Expect impressive cocktails, stylish Southern comfort food and steep prices from this snazzy, mostly strong performing new branch of a small, upscale chain from the D.C. area
Here’s a declaration that’s very appropriate today: “We believe in the power of the table, gathering, and community.” Rather than a heartwarming commentary about Thanksgiving, however, that self-defining pronouncement appears on the corporate website of Hen Quarter restaurants.
When redirected to the website of the new Dublin outlet of the small chain based in the Washington, D.C., area, this self-appraisal pops up: “Hen Quarter Dublin artfully blends sophisticated southern cuisine with an upscale modern lounge feel.” That’s a pretty accurate assessment. But if someone were to add, “And offers mostly delicious food and cocktails for fairly expensive prices,” we’d have another very appropriate declaration.
If you don’t mind the cost, Hen has plenty of good things to offer. Its handsome-but-casual space features bright-but-nice lighting, generally neutral colors accentuated by bolder shades, parquet flooring, blond wooden tables bearing black cloth napkins, and mod mural sketches of chickens. R&B tunes often play in Hen’s tasteful rooms, which include several dramatic private dining areas.
Although expansive, the wine list isn’t particularly interesting. But the prodigious whiskey list and the cocktails — whose titles allude to well-known songs — are. Pineapple leaves and a metal straw jut from the California Love ($12), a refined tiki drink. The Empire State of Mind ($14), a nifty spin on the vieux carre, arrives in a smoking beaker. For something sweeter with tequila and cinnamon, try the Lovely Day ($13), shaken with Averna and a house vanilla tincture.
Hen offers impressive snacks to go with those. Made with Benton’s bacon (no relation) and sprinkled with espelette pepper, the rich-yet-tangy Deviled Eggs ($10) are as elegantly presented as they are delicious. The excellent Fried Green Tomatoes, topped with serious crab meat, are even better, but cost $16 for just three slabs. Two much larger and heartier appetizers that are $10 each arrive in cast-iron skillets and work great as sides for a table of four: the not-too-sweet but cakey and crusty Cornbread and the above-average Brussels Sprouts.
Helpings of those last couple dishes could convert Hen’s moderate-sized Gumbo ($16) into a full meal, especially for lighter eaters. Although mine was over-salted, it was otherwise a mildly spicy, nuanced delight with chopped chicken and veggies, okra, sweet little shrimp, sausage and boozy notes. Bonus: This dressed-up, bayou-style soup is presented as a moat surrounding a mound of rice capped by a whole crawfish.
The good-tasting Fried Chicken ($22) might be Hen’s best value. It’s straightforward but mostly well-executed: tender, juicy meat (from a leg, a deboned thigh and a hefty breast) beneath a peppery and crunchy golden-brown crust. Plus, it comes with two enormous sides such as the terrific mac-and-cheese and tender, flavorful collard greens. Room for improvement: Although not overwhelmingly greasy, my chicken arrived atop an oil puddle glistening on a wooden board.
Hen’s Short Ribs ($34) is a seasonally perfect comfort bomb. The slow-cooked, decadent cut of beef — which is spork-tender — receives wonderfully immoderate umami boosts from a lusty demi-glace plus shiitakes. Nicely roasted pearl onions, a pumpkin-orange smooth parsnip puree, plus appreciated leavening contrasts from grassy microgreens and a vibrant gremolata complete the plate.
There aren’t many better Scallops ($30) around town than the four huge, tender, seared and fresh-tasting ones served beside a tangy-sweet red pepper coulis I was presented with here one evening. I enjoyed the entree’s spinach garnish and lemony notes, too, but wished the salty, gravy-like, barely there crawfish etouffee and rice had held up their ends of the bargain.
Every element did its part to make the custardy Sweet Potato Bread Pudding ($11) —served with real whipped cream, bourbon-caramel sauce and a penuche-like praline cookie — a lavish dessert for which it’s worth giving thanks.