When returning to Australia in 2012 after years of working in America, Alistair Fogg found a total lack of food trucks. In that moment of absence, the genesis of Nighthawk was born. Constructing a fleet of decked-out cars, Fogg also knew that a bricks-and-mortar option would be required. Fast-forward seven years, and the result of Fogg's introduction of American-style eating is realised in a permanent location at 69 Abercrombie St, one that expertly walks the line between modern upscale eatery and decades-old, Southern-style grill.
Nighthawk’s diner combines the menus from all three food trucks in the taskforce – Nighthawk, Sweethawk and Tacohawk – and brings a flashy new dimension to diner-style eating. Crossing over the threshold is like stepping back in time; the building is over 100 years old and the restaurant’s design recognises that fact. Exposed brick, leafy Monstera plants and hanging vines, a navy-blue couch and marbled tables decorate the upper landing of the space. Herbee Gutierrez from Paul Kelly Designs, a friend of Fogg’s, conceived the décor and clearly knows who he’s creating for. The North American influence in Nighthawk is clear. A black-and-white movie is projected on a screen, and framed photos of red mustangs, blue skies and telephone lines adorn the walls.
Earlier this year Nighthawk underwent a menu reboot, turning their food truck-style offering into more robust meals befitting their solid location. In place of predictable diner offerings like cheeseburgers and milkshakes, the Nighthawk team has curated a menu both innovative and unmistakably American. Fogg’s background is in fine dining and his attention to detail is evident throughout the menu.
A Cajun fried soft shell crab taco is the best way to start your meal, with the basket of complimentary corn chips and salsa. The tacos are crispy and plentiful, and a meal of these babies alone would be just fine, but I urge you to continue. The sandwich menu is where Fogg and cousin-chef James Watt got creative, introducing the sticky Chicago Italian beef (slow roasted beef served with giardiniera and Nighthawk sauce); the smoky southern ribwich (tender pork rib pattie, sharp red slaw, pickles and barbeque sauce); and the crunchy potato katsu (crispy fried potato latke, katsu curry sauce and sliced cucumber furikake slaw). All sandwiches are served on a fluffy hoagie roll and you’ll be bursting at the seams by the time you finish. Although the prices at Nighthawk are higher than you might expect for a diner, they are justified by the sheer excellence of the cooking, the large portion sizes and the outstanding service.
If sandwiches aren’t your thing then look no further than the Creole spiced pork ribs with house-made barbeque sauce and blackened potato salad. These ribs can be served in half or full portions, and you’ll be licking your fingers clean of every last bit of sauce. The sides and mains provide the quintessential Americana elements to the menu; mac ‘n’ cheese, shoestring fries and fried chicken feature prominently.
If you’ve room for sweets then look no further than the dessert du jour. From deep friend cherry ripe slice to lemon meringue tart, the dessert of the day will always be big, sweet and moreish. Other desserts include the sundae du jour and a dairy or coconut soft serve.
If you’re willing to splash out, the array of cocktails compliment the inventiveness and heritage of the menu. Vintage concoctions like the Charlie Chaplin and the Southside pair seamlessly with trendy libations including Tommy’s Margarita and the Aperol Spritzer.
When I spoke with Fogg about Nighthawk’s history he shared a story of devotion, organisation and culinary love. In the early days, the carts, kitchen and venue were in three different locations around Sydney, meaning 4am wake ups and days of preparation. “You either have resilience and persistence or you don’t have a business” said Fogg. This resilience has spanned the duration of Nighthawk’s existence, and the business has upheld its boutique feel from day one. During our chat, Fogg spoke of his reluctance for Nighthawk to partner with food delivery services, due to their fundamentally antisocial nature: “they’re keeping people in their houses” he said, which is the enemy of diner culture.
The playful flavour combinations are a refreshing new direction for Nighthawk and has reintroduced the truck-turned-restaurant as a hub of flavour and fun. If you had thought that American fare had reached its limit to be replaced with salads and kombucha, you might be mistaken. There’s still a joy in getting your hands a little dirty. So step inside, knock back an Old Fashioned, and wait for those ribs to arrive.
69 Abercrombie St
Mon – Sat, 11am – 10pm