Fancy Hank’s BBQ, Mercat Cross Hotel, 456 Queen St, Melbourne. Phone: 9329 9229
My first contact with American-style BBQ was in what might appear at first blush to have been a somewhat unusual setting.
It was 1977 and in the city of San Francisco.
My very first American adventure – there were to be many more – found me setting foot first-up in a city that was still in thrall to the hippie era, though things were changing very fast already.
But that era was my very much my reason for being there – and I did indeed see the Grateful Dead at Winterland on that trip, as well as other long-time heroes.
But I was also – in a somewhat perverse way – heavily pickled in the byways and music of earlier eras, both black and white.
Whatever changes it was going through, truth is inner-city San Francisco was still very much a black city.
So it was that one night on the fabled hippie thoroughfare named Haight Street, I had from a black soul food joint ribs, plain white bread and sides.
It was all delicious and memorable.
Several months later, while staying with a fellow music buff in Austin, Texas, I was similarly treated to delights from an even more funky BBQ shack.
All subsequent visits to the US were very much focused on New Orleans and South Louisiana.
Heaps of great food there, of course, but precious little BBQ. And what I did find was, well, sort of wishy-washy.
Though a visit to this legendary Texas joint was certainly a righteous education in just how hands-on, roll-up-your-sleeves BBQ should be.
My life in Melbourne has ever since been punctuated by repeated disappointment over efforts to provide restaurant food of both the BBQ and New Orleans/South Louisiana varieties.
Most readers will know that in terms of both, that situation has changed in Melbourne the past year or so.
But suspicions linger.
Most of this new wave of American food I’ve seen online, read about or tried first-hand seems too polite and simply not lusty and blue-collar enough.
We love very much the meats now being provided by Third Wave, but with its Russian background the sides there mean they operating in their own space.
Cost is another factor for Melbourne folks attempting to present great BBQ.
Coking these meats takes time, the cuts of meat required are very specific – and the ribs, in particular, end up being very pricey indeed.
But on the basis of our mid-week visit to Fancy Hank’s, Bennie and I are prepared to call it – in spirit, flavour, meaty overkill and no-fuss attitude, this is beaut BBQ.
We love that it’s cash-only and ordering is done at the servery after scanning the menu above.
We love that the food is served on plastic trays and brown paper, and eaten at unadorned trestle tables.
A previous solo visit by myself helps us get maximum bang for our bucks.
One tray for both of us to share – the serves of potato salad ($5), coleslaw ($5) and pickled cucumber ($2) and okra ($2) do the pair of us fine.
No ordering of ribs – they’re fabbo, but why pay for bones we’re not going to eat?
So in addition to the above sides and pickles, we get 200 grams of brisket ($12), 200 grams of pulled pork ($12) and a beef link ($9).
It’s all terrific and we make short work of our feast.
The brisket is king – smoky, charred, lean and fantastic, even without the coffee/molasses house-made sauce that’s been recommended to us.
The pork doesn’t impress quite as much, but liberal doses of another, more orthodox house-made sauce fixes it right up.
The beef link is densely packed and very unlike any of the sort of smoked sausages we’re used to having around Melbourne. Bennie likes it more than his dad.
The slaw is crunchy and easy to chomp down, though more coarsely chopped than you’d find in most American BBQ outfits.
The potato salad is superb, eggy and very much in the BBQ tradition.
The pickles are fine – though perhaps high turnover means the cucumber is only lightly pickled.
Our meal has clocked in at just under $50 – which we consider just right considering the quality of food.
The only thing we regret not adding is a serve of the awesome-looking “burnt end beans” ($4) we see another customer being served.
We love the no-frills BBQ attitude being displayed here.
Given the quality, pricing and proximity to the west, we can see visits to Fancy Hank’s BBQ becoming a somewhat regular happening, man.
And for less serious, more impromptu meals, we reckon the sandwiches ($15, $10) with a single serve of salad may well be the go, too.