Willard Hicks Refashions the Steakhouse and New American Cuisine
Be Warned: Willard Hicks, Campbell, California’s newest dining experience, is Addictive
by Super G
There must be crack or something going on in the kitchen at Willard Hicks (280 East Campbell Avenue; 408-374-5000; WillardHicksGrill.com) in Campbell, Calif., that the chef is putting into the food, that’s all I gotta say.
Since my first experience right after they opened several months ago my friends and I have been going back over and over again and dragging our friends and partners with us. We can’t get enough of what they call “New American Fare,” which is a twist on favorite American comfort foods with Southwest and Southern influence. It doesn’t matter, the shit is good, I mean extraordinarily good.
People seem to agree, the place is packed all of the time, which is a far cry from the cavernous feel of the restaurant when it was once a Spanish tapas place.
Every time I’ve dined at Willard Hicks since it opened it’s been a happening scene for after-work gatherings, friends watching sports on the large flat screen TV’s enjoying the bar’s mycologists’ hand crafted cocktails to gathering around the wood tables enjoying the delights from the menu.
There are few restaurants that can inspire excitement at this level. Two of them – that I know of – happen to be in the heart of historic downtown Campbell. The hip strip of bars, boutiques, and restaurants are an oasis of trendiness in the suburbs of San Francisco attracting young and old who stroll along the charming street.
The restaurateurs retained much of the former interior design of the dark wood and the furnishings switching a few things around to create the warm and welcoming atmosphere, but honestly, what are they putting into the food that makes it soooo instantaneously habit forming?
Everything on the menu is mouth watering good to the point that it took us longer than usual to decide what Babes, our friend, and I were going to order to share (warning very healthy portions are served here). Willard Hicks serves up only 100% Black Angus steaks prepared on a wood burning grill, ribs that melt right off the bone, pork chops brined to perfection, and sea food options along with side dishes to complement the main course. It was a tough decision. Desert was easier. But we managed after a bit of time to finally settle on our choices.
Everyone has seen baby back ribs, but not Willard Hicks’ ribs. The Sweet and Sticky Chipotle Baby Back Ribs are perfection. The full rack of ribs is served stacked on top of each other dripping in the sweet molasses chipotle BBQ sauce on a wood cutting board. The meat simply falls off the bone when you pick it up. It is truly the definition of finger licking good. Babes ordered that swapping out the steak fries with the Grilled Corn on the cob that is dressed up with cotija cheese, cilantro, and jalapeno butter.
For a moment, Babes negotiated with herself how she was going to eat what was clearly going to be messy deliciousness. Finally, she dug in giving into the reality that sauce was all going to be over her face and fingers as a fork and knife simply get in the way. Fortunately, hot clothes were on hand to clean up the mess, courtesy of our server.
Our friend has been working his way through the menu since we first discovered the restaurant, so he decided to try the Now This is a Steak Burger (just saying it is a manly man burger as it’s made with one pound of Black Angus beef). The juicy monstrosity, which he vowed only to eat half of but it was so mouthwatering good with the bacon, sweet peppers, horseradish aioli and spicy Sriracha ketchup wrapped up on a fresh toasted Brioche bun his plate was clean by the end of the evening. The horseradish aioli and Sriracha ketchup are both served on the side otherwise his mouth might have been burning up more than it already was. He too swapped out the steak fries with the Tri-Cauliflower, which is roasted with a drizzle of tarragon vinaigrette.
I was lured in by the Bone-In Pork Chop and got the Au-Gratin potatoes topped with Chipotle cheese and fresh herbs to share. It came in as a second close to the best pork chop I’ve ever had. Brined perfectly for two days the meat was juicy and tender and full of flavor. Each time we come to Willard Hicks we order the Au-Gratin simply because we all always have a hard time stopping eating them they are so tasty.
To wash down our feast we were offered a nice choice of libations. Willard Hicks offers guests craft beers to the standard bottled options, but are also thrown a twist with the Gentleman’s Club Bourbon Ale and Matilda Belgian Style Ale on the list. The wine and hand crafted cocktails are well selected from some of the world’s best wineries. Our friend selected 2012 Eruption Red Estate from High Valley, Babes had the 2013 Predator Zinfandel from Lodi, and I selected the 2013 Rambauer Chardonnay from Carnerios.
Trying to get our greens in between all of the meat and starch we also ordered The Caesar salad. It was good, but the competition is tough to stand out as something to write home about.
We topped off our meal with the Crème Brulee, which was good, but not the best we’ve ever had. We weren’t falling out of our seat, in spite of it along with all of the other American favorite deserts offered on the menu being made in house. The bakers helpers attempted to distract us by the beautiful presentation (which by the way the presentation of all of the food at Willard Hicks is phenomenal) and the fact that they were skimpy with the sugar glaze making it a thin ice to crack to get to the vanilla bean custard beneath it.
THE DIRTY DISH
Willard Hicks, 280 East Campbell Avenue, Campbell, CA 95008. 408-374-5000. WillardHicksGrill.com.
TYPE OF RESTAURANT: Steakhouse
RATING: 4 = black
(0 inedible – 5 simply scrumptious)
AMBIANCE: Open and welcoming with high ceilings, the bar and dining area only separated by some family style bar tables and a small wall allowing diners to watch the sports on the TVs while they dine, and large pain glass windows looking out onto East Campbell Avenue. It speaks modern steak house with a fun vibe. It’s a place where you want to gather with your friends.
SCENE: A casual place to enjoy a drink or have a more than average dining experience but not in a stuffy atmosphere like traditional steak houses.
SERVICE: We couldn’t ask for more as each time we’ve dined at this restaurant our servers have been attentive, but not over bearing, honest about the menu to a point they are intuitive about what the diner in questions preferences are without making assumptions. Food was brought out in a timely manner where everything was perfect.
NOISE LEVEL: We went on a particularly noisy night as a game was on, however, we barely noticed as we easily carried on our conversations (if there was conversation to be had as we savored each bite of our food … just kidding) without interruption from the roars and claps as each score was made.
RECOMMENDED DISHES: Nearly every dish on the menu is worth every bite and the bill at the end of the night. This is a destination restaurant.
SIP: We weren’t adventurous checking out the handcrafted cocktails that evening sticking to wine. I can only assume the ingredients for the cocktails are as carefully selected as for the food and artfully put together packed with amazing flavor.
CHECK, PLEASE: $$$$ = Over $30
(price of average dinner/lunch/breakfast/brunch bill for an individual dinner)
THE EAT: Foodies can’t lie, it’s the food. There’s something going on in the kitchen that is creating an addiction that calls us back to this restaurant over and over again in its brief existence. We hope it stays around for quite some time.
WORTH THE NIGHT OUT?: This was delicious!
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