PHOENIX -- Most Milwaukeeans conjure images of butter burgers and frozen custard with they think of local restaurateur Karl Kopp.
But in Phoenix, residents know Kopp as the proprietor of AZ 88, an upscale restaurant in neighboring Scottsdale, that, as a point of reference, is not unlike his other place in Milwaukee, Elsa's.
Now Phoenicians can add downtown's Hanny's, 40 N. 1st St., to the list of Kopp's dynasty, along with Bar 89 in New York City.
Arizona foodies probably don't know of the Milwaukee connections to this unique new eatery, nor should they really care. But they do abound, beginning with the menu that was designed by Milwaukee chef and restaurateur Marc Bianchini.
In fact, the building's gray, minimalist décor actually looks a little like Kopps' Frozen Custard stand on South 76th Street, but much nicer, and with a DJ spinning from high atop the dining room. A U-shaped bar sits in the middle of the first floor, while private parties can congregate over a loft on the second level.
The aesthetics in the whole place are unusual, to say the least. Hanny's was originally a high-end department store that opened in the late '40s, built in the "International Style" by Phoenix architects Royal Lescher and Leslie Mahoney. After the department store closed in 1986, the City of Phoenix bought the concrete building and repeatedly set it on fire to train firefighters. Finally, after three years of renovations, Kopp opened Hanny's last fall.
Our group of seven dined at Hanny's on a Sunday night, and not knowing the restaurant's history in advance, we didn't quite know what to make of a design that includes the names of assorted men's clothing brands displayed on the walls. Only when our friend from Phoenix explained the history of the building did it all begin to make sense.
We were seated along the back wall, and the leather bench seats actually reclined when gently leaned upon. Maybe reclining while enjoying cocktails is a good idea, but it's a little uncomfortable while trying to eat, and I'd recommend diners take an inside table with chairs that don't tip back.
The menu, too, is eclectic: somewhat small but unusually reasonably-priced for a swanky restaurant in downtown Phoenix. You can choose from five appetizers priced around $7, six personal pizzas priced around $11, or four salads or four sandwiches. Nothing on the menu costs more than $13, and much of it is less than $10.
We opted for pizzas, getting a bunch for our group. My side of the table went with the Blanco ($11), the Carne ($12) and the Prosciutto ($13). All three were quite good, with a flat, cracker-like crust. Each of us had our favorites; mine was the Carne, with pepperoni, Italian sausage, San Marzano tomato sauce and mozzarella. The Blanco, with its four cheese blend was unique and delicious, and the Prosciutto with its ham, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano blend and arugula was also a winner.
For drinks, Hanny's offers an upscale but equally unique drink list. My Phoenix friend who visits AZ88 regularly (I haven't been there since I reviewed it in 2004), highly recommended the Moscow Mule, and understandably so: the drink is a mix of ginger beer, vodka, lime and cucumber. Unfortunately, it doesn't come in a tin cup like it does at the Scottsdale counterpart.
Interestingly, you won't see any butter burgers -- or any burgers at all -- or frozen custard, for that matter, on the menu at Hanny's. The closest you'll come in the desert department is chocolate wafer cake with Haagen-Dazs vanilla for $7. So, while the Brew City connections abound, Milwaukee visitors shouldn't come to Hanny's expecting a taste of home.
Even though the restaurant was mostly empty at 8 p.m. on a Sunday night, our service was a tad slow but quite polite -- that's understandable, though, as Kopp pointed out to me that as a new restaurant he's still working out the kinks. And honestly, there weren't many kinks to be worked out.
Kopp also told me that he splits his time between his three locations across the country, and that's impressive, given the size of his dining empire. Just like you'll see Kopp flipping a burger in Milwaukee or clearing a table in New York, he was right there actively managing Hanny's in an apron on a random Sunday night. I found the notoriously quiet and private Kopp to be gracious and appreciative for our visit when I introduced myself and told him where I was coming from.
Unlike a visit to Kopp's, we didn't leave stuffed to the gills, just suitably full from a tasty and inexpensive dinner (when you add in the $8 Moscow Mules, it starts to add up, however).
As I've written about extensively, the Phoenix area is filled with Milwaukee connections, and Hanny's is a cool, new addition to the scene. Kopp knows how to build a restaurant with style and flair, and Hanny's is no exception. It's worth a visit if you ever find yourself in the area.
Andy is the founder and co-owner of OnMilwaukee.com. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.