456 Queen St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
I’ve recently found, with no small amount of surprise, that I love being a pharmacist. I remember Mum telling me when I was younger that my auntie thrived in busy and high-pressure environments; it sounded absurd at the time, but I totally understand it now. I may come out of a day at work exhausted, but by the next morning, I’m eager to do it all again. And what does this have to do with Fancy Hank’s BBQ Joint? Absolutely nothing, unless you count the money I get from being a pharmacist paying for the meal.
Fancy Hank’s started out as a sort of pop-up restaurant that appeared here and there around Melbourne, but they eventually gained enough popularity to settle down in the an old pub across from Queen Vic Market. The idea behind Fancy Hank’s (which in case you were wondering, is not fancy at all) is authentic southern-styled BBQ. If you go to their website you’ll find them proudly proclaiming their use of real wood-fire BBQs, the point driven home with photos of handsome, sooty men labouring over BBQ pits.
They couldn’t have chosen a better location to bring the all-American experience to Australia. There’s lots of rickety balcony and a smoky, dark dining room featuring a slightly seedy pool table. The extensive bar and country music completes the wholeheartedly American vibe. Unfortunately we arrived a bit too late to secure the comfy booths and the warm seats in the dining room; instead we had to make do with a slightly draughty communal table in the indoor beer garden, but we were comfy enough once we got settled.
The system here is straightforward enough; pick your protein, decide on a weight, chuck in a few sides, and the staff will happily pile it onto a platter for you. There are also ‘fancy sangas’ for those on the run. Ordering is done at the counter, the sauces are self-serve, and you pick your food up when the buzzer goes off an admirably short while later.
(Un)Fancy Hank started his game strong with the classic Angus Beef Brisket ($8.5/100g) – a thick slab of slow-smoked beef rubbed with spices. It pulled apart with the tug of a fork, its fattiness making it melt lovingly in the mouth with a full beefiness. Its flavouring was mild, which made it the ideal candidate to have with the peppery BBQ sauce and nutty coffee molasses. The Beef Sausage ($9.5/200g) on the other hand was juicy and full-flavoured, the meat densely packed into the snappy skin and seasoned generously with cayenne pepper.
The fun continued with the Kansas City Style Pork Ribs ($8.5/100g), charred on the outside but blushingly pink in the centre. Though the pieces were quite small, they were meaty and tender, infused with a fruity smokiness. Unfortunately our other choice of pork – the Carolina Styled Chopped Hog ($7.5/100g) was a disappointment. It was, bizarrely, simultaneously juicy and dry, and the resulting texture reminded me of chewing paper towels. It was a bit better moistened with some of the sauces, but we ended up leaving some of it uneaten.
BBQ just isn’t BBQ without a good selection of sides, and Fancy Hank has it all, from hush puppies and corn bread, to potato salad and Burnt End Beans ($5.5). The small, hearty tub of beans was good enough for a meal in itself, braised in a thick, spicy tomato sauce with a liberal dash of cumin and shredded brisket. For the slightly more health-conscious, there’s the Farro Salad ($5.5, half serve), consisting of chewy grains, crunchy diced celery and chopped nuts, roast veggies, and once again, plenty of spice. A single Dill Pickle ($2ea) on the side was crisp and homely, perfect for in between bites of meat.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience at Fancy Hank’s; though there is nothing supremely exciting about it, I’ve yet to find another place like it in Melbourne, both food and vibe-wise. And just for that, it is has earned itself a place amongst my current favourites.