When I first walked into Henry’s Hat I was greeted by the bartender, a nice fellow who knew it was my first time there. He presented me a menu for food, drinks and board games. I took two of three and looked for the best seat in the house. As I walked around, the layout struck me as a bit odd. The space is large, but not filled as you would expect. The tables seemed a bit small and the décor almost looked like something left behind by a previous occupant of the building, along with a few dozen big screen TVs. Initially, this felt a bit unsettling, but I chose to write it off as fixtures can’t salvage or sink a kitchen. After all, I’m here for clever takes on comfort food and cocktails and once I settled in, I was rather comfortable.
I was joined on that night by the omni-talented Luther Gooch, a friend who you always want around. I met the manager Alan, who I swore I knew from somewhere, but couldn’t put my finger on it. He was a nice guy, proud of his menu and excited to show it off. With that said I just told him I was hungry and would leave my order in his hands.
I next visited the bar to see if the specialty drinks could sway me from predictably starting with a mojito. I had seen the strawberry basil gimlet, but just didn’t want to drink something where the basil was too prevalent. Millie, my new friend at the bar assured me I would like it so being sensible man, I ordered that and a mojito. The mojito was a nice first drink, so bright and minty. I was pleasantly surprised by the levels in the strawberry basil gimlet. The strawberries were obviously fresh and liquefied to be as thin as the rest of the ingredients. The basil was a bit more than a hint, but didn’t take the spotlight either. Let’s just say the basil knew its role and was not overstated in its duet with the lime, this is the kind of drink I would feel progressively smarter for drinking to the point that I was, well…not very smart. Cuidado!
The first salvo from the kitchen was the Aggies Chili Con Queso, a little cauldron of spicy melted cheese with salsa and fresh tortilla chips. Now having grown up in the desert I’ve been used to having a good queso available when I wanted one. No one seems to do it here, so this was unexpected and well executed.
Just as the last chip was being eyed our waiter arrived with a pizza. Now at first all I could see on top was arugula, which was certainly a good first impression. However, I could not have expected the sum of the other toppings. This sauceless pie was certainly not lacking in flavor as the arugula was wonderfully complimented by mushrooms and dry olives and pecorino cheese and seasoned with oregano and a hint of thyme. Now I knew I’d be sampling a lot of dishes so I asked Alan to pair down the portions so I didn’t overdo it. Let’s just say, despite that caveat, I’m happy the pizza cannot be resized so easily.
Somehow we were able to trade an empty plate for a serving of the mac and cheese and Longhorn chili. Can you tell these Texans are proud of their alma maters? Well with dishes like these, they’ve got every reason to. The first thing I noticed about the mac and cheese was the noodles were small. I think of big pasta as a big place to hide shortcomings. There’s no hiding with the little noodle and this staple dish had nothing to hide. The white cheese was creamy and thick with an ideal hint of spice to it. The chili was something that I think most people will be caught off guard by. While the menu claims to use ground beef, I could have sworn it was steak. There’s also a variety of beans and peppers/chilis that surprised me. Another surprise was that unlike every chili I’ve ever had, this one wasn’t cooked for hours until everything in it was mush. The beans still had a touch of firmness to it that, along with a parade of peppers, really made it snap.
With an unknown quantity of samples remaining and not a lot of room left for “storage”. I started to feel a bit weary, like maybe I should say something. Then I saw the giant tops of two brioche buns coming our way and thought better of waiving anything off. The first of the two I tried was the Carolina style pulled pork sandwich. Luther was a bit farther into the realm of leisure eating and cut out a quarter slice of the sandwich. I took the other half and in one bite, knew I would be leaving none of it to see the kitchen again. The pork was slow cooked and very tender. There was a tiny bit of horseradish in with the crisp cole slaw, which gave a little resistance in contrast to the cloud-like brioche. With the pulled pork now only a rumor at our table, I still had to pay service to the remaining ¾ black and blue burger. The contents of this burger worked like a precision watch. The depth of the Niman Ranch beef was accentuated by sautéed mushrooms. The sharpest blue cheese, arugula and onions sautéed in balsamic vinegar gave this burger a distinct charm. Once again, I can leave no evidence remaining. I couldn’t believe that these sandwiches were $9 and $10 respectively, for the portions and the quality, that’s a steal.
With all we’d had so far, I didn’t know how I was going to take on another bite. Yet I had this sinking feeling that something was coming for me still. Luckily I had some time to relax, sip a little water and walk it off a little. We spent some more time talking with Alan about how he created the menu, recession challenges and being a neighbor to Universal Studios. Alan excused himself for a moment and came back with Hank’s Clam Bake, a platter featuring Andouille sausage, shrimp, mussels, clams, corn on the cob and potatoes. This bake comes off more like a boil and is served in a spicy base of seasonings that tastes like something familiar with something(s) new added. The base had a bit of flavor from all the meats cooked in it infused throughout. Needless to say, this plate, like the ones that came before it, left clean.
Henry’s Hat is a relaxed place with food, drinks and staff that will be bigger than your expectations, while prices will be smaller. Henry’s Hat is where you’re likely to find me on Sunday’s taking in an afternoon of football. While I will be limiting myself to one meal, I won’t be restricting the big grin on my face that a man can only make when he has everything he could want. I hope to see you there.
3413 Cahuenga Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90068-1329