It's become a buzzword in the culinary world over the past several years. While the moniker has the trendy cachet that comes with high-low hybridization, the concept is relatively basic: a place that serves quality food alongside good beer.
Hopfields owners and first-time restaurateurs Bay and Lindsay Anthon never had aspirations of joining any "foodie" movement when they set out to create their restaurant. They simply wanted to open a casual neighborhood pub that served home-style French food.
Despite their amateur status, the Anthons entered the restaurant business with a collection of age-old recipes that didn't come from culinary school or time spent in glamorous kitchens across the country.
Lindsay Anthon's mother, Connie Zuloaga, was born in Paris to a French mother and native Texan father and, though she moved across the Atlantic frequently, spent many summers in her native France. There she learned to cook from her French grandmother and Greek grandfather using recipes passed down through generations.
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Zuloaga still has a copy of her family's recipe book that dates to the 1700s. The recipes, enhanced and embellished over the years, serve as the foundation for the menu at the Anthons' restaurant on Guadalupe Street. Though she eschews formal titles, Zuloaga acts as the "kitchen mom" at Hopfields, where former Contigo employee Louis Sheppard serves as chef de cuisine.
The food is only half the story at the quaint French-inspired restaurant. A massive copper tap wall sits prominently at the end of the L-shaped bar and features almost 50 quality beers curated by Bay Anthon. His athletic physique belies the robust knowledge of a staunch beer lover. Anthon credits the beer champions at Austin's Whip In for exposing him to the diverse world of beer about 15 years ago.
While Hopfields may not have the square footage of Austin institutions such as the Gingerman or the Draught House, its selection can stand tap-to-tap with any in town. You could bar hop all day and likely not find another place in town offering Avery Mephistopheles ($8 for a six-ounce pour), Brooklyn Monster Barleywine ($4.50 for 12 ounces), 12% Dogfish Head Palo Santo ($11 for 12 ounces), Hops & Grains ALTeration ($4.50 for a pint) and Austin Beerworks Sputnik ($6 for a pint of the Cuvée coffee-spiked oatmeal stout) in one place.
You won't find Budweiser, Peroni or Stella Artois at Hopfields. In fact the most un-exotic beer I enjoyed was the local 512 Pale, wisely recommended one day at lunch by Bay Anthon. The crisp beer functioned as a restrained backdrop for the kick and complexity of the merguez frites sandwich ($8), a spicy lamb sausage tucked inside a baguette from neighbors Texas French Bread and served with a small glass jar of rich aioli used to paint beautiful hand-cut fries that are buffed, not browned, and flecked with herbs.
The lamb sandwich should come with two sausages instead of the meagerly presented one, but the traditional jambon beurre sandwich ($7) overflowed with fresh, carnation-pink pork made succulent by the ring of fat that circumscribed the ham on its journey over from Europe. The baguette is slathered with creamy butter and stuffed with rectangles of camembert cheese ($1 extra), but gerkins add crunch and tang to keep the dairy orgy from becoming too overwhelming and homogenous. Simplicity can be a beautiful thing, and it makes this sandwich one of the best in town.
The coarse-ground meat of the French-influenced Pascal Burger ($10) has just enough fat to keep the burger moist but never threatens to sog a bun protected by thick chunks of salty rind-on camembert. Caramelized onions, bold brown mustard and the spirited Napoleonic gerkins give a smoky sweetness, sharpness and vinegar tingle to this take on a deluxe backyard burger that makes my Top 10 burger list.
This beer-nerd's paradise doesn't sell liquor, but they make an intriguing selection of wine and vermouth-based cocktails, such as the 75 Years in Provence ($7). Served in a champagne flute, the citrusy and floral cocktail tasted like a romp through a French meadow in spring and matched the refreshing brightness of the Niçoise salad ($9). Waves of rippled butter lettuce cradled firm haricots verts and fork-tender fingerling potatoes in the tangy French classic that is topped with three slabs of ruby-red tuna, oily sardines and hard-cooked eggs bedeviled with a creamy chartreuse center.
The oak of Independence's Brewluminati, an English style IPA celebrating the brewery's seventh anniversary, highlighted the earthiness of fresh Hobbit-house mushrooms and braised leeks on the flaky tarte du jour. Another French classic, the ratatouille was a bargain at $7, its perfectly cooked zucchini, eggplant and onions tasting like they had been watched intently to find the right balance of crunch and tenderness.
French bar-food staple steak frites ($16) featured the thickest cut of flank steak I have come across on any similar dish in town. The thickness led to difficulty with finding the right internal temperature, as one side featured a nice char that covered a rosy center while the bottom half of the steak revealed a chewy rare crimson. Unevenness aside, the juicy meat was seasoned well and even held up to the sweet, powerful and hopped-up flavor of the recommended 471 IPA from Breckenridge Brewery ($4.50 for 12 ounces). On each of my several visits, two different bar men gave excellent recommendations and showed an expansive knowledge of the beers offered.
Hopfields recently started posting on its wall hand-painted wooden plaques, created by the restaurant's patrons and adorned with the logos of available beers. The artwork echoes the reclaimed oak that wraps the centerpiece bar and adds another shade of brown to the mochas and chocolates of the brick walls and exposed ductwork and beams. With old metal light fixtures rich with patina and the exposed amber filaments of bare bulbs hanging over cypress tables handmade by Bay and Lindsay Anthon's father, Hopfields blends rustic French countryside with steampunk for the warm, weathered feel you want in a neighborhood place where you can escape for hours. (Pro tip: A back room decorated with old books and antique artifacts offers the perfect place to slip away from the crowd.)
If you are going to spend any considerable amount of time in Hopfields, you are going to have to get used to getting up just as you have settled in. All orders must be placed at the bar. If you just want to grab a beer and sandwich at the relatively calm lunch hour, that is no great demand on your patience. But if you want to enjoy multiple beers and courses, as we did on one dinner visit at the packed pub, you will be getting up from your chair so often that it becomes a bit of a nuisance.
Hopfields may fancy itself a beer oasis that happens to serve food, but with food this good, I found myself longing for a bit more of a traditional restaurant experience and less of an exercise in crowd management that comes with visits to a bar.
Call Hopfields a "gastropub"; call it a unique addition to the north campus/Hyde Park area; call it a familial homage; call it whatever you want. I am happy to call it one of my favorite new places in town.
3110 Guadalupe St. 537-0467, hopfieldsaustin.com
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Hours: 11 a.m. to Midnight Tuesday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday
Prices: Small plates $3-$8. Big plates $7-$16.
Notes: Sixty-four ounce "growlers" are available starting at $17. Hopfields plans to start offering house-made charcuterie soon. Parking is available in three marked lots and the parking garage at the Guadalupe 31 building.
What the rating means: The 10-point scale is an average of weighted scores for food, service, value, ambience and overall dining experience, with 10 being the best.
The Bottom Line: Hopfields boasts one of the most impressive rosters of quality tap beer in the city along with delicious and simple French-inspired cuisine in a rustic steampunk pub.
We all know the Ginger Man and Draught House have the most dense and varied tap walls in town (81 and 75 taps, respectively). Here are five other bars that also can enrich your beer education:
Abel's on the Lake (904-0570; 3825 Lake Austin Boulevard)
Of the 63 beers available on tap, 18 are local brews. The enthusiastic (read: unpretentious) but knowledgeable bar staff, paired with the borderline idyllic lakeside location, makes Abel's the perfect spot for a few lazy weekend afternoon pints.
Doc's Backyard (892-5200; 5207 Brodie Lane)
Among the 42 total taps, 20 Texas brews available, including most of the more popular local beers, plus standard on-tap comfort beers like Guinness, Blue Moon and Dos Equis. Great for a mix and mingle crowd of craft beer and mainstream beer friends.
Opal Divine's Marina (733-5353; 12709 Mopac at Parmer Lane)
All the Opal Divine's locations offer a vast tap selection, but Marina takes the cake with 50 taps, 34 of which are local. As self-professed "Localholics," it makes sense that Wednesdays are Two for Texas, with $2.50 pints of Texas drafts all day.
Whip In (442-5337; 1950 I-35)
South Austin's family-run neighborhood grocery, Indian food and craft beer joint offers 72 taps of craft beer, with about half of those reserved for local brews. The Whip In always seems to score specialty local brews before most other bars, so if someone is releasing limited edition brews, they will likely land here first.
Draft Pick (444-7425; 1620 E. Riverside Drive, No. 1618)
This unassuming, off the beaten path sports bar takes the "drink local" theory to heart with 33 Texas taps (one cider, one root beer, and 31 Texas craft brews). Want a Coors Light or a Budweiser? You can still get them here, but in bottles only.
- Emma Janzen