The Spot For Comfort Food

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - December 09, 2009
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12th Avenue Grill chef-owner Kevin Hanney

I have to admit to a certain sense of pleasure as the first “chill” of winter descends on the Islands. As other people run from rainy nights and stay home on windy evenings, I love pulling on jeans and a sweater and heading outside with the boys.

Of course, I love the cooler nights because they are so rare, and if we had the kind of daily rainfall for which my hometown in Scotland is famous, I would-n’t like our Hawaii winters much, but these cooler nights provide a great excuse for snuggling up on the couch to watch a great movie or heading out to dinner. And just as there are certain restaurants perfect for romance and others reserved for fine dining, on my list of the best places to eat on a rainy, cold night, 12th Avenue Grill is near the top.

Chef-owner Kevin Hanney got his restaurant right from day one. Not too big - just the right size to offer intimacy, yet seating is spaced a modest distance from other diners. The décor is tasteful and warm, the furniture comfortable, and the open kitchen offers a busy but not overly intrusive insight into how the restaurant works.

When 12th Avenue Grill first opened, diners raved about the comfort food (especially the macaroni and cheese) and about Hanney’s vision of the perfect neighborhood spot. And years later, most of us have almost forgiven him for closing at lunch to concentrate on dinner.

The ambience in the dining room is conducive to lively conversation, the flow of the restaurant is smooth, the kitchen staff work swiftly and execute dishes well, and the food is quite lovely.

The small menu offers signature staples that I hope will stay in place forever, and for those who visit regularly, there are a number of specials that change daily. There’s a smoked ahi dip that’s a must-try, and as a nice touch it comes with seasonal crudities. (Ours, the other evening, included vibrant, crunchy Brussels sprouts.)

I loved the grilled pork chop, cooked medium and served with a crispy potato pancake and baked apple chutney. The potato pancake was topped with a wasabi dressing, and the chutney is served inside a warm baked apple. The crab-stuffed mahimahi was perfect, the fish moist and tender and cooked with a gentle touch.

There are large plates and small plates - all dishes that are inspired by simple ingredients executed with a level of excellence. Seasonal local ingredients make up much of the menu, and on weeknights you can sit at the bar and order tapas-style plates. There’s a nice wine list, as you might expect, and a $15 corkage fee per bottle if you want to bring your own.

The desserts here have long been some of the most delicious in town, and they include Alfogado (an Italian sundae made with gelato, chocolate-caramel sauce and chocolate cookie crumbles soaked in a shot of espresso, tiramisu-style), and an utterly irresistible double chocolate buttermilk cake.

Hanney has recently started a community night on Mondays, where a percentage of his gross sales go to designated local charities. It’s his way of giving back to the community that strongly supports him.

“We’ve been very lucky,” he says. “The recession hasn’t hit us as hard as some, and we’re still doing fairly well.”

If, on a rainy, windy night, you are not comforted by the sight of Hanney’s Kulana Yankee Pot Roast, Baked Macaroni and Cheese or Grass Fed Big Island Rib-eye arriving at your table, then it’s possible you are impossible to please.

Happy eating!

12th Avenue Grill
1145 C 12th Ave. Honolulu

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