQ aesthetic; and long diner-style wooden panels now divide the room. It’s American BBQ meets Melbourne-CBD-dining.
What is unchanged is the focus on low-and-slow smoked meat; and Fancy Hank’s brisket is tasting better than it ever was. Out of their custom-built smoker (that had to be craned into the building) it is tender, smoky and peppery. The gorgeous pink smoke-ring is testament to a low-and-slow process done right.
However it was their housemade pork andouille sausage that stole our hearts. Even though we overindulged to the point of bursting, we couldn’t help but dish-up more pit braised beans with molasses, smoked bacon and sour cream to go side-by-side with the last of the sausage. Fancy fitouts can do a lot, but a perfect combination of frank and beans will always do more.
Other highlights were the ridiculously crunchy, but fluffy, buttermilk biscuits, smoky buttermilk brined chicken, and the salty-but-sweet balance of maple glazed belly ham with red eye mayo. And, even amongst the cacophony of meat and smoke, the fried cauliflower with ranch and hot sauce had us wishing for another serve.
Tap beers feature a chunk of Asahi owned products (Mountain Goat, Asahi, and Cricketer’s Arms) accented by well thought out local independents. The bottled booze list is extensive, and has a well thought-out range of beer and wine; with even a couple of on-trend orange wines. As I said, a long way from the early days.
Comfortable, unpretentious, slick and assured. While a big departure from their previous Mercat home, in terms of feel and fit out, Fancy Hank’s is only strengthened as a result. American BBQ may be falling out of vogue in 2016 but great food in a nice setting is always on trend.
Contact: Fancy Hanks – Level 1, 79 Bourke St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia. Website.
Find Luke from AleOfATime at http://aleofatime.com where he spouts his knowledge as the guru of Australian (but mostly Victorian) craft beer. I have learnt everything I know from listening to his podcast – which you need to iTunes right now. Also Twitter and Facebook.