by david hagedorn | March 6, 2013 | Food & Drink
Hank's serves three West Coast and three East Coast oyster varieties daily.
Hank's new location on Capitol Hill.
Mixologist Gina Chersevani and chef Jamie Leeds.
Jason Strich carves custom ice cubes.
Hank's signature lobster roll.
Who is to say what makes a restaurant click? In the petite Capitol Hill space where both Ba Bay and Locanda died, Hank’s on the Hill is killing it—and has been since opening last July.
Part of the credit for the restaurant’s success goes to experience. Chef and owner Jamie Leeds had already created a loyal cadre of fans at Hank’s locations in Dupont Circle and Alexandria, both so popular that she added a third. At the newest Pennsylvania Avenue spot, members of Congress and their staff mix with media luminaries and locals to slurp down freshly shucked oysters and order up Leeds’s signature dishes: delicately fried popcorn shrimp and calamari, and the chunkiest lobster roll in the District.
Shrimp po’ boys are also a favorite, but the real draw is—of course—the oysters. In-the-know foodies order up a dozen by choosing a selection from the six varieties offered daily. Half are West Coast oysters—Kumamotos, Hama Hamas, and Sunset Beaches, for instance. The other half are from the East Coast, with Virginia heavily favored: War Shores, Olde Salts from Rappahannock River Oysters, and Hayden’s Reefs from Dragon Creek. The latter variety, named after Leeds’s son, is raised exclusively for Hank’s.
Meat eaters also have specialty options, including a grilled flatiron steak with chimichurri. “We made the menu at Hank’s on the Hill a little more meat-friendly,” explains Leeds. “There’s a bone-in, coffee-rubbed, grilled pork chop, a lamb burger mixed with onions and topped with blue cheese, and a beef burger.”
The Eddy Bar also distinguishes Hank’s on the Hill from the chef’s other properties. It is operated by mixtress extraordinaire Gina Chersevani, who has designed swoonworthy cocktails for more than half a dozen noted restaurants, among them the District’s Rasika and PS7’s, as well as Arlington’s EatBar. She and Leeds had been looking for the right time to team up again—Chersevani also helped develop the beverage program at 15 Ria, the first kitchen Leeds helmed as a chef in DC—and seized the opportunity when the current space became available.
The two play off of each other like Martin and Lewis. Leeds is the more grounded of the duo; she ruminates quietly, while Chersevani erupts in constant bursts of creative energy and risqué repartee.
Leeds came up with the bar’s name, which turns out to be an apt metaphor for their business relationship: an eddy is a turnoff where fresh and salt water swirl together and create a favorable environment for oysters to grow. “Swirling waters and unsettled liquids,” quips Chersevani. “So, calming and psycho—that describes us well.”
The bar’s design falls in line with the rest of the space’s nautical-chic décor: behind the 20-seat white marble bar is backlit glass shelving for liquor, in addition to shadowbox shelves with aqua Mason jars containing ingredients for Chersevani’s alchemical endeavors. Old-fashioned siphons dispense homemade sodas, such as one made from Concord grapes that Chersevani fetched from New York State, which she turned into a spiced syrup and cryovaced to maintain a year’s supply. (“It’s a real labor of love,” Chersevani muses.)
While the beverages are impressive, the bar chef’s stroke of genius was to make ice carving the focal point of the action. It was something she always dreamed of doing. To that end, they designed a unit to maintain the 25-pound blocks of ice broken down from the 300-pound block they receive and store in a glass chiller that she converted into a freezer.
All ice for libations is carved to order, as entertainment, really. Bartenders hand-crack it from the blocks for stirred drinks like Manhattans and martinis, and carve large cubes for shaken drinks—thereby preventing the watering down of cocktails. A sure sign of a happening spot? The happy hours are packed with Hill staffers downing dollar oysters, and in the evening, the bar is full of restaurant-industry folk who journey to the Eddy after their shifts at eateries all over town. (The location continues to thrive even after a small fire in January.)
And as if Chersevani didn’t have enough on her plate, in December she opened Buffalo & Bergen, a soda shop, bar, and nosherie at Union Market near Gallaudet University. The egg creams and knishes there have gotten rave reviews, with the latter created and produced by Leeds herself. “I’m the Mixtress,” says Chersevani. “And Jamie is the Knishner.” Jerry Lewis couldn’t deliver that line any better. 633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, 202-733-1971
photography by greg powers
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