Henry's at Graduate Berkeley Scores Big
A reimagined Cal-centric restaurant in a venerable hotel has got game.
Take a bite out of a classic cheeseburger featuring dry-aged beef and a Tartine sweet-potato bun.
Photos courtesy of Henry's
The last time my dinner date—aka Mom—set foot in Hotel Durant (now the Graduate Berkeley) was for UC Berkeley’s sorority rush week. She accepted my invitation to return 70 years later to sneak a peek at Henry’s—the hotel’s restaurant. Much has transpired in the ensuing decades. In the current popular imagination, Henry’s is at best a campus pub—a go-to spot for eating deep-fried grub and drinking deep. It’s reputed as a safe place for of-age students to lay down their heads once pints consumed surpass points scored by Cal (the football stadium is a 10-minute walk away).
So, when Graduate Hotels took over the Durant in 2016—entailing a brief closure and a thoughtful renovation—the culinary makeover was daunting. How does a tired kitchen capture Berkeley’s politically correct cuisine—sustainable, innovative, and finessed—without antagonizing ravenous beer-loving Golden Bears fans? How does a hotel restaurant rise from the ashes of Mom’s cigarette-happy generation, welcoming old-time alums without appearing staid? And, above all—considering Graduate Hotels’ cross-campus business concept—how does one best create a residence where out-of-state parents feel welcome and well fed?
Graduate’s answer? Chris Kronner.
Best known for Piedmont’s KronnerBurger—whose eponymous sandwich (made with beef ground daily from dry-aged cuts) inspired a loyal following and spawned the cookbook A Burger to Believe In—the chef has created a worthy counterpart in Henry’s all-day brunch burger. Served on a sweet-potato bun with house-made pickles, it comes with the option of roasted marrow bones—a delicious deal for an additional $5. Not to be outdone, Kronner’s soufflé-style omlette—which arrives with crisp edges and a gooey white-cheddar center, and is garnished with shaved speck that tastes like smoky prosciutto—just might inspire a second cookbook.
During that first weeknight dinner with Mom, Kronner's roots at San Francisco's Bar Tartine came into focus. A dish of crispy Monterey squid served over creamy shell beans loaded with olive oil–stewed heirloom tomatoes, topped with crisp bits of pole beans, and drenched in thick aioli was perhaps my favorite dining-out discovery of the year.
Meanwhile, Mom was absorbed with her charred Tartine country toast, dipping it into a smoky-sweet lemongrass coconut broth, and almost entirely disregarding the mussels as she scanned the table for more bread. (Our aloof server eventually brought us a few more slices.)
Tartine Bakery’s bread is a revelation and stands on its own, but just wait until you’ve dipped a holy, chewy chunk of it into a pool of spicy buttermilk dressing from Kronner’s serpent cucumber and avocado salad. Bold food, indeed.
Many, if not all, of the summer dishes I sampled may be gone by your visit, but the bread—and Kronner’s dedication to the season—ensures a happy outcome. One winning dish that has perennial potential is the New York steak, cut of the highest quality and drenched in a peanut-spiked chimichurri sauce blessed with mint, cilantro, garlic, chili, sherry vinegar, and lemon juice. Served with blanched, smashed, and fried potatoes, this entrée best captures Kronner’s overarching philosophy of how a rich preparation needs to be, as he puts it, “balanced by salt and acid with strong flavors of herbs and garlic.”
There are two distinct dining areas at Henry’s, and if anyone can reconcile them into a discernible concept, it’s Howie Correa, the affable general manager with a dual-coast résumé (including a stint at Chez Panisse). But no matter the design, Henry’s is a long-haul project with an ever-evolving clientele; summer is an especially challenging time for a campus-centric restaurant to get a read on its regulars.
The bar-lounge on our July visit was filled with older couples tucked into corner booths, with groups of students sliding in and out of the communal table. Meanwhile, the separated dining room was overrun by a wedding rehearsal dinner complete with unchecked children.
Even with a solid team (including a former KronnerBurger chef) running the kitchen, it’s up to the locals—Cal students and their friends and family—to define what Henry’s will be in decades to come. But I would return tomorrow in a heartbeat to dive deeper into Kronner’s menu.
While Mom can’t appreciate one updated touch by Graduate Hotels—the men’s urinal is painted a bright Cardinal red (take that, Stanford!)—the new space is sure to foster team spirit. That should certainly encourage more beer sales from Henry’s 14 taps at the antique bar.
2600 Durant Ave., Berkeley, (510) 809-4132, graduatehotels.com. Breakfast and dinner daily, brunch Fri.–Sun.