I love a good gastropub. There is just something about consuming massive quantities of beer and cider with delicious, high-quality pub food that really gets my motor running and fuels me enough for a road trip to Tijuana. The Hopleaf Bar is a place I used to frequent in my old hood, pre-Australia trip. They specialize in great beers, both drafts and bottles, so if you like drinking funny-sounding beers in crazy glasses made just for it, this is the place to be. The food is great, upscale pub food, but you can’t simply stroll in and expect to eat right away. Ever. This place is constantly packed, no matter how early or late you go. You will almost always wait for a table, especially if you have a large group. Don’t think you are special. Unless you are Al Roker. Al Roker never waits at a restaurant. Al Roker also never gets put in the corner. As long as you expect to wait and know where and how to do it, this place is totally worth it. Bring a few friends, head to the upstairs bar which has more seating and isn’t quite as packed as a bad can of sardines, and grab a specialty beer. Do not, however, bring a large group and change the size of it several times. On my first trip back to Hopleaf, our group changed several times, forcing us to wait 3 hours for a seat. By then, I’m not gonna lie–we were all a few sheets to the wind. I claim no responsibility for the following, grease-smudged photos you are about to see. All I can promise is the food was amazing when we finally got to eat it.
We started off with some of Hopleaf’s famous frites ($5) to soak up all the beer we had consumed over the past three hours. These fries are fried twice so they are extra crispy, and come with a tiny cup of aioli that tastes like they shoved an entire head of garlic into each ramekin. I had some very naughty dreams about these frites in Australia. I had started off the night drinking a dry Blackthorn cider in a bottle ($5), but I hated it. It was way too dry and sour for my liking, so I went on to order a bottle of the Clos Normand Brut Cider ($12). It was a bit more expensive, but totally worth it. First of all, it is not a tiny little glass bottle. It’s a mamajama-sized bottle, like this.
A bit much for one person, so Amy decided to take one for the team and help me finish off a few bottles. This cider is delicious! It was light and faintly sweet but not overly so, and had just a touch carbonation to it. It went great with everything, and hey, you get a 750ml bottle for $12! Score. You might notice a bit of smudge or haziness in each photo? Yup. Thats probably food that I smeared on to the lens. Blame the three hour table wait and Clos Normand. And, of course, my classiness. For our second round of appetizers (because THAT is how you roll with Leena), we chose two kinds of steamed mussels that of course came with frites: a Belgium-style steamed in Wittekerke white ale with shallots, celery, thyme and bay leaf, and then a curry-style with coconut, shallot, sweet potato, jalape¤o, ginger and cilantro ($20 for mussels and frites for two people).
Wow. I wasn’t really certain you could get quality seafood in the Midwest, these were great mussels. The mussels were perfectly cooked, but the two different kinds tasted entirely different. The Belgium-style was more of a comforting, I have had this flavor before sort of deliciousness, sort of like eating chicken noodle soup on a cold night. The curry mussels tasted bright and lively, like a kick in the pants with a slightly sweet finish. We used the leftover frites and the delicious bread rolls they gave us to sop up the leftover juices in the pot. Some people even ate straight out of the pot with a spoon, but I’m not naming names.
The bread was so damn good, we refused to let them take the empty mussel pots when we were done. We demanded more bread and just kept dipping all night long. I think Roland, our Austraian friend, even left the bar with some bread in his pocket. When I asked him about it, he said, “Hey, it’s good bread. You don’t waste good bread like that.” That’s so Roland.
For mains, Adam went with the lamb stew ($18)(**note**they have a slightly rotating menu, so this may not still be on it), and while he found it delicious, the lamb did not compare to Aussie lamb. I don’t really think anything will. Adam also gets brownie points for taking the best food photo of the night!
Amy and Joanne had my favorite dish of the night, the pan-fried CB & J (housemade cashew butter, fig jam and morbier cheese, served with Stilton mac & cheese and chips ($10).
It was like a giant grown-up peanut butter and jelly, and it was soooo good. I really love salty and sweet foods together, and the morbier cheese (a semi-soft cows milk cheese from France) went surprisingly well with the sweet jam, sort of like a brie goes well with sweet things. I would totally come back just for this sandwich. I went with my usual, the toasted Nueske’s ham sandwich on pumpernickel with gruyere and an apple-tarragon slaw($10).
I wasn’t as happy with the sandwich this time around, partially because I was pretty drunk at this point, and also because the sandwich pretty much fell apart when I tried to eat it. The bread just disintegrated! That is also probably while all the photos I took have greasy smudges on them as well… So lets review. What did Leena and friends do at the Hopleaf Bar? They drank.
A bit too much, actually.
And then they stole bread.
~LTG! ************************************************ The Hopleaf Bar 5148 N Clark St Chicago, IL 60640 (773) 334-9851 www.hopleaf.com