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Tune up your taste buds: Garage turned Belgian pub takes pains with the little things on food and drink menus

Addie Broyles
abroyles@statesman.com

When Jeffrey Kuhn was doing all the demo work to turn a bar at Second Street and San Jacinto Boulevard into a new restaurant, he found remnants of a garage that operated in the space in the 1940s and 1950s.

"We were wrecking the walls and pouring the floors, and we discovered a pneumatic pump that was used to lift up the cars and little tidbits of things throughout the garage from this Hank guy," he says. Eventually he found the full name — Henri Beaulac — on a piece of paper and realized that Hank was really Henri, whose family had roots in Belgium.

That was just the inspiration Kuhn needed to create Hank's Garage, a Belgian pub that opened recently at 115A San Jacinto Blvd.

Kuhn, an Austin native who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1992, has cooked in kitchens across the country and even worked for a few years as a migrant worker, processing beets into sugar in Minnesota and raking wild blueberries in Maine.

Hank's Garage is his first venture as a chef/owner, and the concept is spot-on. Kuhn is calling it a Belgian pub that is "more gourmand than gourmet." Beer-braised beef carbonnade was the highlight of a media tasting last week, but I could have easily made a meal out of the perfectly fried calamari and duck fat French fries, which were served with four mayo-based dipping sauces.

Using either the duck fat fries or just regular fried spuds, Kuhn puts new spins on poutine, the Canadian specialty of fries slathered in gravy and cheese curds, by serving them smothered in chicken tikka masala or red wine mushroom sauce.

The menu has a few salads to balance out the heavier fare, and you can tell as much thought has gone into the drink menu as the food. Beer finds its way into a number of cocktails, including the orange blossom, a summery drink that gets some of its sweetness from a splash of citrusy suds like Blue Moon.

If you're going to spend $6 on a pint of Stella, you might as well break outside the box and try one of the even higher priced, but lesser known and more complex beers like the Ommegang Hennepin Farmhouse Saison or Duchesse de Bourg, a Flemish sour-brown ale. (Ask for a sample first. Not all of these specialty Belgian-style beers are suited for all palates, but the bar staff, including energetic bar manager Mike Newfrock, can help you find something new that you'll enjoy drinking.)

For the Sunday brunch, which runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, bartenders make two kinds of Bloody Marys, a traditional one spiced with smoked paprika and a green Bloody Mary, made with green tomatoes, cucumbers, celery and white grapes.

abroyles@statesman.com; 912-2504

Open from 11 a.m. to midnight Tuesday and Wednesday and until 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. Brunch starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Closed Mondays through the summer. hanksgarageatx.com , 520-8060. 115A San Jacinto Blvd.