If the rebirth of artisanal butcher shops has turned your Saturday mornings into a treasure hunt for rich pate, wonderfully fatty pork rillette or a torchon of foie gras, a detour to Hank Charcuterie in Lawrence is a must.
Step inside the former filling station — a 1927 building with the original tin ceiling — and gaze at the sausage-stuffed case along with popular lamb and pork chops great for a mouthwatering backyard barbecue or cured meats for a charcuterie plate sure to impress weekend guests.
Despite these offerings, chef/owner Vaughn Good — a native of Lawrence who earned his chops under Ken Baker at the popular former Pachamamas and apprenticed at Johnson County Community College’s culinary program — has shifted the action to the open kitchen.
Shortly after opening in the summer of 2014, Good discovered prospective customers were less interested in taking his wares home than eating them there, as prepared by his expert team. “Our restaurant side has been growing exponentially compared to the butcher side of the business,” he says.
In addition to lunch and dinner, Saturday and Sunday brunch with biscuits and gravy, pastrami hash and biscuit sandwiches proved huge for the bottom line. And there’s a happy hour every day from 3 to 6 p.m.
Despite Hank Charcuterie’s relatively small footprint — just 25 to 30 seats inside and the same on the patio in warmer months — Good is making big jaws drop. Regardless of whether you order the uncut beef short rib with tender meat clinging to a single long bone of prehistoric proportions or the more delicate striated ribbons of pink, red and white tasso ham that are both silky and salty on the tongue, his handiwork is visually stunning.
Each rustic cut further pops when served on the signature ceramic Hank Ware plate by Lawrence ceramicist Mike Crouch. “I kinda wanted it to be a mix of rustic and refined,” Good says, noting he most recently added big ceramic bowls for the lunch menu’s ramen, which is certainly on trend.
The menu showcases mostly locally raised meats, with the exception of duck and foie gras. Customers can choose from a charcuterie board, a series of smaller plates, three or four large entrees, a spare cocktail menu and desserts.
My first visit to Hank Charcuterie turned into a large, purely social gathering, one of those hastily hatched plans that gathers steam and takes on a life of its own. When a friend called to make dinner reservations, there was an audible hesitancy as the reservation-taker muffled the phone, then returned to warn they were a very small restaurant and not used to large crowds.
I initially feared my dining companions might not be familiar with charcuterie, but as word spread of the outing, our party ballooned to 16 people, requiring more than one reservation adjustment. We were inadvertently taking over the restaurant. The mood was ebullient as we gathered around a long communal table that had been pieced together from smaller ones. Those who arrived early did not hesitate to dive in.
The only child in the group, a precocious 10-year-old, was allowed to order the charcuterie board as an entree. I was skeptical that this was a wise choice, but she happily played with her food, downing nearly every morsel presented on stunning live-edge Osage orange boards Good buys from a local farmer. Only the pickled vegetables needed rescuing by the tines of her mother’s fork.
Next time I went small and intimate. We started a leisurely meal with a few cocktails. Although there is no formal bar, servers rely on shrubs and tinctures to put together seasonal cocktails that perfectly fit the bill of fare, with consultation from a neighborly bartender who also works at 715 restaurant.
I carefully inhaled a judicious slug of the Barrel-Aged Sweet Sassafras. It’s a heady combination of Bols Genever — the smooth, malty national spirit of the Netherlands — and Art in the Age Root, based on a Native American herbal remedy made of sassafras, sarsaparilla, birch bark and other roots and herbs. It was finished with Cherry Heering and cherry bitters poured over a single square of ice and garnished with an orange twist.
Each sip reminded me of the recent spate of alcoholic root beers bubbling up in the marketplace, only this version is less sweet and a seemingly wittier interpretation. Barrel-aging not only improves flavor but also helps with storage, as the cocktails can be bottled and kept in the refrigerator.
I opted the next time for the Dirty Lopez, a blend of Milagro tequila and a pleasantly potent raisin-ancho shrub. Great stuff, and I generally skirt the raisins whenever possible.
When our charcuterie board arrived, there was an ample but not-over-the-top sampling of meats accompanied by grainy mustard, piquant pickled vegetables and thick slices of artisanal bread from neighboring 1900 Barker. Duck rillette, not as fatty as traditional pork versions, benefited from the accompanying tiny pot of luxurious lardo, tasso ham and tiny bits of pink, vaguely rubbery calves’ tongue done in a corned beef style ($20).
The items on the charcuterie board vary from week to week, season to season, depending on what’s on hand. Good and his sous chefs order a whole hog each week and break it down into chops, ham and bacon, ordering extra bellies and pork butts while working creatively to turn the remains into sausages and rillettes. Whole lambs arrive every other week, and the raw chops disappear from the case quickly.
One night, while serendipitously landing the chef’s table, I asked Good where he gets his meats. He works primarily with Meat LLC by Michael Beard, formerly executive chef at 715 restaurant, and uses Paradise Meat Lockers in Trimble, Mo., for some of the processing.
Finding local, humanely raised Kansas meat is not that difficult, Good says, adding he has been surprised to find local growers offering black beans, pintos, grits and cornmeal.
Seasons play a role in what he offers: In fall and winter, the ultra-thick rib-eye ($35) is served atop a smear of ancho and guajillo puree and topped with demiglace and smoked, tempura-fried onion rings. It has lightened up for spring, finished with a house-made steak sauce made with fermented black garlic and served with a salad of spinach and mustard greens in a lemon vinaigrette.
The thick-cut, bone-in pork chop ($26), in colder weather redolent with a potent, slightly tannic cherry wood smoke, continues to satisfy in summer with a side of fennel, white cheddar potato gratin and glazed honey carrots.
Although it has slipped off the menu in favor of the lighter lamb chop, I found the goat chop illustrated Good’s ability to coax the best from a sometimes challenging protein. Usually I’m not a fan of goat; there’s just enough stringy, fatty or gristly pieces in my past to make me shy away from it. But the goat I tasted here was a revelation: tender, with a slightly gamey note similar to lamb, accented by a simple fermented scallion vinaigrette.
If you’re looking for something a bit less ostentatious in size, summer’s menu offers bratwurst with crushed peas, mustard vinaigrette and pecan gremolata ($12), honey-glazed carrots with ancho granola and house-made yogurt ($6) or radishes with house-cultured butter, smoked salt and salsa verde made from radish tops ($7).
Desserts are perhaps the weakest link at Hank Charcuterie, although I’m itching to try the ice cream sandwich: a madeleine cookie with house-made ice cream ($4) that recently showed up on the menu. But in all honesty, a sweet ending doesn’t really need to pack the same punch when your most primal carnal desires have already been sated.
1900 Massachusetts St.
Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Saturday and Sunday brunch, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., or until they run out; call after 2 p.m. to check status.
Entrée range: $26-$35
Vegetarian options: Black pepper pappardelle with pickled garlic scape butter, local mushrooms, greens, farm egg, bread crumb and goat cheese ($19), glazed honey carrots ($6), cheese plate ($10) and radishes and butter with smoked salt ($7)
Kids: Order a charcuterie and — cringe — call it a Lunchable? (Or ask your server about a kid-friendly grilled cheese sandwich or pasta.)
Parking: A tiny lot behind the restaurant, plus free street parking nearby.
Handicap accessible: Yes
Reservations: Yes, but especially for parties of more than five.
Noise: Perfect for deep conversations with friends or family.
Food: ☆☆☆ 1/2 A butcher shop/restaurant that hits all the right notes, from ethical to sustainable to downright delicious.
Service: ☆☆☆ The small pool of servers are unobtrusive yet thoroughly knowledgeable. The menu is short, so tell them your likes and dislikes and use that as a part of the menu deliberations; you won’t be sorry.
Atmosphere: ☆☆☆ Luxuriate in the understated, casual vibe that could be mistaken for hipster but lacks the requisite ego. Chef Vaughn Good often dresses in cargo shorts, a plaid shirt and ball cap. He’s approachable, friendly and enthusiastic, although not one to work the room. If you can snag the chef’s table, you can view the action and chat him up.
☆ Fair, ☆☆ Good,
What to drink
For a place that doesn’t have a bar, the cocktails at Hank Charcuterie are surprisingly interesting and well-made. Servers are knowledgable and can sometimes whip up things to suit your tastebuds based on what’s on hand. The wine and beer list are succinct; if you want to bring in your own wine, the corkage fee is $20. There are eight whiskeys to choose from, including Rieger and Union Horse.
Seared foie gras, $19
Smoked pork chop, $26