A House to a Go Go To
By Robin Kleven
Can a good meal be a religious experience? Absolutely. After every visit to Hash House a Go Go, we sigh, loosen our waistbands and beg forgiveness for the culinary sins of gluttony, greed and lust.
Temptation always wins at this hip Hillcrest dining room, home to devilishly good chow in obscenely large helpings. Remember nouvelle cuisine? You won’t after an evening here.
“Everyone says big food is out,” says chef-owner Andy Beardslee. “But big food will go out when big appetites go out.”
Beardslee and general manager Johnny Rivera perfected their irresistible act at the bustling Café on Park before opening Hash House last year. Since they took over, the former Celadon Thai eatery has blossomed into a shrine to offbeat, all-American cooking. The chef named his restaurant as an homage to the Midwest’s great old diners—also known as hash houses—then tacked on the jazzy “a go go” after finding it in a thesaurus under “new.”
Inspired by Beardslee’s childhood on an Indiana farm, his training at a Boston cooking school and his free-range imagination, the menu is indeed a meeting of old and new. Meatloaf, Southern fried chicken and classic buttermilk biscuits mingle easily with Pacific Rim marinades and Chino’s designer tomatoes.
Some entrées salute the food-as-architecture movement, smartly stacked eye-high and impaled on rosemary sprigs as long as your arm. Others, such as the superb fresh fish specials, loll like sirens on vast beds of mashed potatoes flavored with bleu cheese, pesto or sun-dried tomatoes.
It’s not just the fare that’s eye-catching. The witty décor is a mélange of old farming implements, an ancient coal-burning stove and rural black-and-white photos that honor the chef’s Midwestern roots. But the faux-finish walls, industrial-chic metal tables and smart new patio out back are pure SoCal reminders that you’re not in Kansas anymore.
The clientele is all over the map: old and young; raucous and reserved; straight and gay; singles, groups and couples. Given the proximity of the bar area to the dining room, the closely spaced tables and the low ceiling, the cozy interior gets noisy. But that just adds to the camaraderie of a place where plenty of regulars gather, and sampling off each other’s plates is de rigueur.
Hash House serves three squares a day, seven days a week, and breakfast is about the only area that could use
a fine-tuning. One day’s French toast ($6.50)—supposedly dipped in banana-and-cinnamon cream—was dried out, with zero banana taste. Dry, too, were the blueberry-pecan flapjacks ($3.75 for one), as well as being unpleasantly dense. Our server slopped coffee over the sides of the cups and forgot to bring staples such as butter.
On the plus side, eggs show up perfectly scrambled or expertly flipped. Potatoes, lightly seasoned and toasty brown, are darn near perfect, and the hashes ($7.50)—prepared with chicken, corned beef, even smoked salmon and cream cheese—are by themselves a meal to last all day.
The lunch menu offers a lineup of comfort foods, some heavy enough to induce an afternoon nap. Best bets are the meatloaf sandwich smothered in smoked mozzarella ($5.75), the homey tuna melt served on a biscuit ($7.50) and the decent burgers with French fries ($5.50).
And then there’s dinner—a fun free-for-all veering from imaginative vegetarian items to no-nonsense meat ’n’ potatoes.
Starters are limited to a handful of salads and a few nightly specials. The toasted ravioli, plump with smoked chicken and goat cheese ($8.95), the Caesar salad with polenta croutons ($6.50) and the red leaf lettuce salad ($5.95) are all worthy. The best, however, is a cornmeal-dusted calamari fillet ($7.95) that’s quickly sautéed, skewered and planted like a flag atop a sizable chunk of watermelon. Once you’ve dismantled it, swish the fork-tender squid in the accompanying chili mayonnaise.
Beardslee’s signature entrée is a marriage of flavor and style: a tower of bacon-spiked waffles and succulent fried chicken ($16.95). What ties it all together—besides derring-do and a steady hand in the kitchen—is a caramel maple glaze, sweet but not saccharine. The simpler pan-seared chicken breast ($15.95), adorned with feathery fried leeks and a Madeira cream sauce, is also terrific.
For a Midwestern farm boy, Beardslee has a truly deft touch with seafood. The fresh halibut and mahimahi (each $19.95) arrive glistening with juices, never dry or overdone. Shrimp fares well too, especially the barbecued ones paired with yellow tomatoes, and the lobster-flavored rock shrimp tossed with penne and chili cream ($16.95).
By now, most diners will be thinking more about doggie bags than dessert. But the final seduction is bread pudding ($5.95), as soft and warm as a down sleeping bag. Sometimes it’s flavored with caramel and pecans, other nights with peanut butter and chocolate or Snickers bars. Just say yes.
Other noteworthy facts about Hash House include the servers—generally a saucy, savvy bunch who make both newbies and repeat visitors feel at home—and the wine list, thoughtfully chosen by manager Rivera. Many of his choices marry well with food, including Markham’s fish-friendly Sauvignon Blanc and Justin’s yummy Cabernet Sauvignon. Others are great for sipping at the bar, including the lush Chardonnays from Fess Parker and Sanford.
For big spenders, a special “stash under the mattress” list has the Opus One ’97 Cabernet at $195. A number of bottled beers are sold as well.
In addition to a plea to allow the kitchen ample time for preparing your meal—“You wouldn’t rush your mom, would ya?”—the Hash House menu also declares, “We can’t wait to feed you again.”
All in all, we can’t wait to oblige.
Hash House a Go Go, 3628 Fifth Avenue, Hillcrest, 619-298-4646, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Approximate prices: breakfast, $3.75 to $7.95; lunch, $5 to $7.95; dinner, $12.95 to $25.95. Beer and wine only.