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RestaurantsSanta Cruz
August 23-30, 2006

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Photograph by Carlie Statsky
Cutting Crew: Every day is Thanksgiving at Hank's.

Homegrown at the Hook

Hank's brings more freedom of choice to Pleasure Point neighborhood

By Janet Blaser

Barely five minutes had passed before the first young grommet ran by, sun-blond hair to his shoulders and barefoot, scampering through the busy Portola intersection. He was, as expected, heading for one of the ubiquitous surf shops scattered on this end of 41st Avenue. Hank's at the Hook, one of the new restaurants to set up shop in the old pink elephant building, dominates the corner now, with its big patio and cheery umbrellas fitting right in with the spiffed-up plantings of palm trees, widened sidewalks and general gentrification of this long-popular section of Pleasure Point.

Hank's is a homegrown concept, the idea of a local family who wanted to open a restaurant that would serve their friends and neighbors what they wanted to eat. Chef and co-owner Rob Glass, with wife, Judy, and good friend Jeff Ortiz, wanted it all: quick, casual, delicious food that was good for you, too. And what they've come up with is pretty darn close to fitting the bill. Part cafeteria, part healthy fast-food, with the efficiency, cleanliness and customer service of an experienced kitchen, Hank's is filling a niche that only a longtime local could have seen.

In this case the "you" means just about everybody. Families can feed the whole crew and everyone can have what they want: chicken strips, macaroni and cheese and fries for the kids; a smorgasbord of salads for Mom, and hearty sandwiches, meats and entrees for Dad's bigger appetite. Hungry surfers, beach-goers and, yes, even tourists will find the big but manageable menu tasty, appealing and affordable. Local produce, much of it from the family farm in Corralitos, Catalyst Organic Farms, fills the menu, along with fresh bread from Kelly's, house-roasted meats and a good selection of local wine and beer.

The "Create Your Salad" bar updates the traditional approach, as an enthusiastic staffer builds your salad to your specifications, using a plethora of ingredients, starting with your choice of greens, to which you add six toppings from a list of about 20: everything from tofu or beets to honey walnuts, blue cheese crumbles and bourbon-soaked raisins.

The entire menu is available for lunch and dinner, and you can mix and match at will. A side of pesto mashed potatoes with your Hawaiian Chicken Sandwich? No problem. There are always fresh steamed veggies, too--on a recent night, choices were squeaky-crisp steamed green beans with garlic butter, thick stalks of asparagus or a mix of fresh carrots, summer squash and broccoli. And don't pass up the onion rings: crisply perfect, they hit the spot and are just enough for two to share.

In a decade of food writing, I've found good tri-tip to be the mark of experience. It's a tricky cut of beef; cooked and sliced right, it's a treat. But overcooked, cut too thick or against the grain, it can be an unwelcome surprise. Alas, such was the case with a recent Mango-Chipotle BBQ Tri-Tip sandwich ($7.25), much anticipated, that failed to please. The sandwich could have been forgiven for its barely lukewarm meat, but the tri-tip was as thick as beef tongue. A thick-cut onion ring's contribution (yes, on the sandwich) was lost amid the wild commotion of condiments--an overkill of mustard, catsup, mayonnaise and mango-chipotle barbecue sauce--and a wan slice of flavorless cheddar cheese. Whether that unruly hunk of meat is Hank's chosen style or the cook's personal preference that day remains to be seen--but not by me. Once burned, twice shy.

On another visit, though, our meals were delightful. A dinner special of Sinaloan chicken, mashed potatoes and veggies was comfort food with an exotic twist; a crispy ancho chile and orange juice glaze added to the flavors of the moist chicken. A Teriyaki Rice Bowl ($8.25) was as beautiful to eat as it was to look at, piled high with a mélange of sautéed veggies, grilled chicken and a vibrant house-made teriyaki sauce. And we had to try a side of Mac & Cheese ($2.25), just ... because. With our glasses of Storr's Chardonnay ($7), enjoyed on the big outdoor patio, we were happy as clams.

Hank's at the Hook

Address: 800 41st Ave., Santa Cruz (corner of 41st and Portola)

Phone: 831.479.3662

Hours: 11:30am-9pm Mon-Sat, 11:30am-8pm Sun

Cuisine: Healthy fast food

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