After a steady diet of Travel Channel hosts from Samantha Brown, to Andrew Zimmern, to Anthony Bourdain sampling the fare at hawker stands from one end of Asia to another, I was pleased beyond measure to learn that a hawker venue was opening at 1235 Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg.
Hawkers Asian Street Fare a few weeks to work out any opening day jitters. As we were heading home from a Tampa Rays drubbing yesterday, we found ourselves on Central with an empty parking space right in front of Hawkers. I whipped our chariot into the space and we entered Hawkers.
We found ourselves in a bright, shiny, hard surface interior with open cook stations to our right and a small army of active chefs. The hostess escorted us to an awaiting table with metal chairs next to a low wall of beer cartons. The decor and ambiance is pretty much what I would have expected in a Singapore hawker station. It was noisy and filled with server activity not too dissimilar to what I had seen and heard on the Travel Channel programs. One huge difference was the absence of Asian customers chomping and slurping the myriad of dishes placed before them.
Oh well, thought I as we requested two beers, an American blonde ale for her and a locally brewed rice beer for me. I once had a memorable rice beer imported from Japan that I enjoyed just once. Rice beer apparently doesn't travel well, so the American distributor quit distributing. I was sorely disappointed so I jumped at the chance to delight my senses with this local version. It had a bitterness that I wasn't expecting. The blonde ale was very good.
While drowning our sorry over the less than stellar performance of the Rays we examined the menu that was divided into sections: from the grill, small plates, noodles, rice, salads, and soups. Between the two of us, we shared three small plates. The best of the bunch being the Crispy Roast Pork Siu Yoke.
That perfectly seasoned, tender, juicy pork belly, roasted to a crisp and served with a hoisin dipping sauce sent my taste receptors into spasms of gastronomic joy.
The next tapas style plate presented was the less spectacular BBQ Pork Char Siu.
The roasted pork tenderloin, wok-seared with garlic and sweet soy sauce, then topped with spring onions was very good, but just couldn't measure up to the pork belly. We should have started with the tenderloin.
The Roast Duck served next was anticipated with gusto since duck is one of my favorite fowl dishes.
One thing we definitely can't complain about is the pricing. Three small plates and two beers ran a meager $21.40, though two plates and one beer were at happy hour prices. We usually feel guilty tacking on a 20% gratuity when the bill is so small so we up the tip to 30%.
My biggest disappointment with Hawkers is the fact that there was nothing spectacular on the menu ... nothing out of the ordinary ... nothing you couldn't find at any one of dozens of Asian style restaurants in the Tampa Bay area. This is Asian food dumbed down for the timid. And, the ubiquitous Pad Thai on the Hawkers menu? Seriously?