You could almost walk right by Hazel Southern Bar & Kitchen on Market Street, near Van Ness. But behind the plain bright-colored door, and past the bouncer in front, inside is a surprising spot with 16 TVs, two pool tables, a retro vibe, and tasty enough food to bring in the neighborhood crowds.
It's been hard for restaurants to survive in the mid-Market spot. Hazel is in the location of the former short-lived Cadence. In nearby spots, AQ, Bon Marche, and Oro have all had to shut their doors too.
What owner Jamie Boatner, previously the partial owner of Sutter Street's Sugar Cafe & Lounge, is betting is that a more casual, fun space can succeed where others have failed. Judging by the soft opening on Friday night, it's not a bad bet. The place was packed with groups snacking around the communal tables, playing pool, and enjoying the well-stocked bar. The three communal tables and booth draw the bulk of the large crowd, but there's also a bar in the back of the space, and a separate section with lounge-like chairs and small tables. In the far back, behind the co-ed bathroom, Hazel's supplies the food for the local jazz club, Mr. Tipple’s Recording Studio.
There are still some service kinks to be worked out, as is to be expected somewhat for a soft opening. Most of the crowd, though, seemed not to be high-end food tourists come specifically for the opening, but rather locals who had wandered in looking for good food and a good time. If the service can deliver, the tasty Southern comfort plates will keep drawing them back.
The restaurant is named Hazel after Boatner's mother, who ran a bar in Cheyenne, Wyoming for most of his life. The recipes are nominally her's, but have been updated by executive chef Casey Hatwig (from the Lark Creek Restaurant Group and Taste on the Fly). These include things like fried chicken, tater tot nachoes, hush puppies, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens. The bar is also well-stocked, with over 100 whiskeys and a handful of specialty cocktails and punches, and it's open even after the kitchen closes a 1 a.m.
Ordering a large entree plate came with two side, which added up to lots of plates spread across the table. We tried small orders of both the BBQ ribs ($17) and fried chicken ($15) -- both signature dishes of the restaurant and both with larger versions available. The ribs were slightly spicy sweet and tender on the bone. These are the kind of ribs you could go to town on, picking every bit of meat clean.