by Terry Gorman
The Hopleaf Bar
5148 North Clark Street
Food service begins at Noon daily; see website for complete food and bar hours.
A niche restaurant can transport you to a foreign land without requiring passport or plane ticket. Such is the case with Hopleaf, Andersonville’s Belgian-inspired bar and restaurant.
By way of introduction: The Belgians in Belgium are a mix of Dutch, French and a few Germans – all squeezed together. They don’t seem to agree on governance, and for centuries their country has been Europe’s battlefield. But diversity brings its rewards, in this case chocolate, mussels, French fries and beer! Beer reigns supreme at Hopleaf, with 60+ varieties on tap and bottled beers.
Beer notwithstanding, it’s the food that obliges me to bring this place to your attention. The Park Tower Quarterly Restaurant Group convened at Hopleaf recently for an evening of conversation, food — and drink!
We began with mussels – two “ss’s”, one “l,” like Brussels! The Belgian-style mussels are steamed in beer, along with sliced shallots, celery, thyme, and bay leaf. This was a hit with everyone. Some of us also tried and enjoyed a French- style variation: mussels with sweet corn, sautéed fennel, shallots, celery, corn, miso butter and tarragon broth.
Both mussel dishes were served with another national dish, Frites Aioli (fries with garlic mayo). These are not the crunchy fries that many of us are used to, but thin and limp fries which you dip into the garlic mayo sauce. It’s the Belgian way!
Other appetizers on the menu are a house-made Sausage Plate, Grilled Quail, Smoked Chicken Wings, wood-grilled Gulf Coast prawns and elaborate Corn Fritters. There are salads and sandwiches, too. A couple of us ordered the Fried Catfish Hoagie, with cornmeal-dusted catfish, remoulade, lemon-tabasco pickles and frisée. The pickles really perked up the catfish.
Another ordered the Duck Reuben sandwich. On marble rye, it’s slow-roasted and combined with cranberry cream cheese spread, house-made sauerkraut, Emmentaler, and pommes frites (potato fries). Delicious!
Hopleaf’s entrées feature steak, pork chops, chicken, trout, and a vegetarian entrée combining farro (hulled wheat) and squash. The Belgian fried chicken, by the way, is particularly delicious, but it’s only available on the first Monday of the month. Servings run out after a couple hours, so try to get there between 5 and 6 pm.
Sides include macaroni with Stilton Cheese, house-made potato chips, and a very generous portion of baked beans with pork. Desserts really stand out. Try the Bananas Foster Crème Brulée with maple custard, candied walnuts, and orange rind. Or the grilled peach cake with macerated strawberries, black pepper strawberry ice cream and basil coulis. Who said you have to die to go to heaven!
The menu at Hopleaf changes seasonally, with some items remaining as standards. Lunch offerings are similar to dinner, as are the prices. No lunchtime specials!
The Hopleaf facility has a vibrant bar, of course, a half-dozen small restaurant rooms and, for nice weather, an outside garden/patio. The decor is rich and varied, featuring vintage drink posters, exposed brick, an old-fashioned stove, bent wood coat hangers, and a view of the garden/patio.
Of note .. No reservations, one check per table, must be 21 with valid ID (no children). See the website for a very active calendar of special events.
If you’re in a mood for fun or celebration, give Hopleaf a try.
Owner Michael Roper, in response to Terry’s questions, emailed back as follows:
We have over 350 bottled beears, 68 draft beer faucets and 8 draft wine faucets. While we focus on Belgian beer and American craft beer, we do carry beers from Germany, the UK, Canada, and many other places as well.
These days, local beer is king. Chicago has over 60 breweries and brands like Half Acre, Revolution, Dovetail and Three Floyds are very, very popular.
Belgian beers like Triple Karmeliet, Kwak, Atomium and Boon Lambic are very popular as well. Easy drinking beers like Firestone Walker Pivo Pils are big sellers as well. The best selling beer of all time at Hopleaf is Three Floyds Zombie Dust.
Novices will like Allagash White, Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold, Anchor Steam, Palm, and Dovetail Lager. Experienced beer drinkers should try Off Color Apex Predator, Boon Kriek, beers from Jolly Pumpkin, Almanac, Bokor, Van Hondebrouk, Unibroue, the Bruery, or BFM.