Meat Matters: Hank Charcuterie
A tour of the carnivore-centric menu at Hank Charcuterie in Lawrence
The Hank Burger
Hank Charcuterie is a carnivore’s paradise. Even the name refers to meat — a coil of sausage casings — at this nose-to-tail eatery.
The butcher-shop-cum-restaurant, located in a residential neighborhood several blocks from downtown Lawrence, has a modest storefront, with a smoker in the alley and a couple picnic tables at the doorway leading into a tidy dining room with a long farm table and several two-tops. A small market area stocks some dry goods. On the side of the building, Hank Charcuterie boasts a large patio that fair weather would make perfectly charming.
But the main attraction, of course, is the meat case, positioned just below multiple mounted chalkboards declaring the containments: eight different house-made sausages, head cheese, jowl bacon, smoked duck ham, several options for stocks. From this gleaming assortment, chef/owner as well a butcher/charcuterie-maker Vaughn Good (formerly sous chef at Pachamamas and a graduate of the International Culinary Institute in New York) creates his detailed — and obviously meat-centric — lunch and dinner menu.
Chef/Owner Vaughn Good
And what a menu it is. When I stop into the Lawrence destination, the day’s specials — all 13 of them, plus six side plates (many with a decidedly Southern slant) — are neatly drafted on another chalkboard. There is a chicken-fried quail with cornmeal pancakes, a smoked pork loin chop with white cheddar grits, even jambalaya. Past chalkboard specials have included Asian-style steamed pastrami buns; a black pepper pappardelle with shiitake ragu and a Sweetlove Farm pullet egg; rolls with foie gras butter and blackberry jam; steaming bowls of ramen; and slow-cooked pork belly with polenta, poached egg, sorghum gastrique and bourbon-pickled peach butter. Good’s primarily locally sourced menu, it seems, is designed for the foodie who wants a little bit of everything.
Making decisions on entrees will not be an easy task here, and my companion and I decide to warm ourselves up with — what else? — a charcuterie board. Tasso ham, house-made summer sausage and a tablespoon of snow-white whipped lardo were artfully arranged, along with Hank Charcuterie’s in-house pickled vegetables (we got green tomatoes and haricot verts) and drops of smoked apple butter and grain mustard. Thick, crusty slices of bread from 1900 Barker — the 6-month-old artisan bread bakery located just up the street from Hank — completed the board.
Too often, I’ve seen restaurants ruin charcuterie boards and their sister arrangement, the cheese plate, with an abundance of unnecessary — and sometimes not even complementary — accoutrements. But Hank Charcuterie, true to its name, allows the meat to be the unabashed star of its board.
The Tasso ham — actually made from a pig’s shoulder rather than its hind — came in thick-cut slabs, the ribbons of white fat and pink flesh marbling together. There was a heavy smokiness to this cut, which was offset by the happy, round slices of summer sausage — a remnant of my Midwestern childhood. I reveled in the soft, salty bites, forgoing all accoutrements. The lardo we spread like a silk sheet over 1900 Barker’s rough-cut bread, and my dining companion topped it with a single pickled green tomato and a drop of grain mustard.
“Behold,” my companion said to me, “the perfect bite.” (She wasn’t wrong.)
These bites we washed down with two of Hank’s specialty barrel-aged cocktails, the Old Pal — with Dark Horse Rye, orange, Campari and dry vermouth — and the Sweet Sassafras, with Bols Genever, Art in the Age Root Tea, Cherry Heering and cherry bitters. These, served in petite Mason jars with one large ice cube, were deceptively strong. The Old Pal, with a sharp and bitter profile, was a good deal more dainty-looking than tasting; the Sassafras, on the other hand, sipped like a boozy root beer.
The Old Pal (with cherry garnish), Himiko and Sweet Sassafras Cocktails
We managed to select the rest of our meal from the chalkboard options, based on the recommendations from the young lady operating the counter. (Hank offers counter-only service.) The menu changes daily, she emphasized, but there were a few items that would be sticking around: the Hank Burger, of course, and the mac and cheese, and the burrito. The pulled pork sandwich and the duck rillette, too, made their way to our must-try list.
Our feast arrived all at once, with Good’s dishes lovingly arranged on heavy earthenware plates and in bowls designed by Lawrence artist Mike Crouch. The burger was a thing of gluttonous beauty: two patties each topped with a slice of Alma cheddar, a tangy bread-and-butter pickle remoulade and caramelized onions between a brioche bun. Because the patties were so thin, only one temperature — medium well — was offered, but as I found myself tearing into the juicy burger with the ferocity of a lion setting upon a fallen gazelle, it was hard to complain.
The pulled pork sandwich, too, commanded a certain amount of respect. Three pale, pepper-dusted chicharrones sat in cloudlike puffs atop a proud mess of barbecue sauce-coated chunks of pork and tendrils of creamy coleslaw, the whole thing barely contained by the brioche bun. There was no graceful way to go about eating this, but my stained fingertips felt like a small price to pay.
pulled pork sandwich
A half-order of the Hank mac and cheese proved more than enough. It was an old-fashioned offering: macaroni noodles coated in a sunshine-yellow mix of Alma and white cheddar, mixed with garlic, shallots and cubed bacon. A plentiful sprinkling of breadcrumbs on top added a pleasant crunch to super-rich mouthfuls of this timeless comfort food.
Kale may be all the rage right now, but I was unconvinced of its merits until it came pan-fried in duck fat, along with a few cubed potatoes, at Hank Charcuterie. Good, like any butcher worth his salt, seems keen on the idea of integrating as much of the animal as he can in his dishes, and this simple side showcased a clever utilization of duck fat — a good tip for any budding at-home chef.
One bite of the duck rillette and I was transported to the rolling, green countryside of Touraine. This was a perfectly rustic dish, something even the most patriotic Frenchman could have applauded. Good confits duck legs overnight in duck fat, then pulls the meat from the bone and whips it with — you guessed it — more duck fat, plus sherry vinegar and a bit of his house-made hot sauce. This he piles on top of a thick slice of 1900 Barker’s crusty hearth bread. Shaved Cottonwood River cheddar — a slightly sweet cheese from Jason Wiebe Dairy in Durham, Kansas — forms a delicate, snowy peak on top of this juicy duck mountain.
Kale and potato bowl
A bowl of sliced tomato, thick-cut bread-and-butter pickles, chopped okra and onions were subject to a quick pickling in a vinegar-based brine. This gave the chunks of vegetables an intense flavor with a satisfying crunch. I found myself digging deep with my fingers for the fluorescent green pickle slices, though — they had a piquancy that made my mouth water.
But it wasn’t all piles of lardo at Hank Charcuterie. There was one dish that fell flat: the burrito. On the plate, it was an impressive, fat thing — a flour tortilla so stuffed I was surprised it could fold. Three house-made sauces arrived with the plate in separate mini Mason jars, each its own pretty shade: a bright green jalapeño, a blood-red Fresno chili sauce and a deceptively harmless-looking canary-yellow habanero sauce.
However, as I sliced the burrito in half to reveal its contents — smoked pig head, white runner beans and Rancho Gordo pinto beans, Carolina white rice, roasted potatoes, goat cheese and pickled red onions — the ratio of carbohydrates to protein was dismaying. Where Good had shown creativity with restraint in his other dishes, the burrito seemed to be his answer to the Chipotle mentality, where anything — and everything — goes.
Still, as I surveyed our empty plates, those sturdy canvases that Good had so thoughtfully selected for his cuisine, who, save for a timid vegetarian, could be unhappy here?
Hank Charcuterie is located at 1900 Massachusetts St., Lawrence, Kan., (785) 832-8688, hankmeats.com.