Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Restaurant Review: Hopleaf
While home in Chicago this past weekend, I went to a great restaurant, Hopleaf Bar, in the Andersonville neighborhood on the far Northside. It's billed as an authentic Belgian bar/restaurant. I love Belgian food and beer; in Philadelphia, I lived across the street from Monk's Cafe and was accordingly spoiled rotten. So the draw was natural.
Atmosphere. The decor inside Hopleaf was not very impressive; other than a few dimly illuminated posters and signs of Belgian beers, the place did not look very different from any other pub you might have visited. But of course, we didn't go for decor, necessarily, and on the essentials, Hopleaf delivered.
Hopleaf has adopted one of those habits that makes it so easy for people like me to plan a night -- they have put their entire food and drink menus online.
Drinks. Actually, they have two beer menus: one for draft and one for bottles. (They also have a wine menu, but come on, at a Belgian place?) I didn't try any of the bottled beers, but they seem to have all the standards (Chimay, LaChouffe, Duvel, etc.). I started with a tasty warm cherry beer called, I believe, Quelque Chose. It was strange to have hot beer, but not unpleasant; it reminded me of mulled wine. After that, I subsisted on a steady diet of Abbaye de Leffe (an old favorite) and a sharp-tasting Dutch number called Oud Beerstel.
As always with Belgian bars, though, a word of caution: the available drinks can change regularly.
Food. My friends and I had it on good authority that the frites at Hopleaf were outstanding. Alas, we were unimpressed. They were thinly cut and lightly seasoned; other than being served in a cone and coming with flavorless mayonnaise, they were no different than fries at most pubs I've visited. (They certainly don't hold a candle to those at Pommes Frites in Manhattan's East Village.) My suggestion: at least offer several different types of mayonnaise.
For the rest of our meal, we split two appetizers and a large order of mussels. The mussels were delicious, and remarkably plump. They were served à la belge in a large black pot, swimming in a light sauce made from the beer Wittekirke (which actually doesn't impress me when it comes in a glass). We also shared a sausage plate with white beans, and a rich but not overpowering duck breast prosciutto. (Did you know they could make that? I didn't.)
Lastly, I should add that Hopleaf stays open quite late: until 3am Saturday night, and 2am each other night. Yay Chicago!