Located at 425 State St., Hawk’s Bar and Grill is a comfortable, urbane place for a business lunch or a dinner with a long-lost friend. Easily accessible from the downtown area, the restaurant is particularly relaxing during daylight hours. Large glass windows in the dining area bring the sunshine right to your table and make you appreciate the warmth inside.
Divided into two sections, the bar and the walk-up ordering area, the rustic-yet-classy atmosphere is complemented by cherry-wood tables, brick walls and paintings of jazz legends.
Hawk’s has inherited the old site of Cafeli & Ella’s Deli, and new owner Hawk Schenkel opened his addition to State Street seven weeks ago. His idea for the restaurant was sparked because, as he explained, “there are not a lot of places on State Street that serve bar and grill items, salads and homemade soups.” (His father makes them.)
Similar in style to Amy’s Café on West Gilman, diners place orders at a walk-up, snack-bar-style ordering area. Once meals are prepared, your name is called, and you must claim your food.
Although I think Hawk’s would draw a more tasteful clientele with the addition of a hostess and wait staff, Schenkel strongly disagrees. “Just because I lack wait staff does not make the place less classy. Often times wait staff creates more problems and costs money.”
With the help of Shenkel’s father, the family-operated restaurant is proud to serve a variety of homemade salad dressings, soups and desserts. The greatest part of the lengthy menu is its flexibility. Each sandwich is served with your choice of side dish, ranging from seasoned or original fries to more health-conscious options, such as rice pilaf or roasted red potatoes.
Diners have the option to add a lemon herb, barbecue, Jamaican jerk, Cajun or Teriyaki marinade to any of the specialty sandwiches for $6.95-$7.95. Grilled chicken, grilled sirloin steak and grilled tuna can be added to any salad for an additional charge of $2-$3.
The menu has great potential but needs to be perfected. The Thai salad ($6.95) encompasses an exotic blend of red bell peppers, snow peas, zucchini, grilled pineapple, and pine nuts served over mixed greens with a creamy ginger dressing. The salad was quite tasty, especially with the contrast between the vegetables and the pineapple.
Adding chicken made the portion more filling, but the hot chicken accompanied by the cold greens and dressing made for a funny feel. If the dressing was warmer or even at room temperature, the salad would be more appealing.
The Soup, Salad and Classic French Bread Combination ($5.95) is loved by all. I chose the Greek salad but was disappointed that the restaurant was out of feta cheese. How can you eat a Greek salad without the feta?
However, the staff was very accommodating and offered me a different type of cheese or a garden or Caesar salad instead. Accompanying my salad was a thick and creamy cup of potato leek soup. Other homemade soups such as cream of mushroom and the soup of the day ($1.95/$2.95) are perfect ways to keep warm on a chilly Madison afternoon.
Although I did not try a burger, Schenkel told me that they have surprisingly been big sellers. Served on a dark honey-wheat bun, burgers range from the Classic ($5.95) to the more sophisticated Salmon burger ($7.95). This unique burger is served with a special tangy dill sauce, lettuce and tomato. The person to my left ordered one and it looked fabulous; I plan to try one on my next visit.
Dessert in itself is a reason to visit Hawk’s. The dessert menu is limited to cheesecake ($3.75), carrot cake ($3.50) and Al’s Famous Brownies ($2.75), but believe me, these brownies are bound to be famous on State Street. Schenkel offered my taste-testing group a sample of his father’s chocolate, butterscotch and white chocolate coconut brownies. Truly a culinary genius, Al bakes brownies worth the extra calories.
For those who like to take advantage of the bars and nightlife that Madison has to offer, Hawk’s is a great place to meet for an after-dinner drink. A full-service bar with a more intimate setting, adorned with white string lights, Hawk’s bar has a comfortable yet sophisticated feel.
About 10 beers are on tap ($3-$4), and over 50 domestic, microbrewed and imported bottles ($2.50-$5) are offered. On Hawk’s extensive wine list, which encompasses wines from all over the world, tasters can choose from 12 red wines, six white wines, and champagne, in either a glass or bottle.
A few imperfections should not steer you away from this neighborhood delight. Grab a friend and try something new, especially the white chocolate coconut brownie (you will love it, I promise). Hawk’s, we gladly welcome you to State Street.