In my opinion, parking a large, high end smoker outside the front of your restaurant is a good way to get one’s attention. So was the way we were greeted pulling up to The Hungry Heart. The sweet smell of hickory wafting out of the Yoder brand smoker was an excellent way to get the mood set for some gastropub action.
The Hungry Heart is tucked away in the shadow of the I.B.A.(Intrust Bank Arena), making it a bit out of the way if you are not in the area for a event. It is officially on Commerce street just south of the old Spaghetti Warehouse building. The interior is very trendy with exposed brick, lots of wood, and open ceilings. There is a large bar area as well as seating on both the main level and upstairs.
Any reputable gastropub should have a nice selection of craft liquor and beer and the Hungry Heart does not disappoint. The bar is well stocked with top shelf whiskeys and bourbons and while the craft beer offerings are not expansive they did have several unique drafts available. I ordered a Boulevard Rye on Rye, which was an excellent and strong(12% ABV) rye beer that had been aged in rye whiskey barrels.
The menu at Hungry Heart is refreshingly focused and allows their smoker to take center stage with many of the dishes prepared with its assistance. The appetizers range from typical chicken wings to more inventive dishes like Ahi wonton nachos and pulled pork egg rolls. The entrees feature the mainstays of BBQ in the pulled pork sandwich and baby back back ribs, but they also offer smoked tri tip, fried chicken, and fish tacos. There are a few salad and dessert options as well.
On our visit I ordered the Tri tip which came with mashed parsnips and Asian green beans, while Steph went with the pulled pork sandwich. Our son stayed in his comfort zone with the chicken fingers and french fries. Our group also ordered the pork egg rolls as an appetizer.
I only got a small bite of an egg roll and from what I could tell it was mainly pork with little of the advertised cabbage and carrots, although I won’t pass much judgement due to my small sample size. My slices of Tri tip, which is a triangular roast that comes from the sirloin of a cow, were an excellent example of the greatness of smoked meats. There was a good looking pink smoke ring on the tender and flavorful meat. I do not know of any other places in town that serve tri tip on a regular basis, but I would say Hungry Heart’s version stacks up well with some of the better smoked brisket in Wichita. My only complaint was the saucing technique. The beef came liberally bathed in their house-made spicy sauce which covered up the natural flavors of the meat. While the presentation looks nice, I prefer my sauce on the side.
The pureed parsnips were a nice change of pace from typical sides, and while they were especially creamy, I found they could have used some additional herb flavoring or cheese to jazz them up a bit. The satued Asian green beans were simple as well, with just a light soy based marinade for flavoring. The pulled pork sandwich offered an ample portion of meat, coleslaw, and sauce served on a pretzel bun. The moist pork had a subtle smoke flavor, but again we had issues with the saucing. Too much of the sweet and spicy concoction overpowered the sandwich. The fries that accompanied the sandwich were crispy and well seasoned.
Our son’s chicken fingers were very good compared to the previously frozen junk many restaurants serve up to kids. These seemed like they had been hand breaded in a well seasoned batter and cooked just to doneness. For these reasons I’d give Hungry Heart the award for best chicken fingers in Wichita.
Hungry Heart has also been working on a nice beer brewing setup, although the process has taken some time to complete, I believe they are now starting to roll out some product in limited numbers.
Overall I enjoyed the food, drink, and atmosphere at The Hungry Heart, but I would suggest ordering your BBQ sauce on the side. Not that it wasn’t a good sauce, it’s just that a little of it goes a long way.