Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Casual Dining - Red Hook American Street Food

I'm wondering if Brisbane was somehow annexed as the 52nd State of the United States, as with the amount of US style dining options now available, it's certainly starting to feel like it.  Be it a burger, a hot dog or southern style cooking, there now seems to be an endless array of American dining.  While this is not necessarily a new thing, think about the McDonalds invasion in the 80's and then Subway in the late 90's, it is definitely entered our dining consciousness like never before.

One of the coolest restaurants around, and one of my favourites, is Public down at George Street (see post here). Bonnie Shearston and Tom Sanceau, the team behind what was voted the best new restaurant a few years ago, have kicked off another venture that is a little more casual than Public.  Located in Gresham Lane, Red Hook Brisbane is the latest restaurant to fly the United States banner, this time with down to earth New York style street food.  

Gresham Lane is home to some of Brisbane's busiest lunchtime destinations and Red Hook has taken the last vacant space to be developed, at the site where it was once rumoured that Melbourne's Taxi would set up shop.  With the addition of Red Hook, the lane has quietly gone from lunchtime mecca spot to showing hints that a thriving night time trade could one day reign supreme.  Along with the Gresham whisky bar, Red Hook is open for extended hours, and has been doing a pretty decent dinner trade as well as a pretty manic lunch.

The restaurant itself doesn't take up too much room, with a smallish front of house and a moderate sized kitchen out the back.  What the team at Red Hook have done though, is create a great little spot by creating a completely alfresco dining experience.  There's room for about twenty five to sit down and enjoy a meal, which is pretty much packed each week day during the lunch rush, and a little bit easier to get a table if you head along mid week for dinner.  Oh, I forgot to mention the best bit (if you love a beer), it's also a bar that has a decent cocktail menu as well as serving beer on tap.  

Normally when I write about a restaurant or cafe, I just head over, get as many different courses and servings as possible and compose a post.  I decided to take a slightly different approach with Red Hook...  Instead of one visit, I've been for a few meals, all at different times of the day and night, including take away.  I've also gone in different social situations, dinner with SC and then an after work meeting with colleagues, so I've now had several different dining experiences to share.

Busy lunch time - take away

Red Hook had only been open a few days when I had my first experience.  I was walking back to the office from meetings at the 'top end of town' and cut down my usual shortcut back to the office via Gresham Lane.  I'd been keeping an eye on the construction and was stoked to see that it was finally open.  It was really easy to spot too, there was a massive queue of people waiting to order and an even bigger group waiting for their food to be served up.

I jumped in the queue and while I was waiting to be served, got my first glimpse of the menu, which read like a who's who of American Street food.  While there were a few items that I'd love to have tried, once I saw that there was a lobster roll on offer, it was 'a fait accompli' - lobster roll it was.  The queue to take orders ran through pretty quickly but the wait to pick up was a little longer, in fact it was about twenty minutes before my 'number was up'.

I was handed a white styrofoam container and made my way back to the office, where I greedily opened the lid to reveal my lobster roll.  Now, I have to admit to going on a lobster roll rampage when I was in New York last year, it was lobster season and just about every restaurant had one on the menu.  I had visions of those beautifully chocked lobster rolls with heaps of that red flesh that tastes 'oh-so-sweet', so I was a little bummed when I opened the container.  Inside was the requisite toasted brioche roll, but there was no obvious lobster on show.  Instead was a heap of white filling and a heap of green garnish.  It's not that it didn't look OK, its just not what I was expecting.  That carried through when I took my first bite, it really didn't have a predominant taste, except for mayonnaise.

I think if I'd never been to NYC and had so many lobster rolls, I would have been happy with the Red Hook version.  It did seem to have a lot of flesh, albeit shredded and slathered in mayonnaise, but it just wasn't the same.

Early Dinner with SC

We'd been racing around trying to get stuff done for the sale of our apartment.  It had been quite a busy and stressful day and SC had finished work quite late.  We didn't have a heap of time and needed to get some groceries before continuing on with our manic day.  As we were rushing down Queen Street, we noticed that Red Hook was open for dinner as well, so we thought 'what the heck', well we actually said something unprintable, but you get the message.

We wandered down the dark and quite lonely Gresham Lane to the shining beacon that was Red Hook.  Wow, it was a completely different crowd.  During the busy lunch period, it was all suits and city workers but at night, the hipster crowd had moved in.  Seriously, there were a lot of beards on show and I think I may have even seen a bow tie!  It was my first opportunity to sit down and have a good look at the set up, without having a couple dozen hungry customers waiting for their lunch.

Red Hook has lots of brass and wood as part of the facade, with a cool looking brass name plate that doubled as the restaurant's logo clearly on display.  It looked different at night, kind of more low key and subdued and the dining area felt less hectic, much more like a sit down restaurant.  The dinner menu didn't seem to be different from the lunch menu, and given we were in a rush, we just ordered a couple of burgers, the Brooklyn Cheeseburger for me and the Grandmaster Flash for SC. There may have even been a beer on order for the girl....

The burgers came wrapped and looked identical and were fairly similar, the main difference being the Grandmaster Flash had some lettuce and tomato included.  I'd ordered my cheeseburger without pickles and had received no grief at all (see grief post here).  After unwrapping the burgers, they certainly looked the goods, with thick meat patties and sauce dripping down the side.  It didn't take long to realise there was something not quite right about them, the buns were pretty hard and clearly stale.  I managed to have a few bites before giving up but SC wasn't having a bar-of-it and declared that she wasn't going to eat it at all (only after one bite).

It was a shame, the flavours were good and I ate a bit more of my meat patty, but as an overall burger, it didn't come close to some of the burgers we'd been eating lately (even the Ben's burger). When our waitress came around and asked us what we thought of the burgers, we provided some honest feedback that the buns were stale and that we couldn't really eat them.  It was a moment of truth (in service terms) and unfortunately it was a fail.  Our waitress simply confirmed that there had been problems with their bun delivery and they knew the batch wasn't so good!  

A key point here is, if you know your buns are not up to standard, take them off the menu for the day, I would be more understanding of that.  Also, given that we'd hardly touched the burgers and our waitress had admitted the buns were not right, a good service experience would have been to refund the burgers or at the very least, bring out some extra drinks.  Something to think about Red Hook.

After Work Meeting - over drinks

With the burger fail fresh in my mind, I took a risk recommending Red Hook to some colleagues as a good spot to meet and get some work done in a more relaxed environment.  It was mainly based on the back of it being a central spot in the CBD but I'd spied a menu item that I was really keen to check out before I made my final decision on Red Hook.

It was about 4pm on a pleasant afternoon, the sun was warm, without being hot.  It was in between busy periods for Red Hook, well past the lunch time rush, but before dinner and drinks time.  There were four of us meeting to work out some details about an executive breakfast, I won't bore you with the details, but suffice to say, it was beer o'clock for the group.  I was the only one not drinking as well as the only person ordering some food -  a pre dinner snack!

The bar menu is not too bad at Red Hook, with quite a few drinks options including a nice selection of beers, some great looking cocktails (including alcoholic shakes) and a few wines worth quaffing.  Probably the only thing missing from the menu are some smoothies, which I'd love to see added to the menu for those of us that don't drink.  I'm definitely very far removed from being an expert on wine but I was surprised to see the whites ordered coming in normal glasses, as opposed to wine glasses.  It didn't seem to bother the table, but I think it would have made SC cringe!

The menu item that had caught my eye was the wagyu brisket burrito; slow cooked wagyu brisket wrapped in a tortilla with a hot sauce and coleslaw.  Like many of the Red Hook dishes, it came presented wrapped in wax paper with the RH logo prominently displayed.  I was a bit hungry, so I quickly tore off the wrapper so I could get stuck into the beautiful beefy goodness of the brisket.  And it was good, very good!  The tender wagyu brisket had lots of flavour and worked really well with the hot sauce and the cooling coleslaw.  There was a moment where a huge concentration of the hot sauce kicked my mouth into survival mode, but on the whole, it was a good burrito.

My overall impressions of Red Hook is that it's a funky little restaurant in quite an unusual spot.  I'm hoping that a few more people take the risk and open up after hours around Gresham Lane because at the moment there is only the bar and Red Hook to bring people in after normal business hours.  I'm not completely sold on the menu though, there seems to be a little room for improvement but perhaps my view was slanted by prior experience in the States for the lobster roll and the stale buns on the burger.

It's really important that cool little spots get it right.  At the moment, it's one of the hottest lunch time spots in that little neck of the woods in the CBD, but that could change if the little details don't get looked at.  The burger buns being the prime example.

Despite the burger experience, I've found the staff to be really friendly at Red Hook, and it's amazing to see how many people they can jam behind the counter and in the kitchen during the busy lunch period.

I'm probably not going to go back for a burger at Red Hook, there are way too many better burger spots around town, but there is enough in the USA style street food menu to keep coming back and checking out.  I'm particularly interested in checking out their Kung Fu Duck Tacos - just the name gets me!

The wagyu brisket burrito is my favourite menu item so far
It's plenty tasty and packs a punch

Sure, it looks cool, but is wine in this type of glass ok?

A quiet time at Red Hook - early or late is the best time to go - during lunch its completely packed!
Its a small space with a small kitchen out the back - you might need to wait for a while

Red Hook on UrbanspoonRed Hook


  1. I had similar thoughts after going to an American place in the Valley that I'd really been looking forward to visiting. It wasn't bad but the details were lacking... food wasn't that hot, fries were wilted rather than crispy, one of the main meals at $34 was pretty light on portion wise. With so much really awesome USA food in Brisbane these days, it's the details that will determine whether a place survives.

    That said, I'm going to meet a colleague in that vicinity tomorrow for lunch so we may check it out. I am currently obsessed with beef brisket so that alone would do me for a Friday lunch :)

    1. I hope you enjoy your lunch! It's still early days, plenty of potential, but plenty of competition too!

  2. We will be there soon with my friends. I will share some pictures, I can imagine how enjoy we are...

    1. Cool, will be interested to see the latest photos!


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