Finally, something to cheer about.
In a city where preservationists have new reasons to gripe all the time — sharp mid-century homes getting razed to make way for McMansions, architecturally significant buildings being bulldozed so somebody can slap up another generic bank or strip mall — there's good news about at least one historic building. Better yet, it's right downtown.
And the icing on the cake? It's home to a new restaurant called Hanny's.
Like its stark International Style building façade, Hanny's all-day menu is streamlined, featuring just a handful of starters, pizzas, sandwiches, and salads. It's well-crafted, affordable fare that's perfect for a light lunch, an informal dinner, a happy hour snack, or a late-night nosh — not destination dining by any stretch, but considering the beautifully restored surroundings and the sheer character that this place brings to the area, it's still a Phoenix destination.
Hanny's has quite a story. It's named after businessman Vic Hanny's "Distinguished Store for Men and Women" originally located there, a place where generations of Phoenicians shopped for designer-label clothing. After the store was shuttered in the '80s, the circa 1947 Hanny's building sat vacant, occasionally getting torched by the fire department to train firefighters.
It was added to the Phoenix Historic Property Register in 2005, the same year the city negotiated with restaurateur Karl Kopp (owner of Scottsdale's AZ88, as well as spots in Milwaukee and Manhattan) to exchange it for a building he owned on Central Avenue. City officials wanted to acquire Kopp's property as part of the planned ASU Downtown Campus; Kopp was willing to bring the historic Hanny's building back to its vintage grandeur.
Three years and $5 million later, Hanny's is a well-polished modernist gem. Artist Janis Leonard — known for her cheeky, rotating installations at AZ88 — designed the spare, elegant interior, where charcoal-colored banquettes line the perimeter, chocolate leather chairs hug smooth granite-topped tables, and soft uplighting emphasizes dramatically high ceilings (high enough to have a curvy mezzanine overlooking the dining room). Everything gleams, from terrazzo floors to the bar in the middle of the space, where a bright red meat slicer sits like a candy apple behind glass.
Between the working elevator and the stairwell, Leonard has created a mini-funhouse in an empty elevator shaft, utilizing mirrors, lighting, and a see-through floor to give curious patrons something to talk about, whether they've had cocktails or not.
Upstairs, there's secluded seating along the mezzanine, and something else to kick-start conversation: the restrooms. (Not a surprise, since AZ88 has trippy toilets, too.) Usually, I don't care to comment on a restaurant's facilities, but so far, there hasn't been a single time when I've visited Hanny's and didn't hear at least one remark about them.
"Did you see the bathrooms? Oh, you have to go check out the bathrooms!"
It's that funhouse thing again — there's no signage leading you to them, you just find your way into a surreal white room with mirrors and pink lighting. At first, you'll think you're not supposed to be there, but you'll know you're in the right place when you notice the outlines of doors without handles. Just push.
Meanwhile, there's nothing confusing about the food here, a straightforward assortment of Mediterranean-inspired dishes with a few quirky flourishes. For example, instead of a side of French fries, sandwiches came with a pile of skinny, crispy fried onion strings dusted with Parmesan cheese. It was a nice twist, and just as easy to gobble up as fries.
And refreshingly, the bruschetta was not the predictable tomato-and-basil-topped version served by so many restaurants. Instead, it was geared toward olive-lovers, with chopped green and Kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, and fresh basil tossed in lemon juice and olive oil. Red pepper flakes gave it a spicy kick.
Somebody in the kitchen really likes those red pepper flakes, which is fine with me. One of my friends speculated that the slight heat makes you thirsty for more alcohol, and I think there's something to that. Anyway, the spiciness definitely enhanced the cauliflower Calabrese appetizer, which combined grilled cauliflower, diced red and green bell pepper, mushrooms, onion, and more fried onion strings on top. It also added a tasty dimension to the cheese-smothered Blanco pizza, dotted with tomatoes and basil.
Hanny's "Roman-style" pizzas, baked in a 500-degree stone oven, satisfied a different kind of craving than most pizzas I've had, and made a good sharable snack as much as an individual serving. Rather than sinking my teeth into doughy crust, I nibbled on a crispy, ultra-thin crust that had a cracker-like appeal. It seemed to emphasize the toppings more — the sweetness of the San Marzano tomato sauce on the Margherita, the gooeyness of the cheese on the Blanco. My favorite was laden with prosciutto, tomato sauce, mozzarella, shaved Parmesan, and fresh arugula.
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Salads were also huge — entrée-sized, and then some. The chopped salad was presented with individual piles of red onion, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, 'shrooms, avocado, hearts of palm, and hardboiled egg next to a heap of greens with shaved Parmesan and Dijon-balsamic vinaigrette, while the beet salad featured a mountain of arugula speckled with goat cheese, pine nuts, and red onion, surrounded by overlapping slices of red and yellow beets.
What can I call the sandwiches except decadent? Served on soft, flour-y Italian rolls, they were a real handful, with generous fillings. Salty slices of grilled prime rib were lusciously combined with a fried egg, mayo, and Nueske's bacon, with some arugula to brighten it up. The Panino had a just-thick-enough layer of prosciutto, salami, and Fontina, also with arugula. And the fantastic pork Calabrese sandwich combined hot, juicy pork loin with grilled onions, peppers, mushrooms, and, you guessed it, red pepper flakes.
The trendy item on the dessert menu was doughnuts with chocolate or strawberry sauce. Sadly, they didn't thrill me at all. Unevenly shaped, more like fritters than doughnuts, they were greasy and strangely lacking in flavor — the only sweetness came from the sauces and a sprinkle of powdered sugar. Silky chocolate wafer cake was the better choice, especially since it was teamed with a snowball-size scoop of Häagen-Dazs vanilla.
And I can't forget to mention the cocktails, because Hanny's is as much a watering hole as it is a restaurant. From the slurp-worthy Manhattan and refreshing Pimm's Cup to the delicious French martini, served in a petite glass, the drinks were just like Hanny's itself: classic.