It was Miley Cyrus who once sang, “I hopped off the plane at LAX / and went to Kevin Hart’s plant-based restaurant.” We all remember. It was a huge hit song.
It’s true, Kevin Hart recently opened up a restaurant just a stone’s throw from the Los Angeles airport, joining a long list of popular entertainers who have decided that franchising fast food is their next entrepreneurial gambit. “Hart House,” named for both its Jumanji-starring celeb owner and its healthy food, seems to position itself (with tons of green branding) as an alternative to the other chain restaurants that surround it.
“We cook with Hart,” reads the Hart House website. “Unlike typical fast food, our ingredients are plant-based and REAL.” I do think Hart House is a bad name for a fast-casual restaurant, but at least it is staying on theme with the food, which is also bad.
And that is disappointing! According to the Hollywood Reporter, Hart was an early investor in Beyond Meat and has been a cheerleader for plant-based protein, crediting it with giving him more energy and vibrance. But it doesn’t seem as though that zeal has translated to the Hart House menu just yet.
I don’t have a problem with Beyond Meat or Impossible burgers. Sure, it’s not as good as beef, but our collective obsession with cows is killing the planet, so I welcome an opportunity to sub it out. What I do have a problem with is the Hart House fake meat burger. I’m glad the menu made it clear to me that it is 100% plant-based, because there’s no way I would have eaten it otherwise.
The burger patty looked like raw meat. It was the softest veggie patty I’ve ever had. Beyond the texture, the flavor was unmistakably Boca Burger–inspired. Eating it was a bad time.
The chicken nuggets were similarly nothing I would recommend. Imagine going to the grocery store’s frozen section and finding a random bag of plant-based chicken nuggets, stuck to the bottom of the freezer. Hart House nuggets probably taste like those. Each bite evoked a wet sponge dropped into some loamy soil. We know the technology exists to make delectable fake chicken, so this product was all the more disappointing.
The soda fountain had three flavors: Kola, Diet Kola, and Lemongrass. The latter seemed like an attempt to be the lemon-lime pop du jour, but its seemingly straightforward mix of lemon, lime, and lemongrass was complicatedly unappealing. I opted for the limeade in a nearby urn, which was fine.
The other sandwich I tried was a spicy fake chicken (chick’n) sandwich. While I was expecting the worst after tasting the nuggets, I was surprised to find the sandwich was significantly tastier. The hot sauce, pickle, and bun all helped, but the patty had more form and crunch, too. I wouldn’t order it again, but if I found myself with literally no other options on my way to LAX to catch a flight, that’s my meal.
The milkshake was good! As someone who is sensitive to lactose, I’m always interested in a vegan milkshake. These dairy-free desserts have a high ceiling and can be really good—so add the chocolate shake to my next Hart House order.
On a serious note, if plant-based substitutes are going to gain popularity, they will have to be good enough to convince skeptics. And to give credit where it’s due, Kevin Hart does have a unique opportunity here to introduce this food to people who might otherwise ridicule or dismiss it. But if every meal at Hart House is like the one I had, Hart might actually end up doing a disservice to the growing plant-based meat industry.
Hart House also promised to deliver on a price point for its offerings that is “affordable and accessible to all.” At $5.99 for a burger, $6.99 for the chicken sandwich, $4.99 for 4 nuggets, and $3.99 for the shake, the cost is decent. It won’t break the bank and is comparable to many other fast food chains in the area (though the nuggets are not worth the price).
It’s unclear how invested Kevin Hart actually is in this venture. At a celebrity restaurant within a week of its grand opening, shouldn’t there be pictures of the celeb doing fun things like flipping a burger or smiling next to a guy with a shovel? There wasn’t even a single Kevin Hart cardboard cutout! What gives?! The restaurant space was pretty sterile, typical of new quick-service spots. I want more Kevin Hart in the branding. That’s at least 70% of the reason for going to a celeb-owned spot, right?