Hennessey's - 1649 Main Street

Posted by The LunchMen Monday, November 2, 2009

Hennessey’s has been serving up fine dining in the Capital City for over 25 years. Long a standard for romantic-minded diners and business travelers, the Columbia landmark also offers a full lunch menu, hoping to parlay their reputation for a good night-time meal into a successful daytime enterprise. We had to ask, however, would the transition work? Can Hennessey’s master the long, multi-course dinner experience as well as the busy worker lunch market? The Lunchmen recently rounded up a posse of hungry workers to find out.

This trip was memorable if for nothing else than it marked the return of Tebow to the group. Tebow has been MIA for a while due to academic commitments, but rumor has it he has been making his eating prowess known at various haunts in the South Main area. In addition, Kali, the Publican, and first-time-diner, long-time-blog-admirer “Caveman” also joined us. On the way, the Publican noted that this large group would allow the entire menu to be on display, if Hennessey’s indeed had six items that sounded interesting enough to try. As it turns out, they had enough intriguing options to go around twice. We all enthusiastically ordered different things, eager to see what was in store.

The first thing that came out was bread. For anyone out there that owns a restaurant and would like a good review from this blog, here is a secret: The offering of fresh bread at the beginning of a meal can literally make or break your chances with Tank. He will automatically write off a place that should have it but doesn’t provide it, and will let other restaurants get away with culinary murder so long as there is ample mana and butter to witness the carnage. It’s like the clear plastic covers we all used to put on our book reports in grade school. Hennessey’s offered bread, so right then I knew Tank was going to give it high marks.

Therefore, in search of more objective thoughts, I turned to Caveman, who tried a black forest ham crossaint with egg salad, lettuce and tomato. This sounded so good I had almost ordered it myself, and it received positive reviews from its patron. Kali, never one to back down from a challenge, went for the meatloaf Panini, which was described as excellent, though would be too bold a move for this guy. Tebow, who can eat with the best of them, had the largest entrée, helping himself to a huge plate of southern grits with a large fried catfish filet on top. Pleased with himself, Tebow even drew comparisons to Mr. Friendly’s catfish and grits – which means Hennessey’s version had to be at least above average. As for myself, I gave the chef salad a try, and was impressed, though not overwhelmed. I probably got what I deserved for being unimaginative.

The most controversial thing on the menu here is without a doubt the house salad dressing. Hennessey’s is proud of it, and rightfully so – it is so popular that they have begun bottling it and selling it for people to take home. However, this stuff is like American Idol - either people either can’t stand it, or can’t get enough of it. After vigorous debate on the merits of the dressing, the group consensus was that the dressing is sort of like aerobic exercise – okay in moderation, but definitely not something you want to start doing habitually.

One more thing of note about Hennessey’s is the Godfather (parts I and II) style atmosphere that greets patrons. There is very little natural light, and the ceilings are abnormally low. The entire place seems to lend itself to hushed conversations. If someone dropped a plate or broke a glass, it is likely that the whole restaurant would know about it. Understand, this isn’t reported to be necessarily a bad thing. However, you should know it before you go in. In other words, small, loud children and NBA centers are probably not the best people to take to this place.

Other than that, however, the food was very good and just the change of pace our group needed. While not a quick affair, it you have a solid hour to kill next time you are at the state courthouse, give this place a try, and enjoy a more traditional, relaxed, “three martini” style lunch.

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Rabbit, Tank, and The Publican are three dudes just trying to get through the work week here in Columbia. Rabbit is a Columbia native, Tank is from Charleston, and The Publican hails from Greenville. Rabbit's favorite lunch spot is the No Name Deli on Elmwood, where you may find him putting down a grilled chicken salad and a side of vinegar pasta. The Publican usually wants to find food to cure his all-too-common hangovers. Tank claims no favorite lunch spot - he lives for the thrill of the hunt.