DryHop Brewers in East Lakeview and Hopleaf Bar in Andersonville are two wonderful bars located in the city of Chicago. They both offer an amazing selection of beer and as such use the word “hop” in their names, but that is where the similarities run out. Each bar has its own unique selection of beer and food that matches its distinct style and ambiance. So in a battle of the “hops” who is victorious? While I enjoy both, Hopleaf stands out not only against DryHop, but against every other bar in the city.
RESTAURANT/BAR RATINGS AND REVIEWS
DryHop Brewers opened in 2013 and is located near the bustling intersection of Belmont and Broadway in Lakeview East. It attracts both the young and old, as well as families for its hip vibe, phenomenal food, and excellent selection of their in-house brewed beer. The outside of the restaurant is an important component to the inside, as large glass windows can be raised during warm days to draw in the sunshine and cool breeze. Along the sidewalk sits a small patio as well and the place is dog friendly during the summer, allowing dogs to sit with their owners on the patio or just outside of the tables with a view of where the windows would normally be.
The inside is just as warm and inviting as the outside, with a sleek and massive bar top that can seat at least twelve, multiple large and small light wooden tables, booths with plaid cushions, colorful artwork, and a view of their small brewing operations. During the summer especially this bar becomes the place to be and it gets crowded fast for brunch, lunch, and dinner. However, waits are not usually unbearably long due to excellent service and the fairly large space the bar sits in.
While DryHop offers spirits (especially whiskey and bourbon), cocktails, and wine, it is all about the in-house brewed beer here. This bar continues to innovate, changing up their selection of beers all the time, which makes for some fantastic beers and some odd or mediocre ones from time to time. According to DryHop Brewer’s website they have brewed 265 different types of beer since opening on June 13, 2013. DryHop keeps some standouts on the menu for most if not all of the year, including its well-known and refreshing Shark Meets Hipster Wheat IPA that boasts notes of peach, passion fruit, and citrus peel for a dry and bitter finish with tropical fruit notes. It is certainly a personal favorite of mine, as well as their White Rabbit Belgian Wit which is a summer favorite with coriander and orange blossom. All of the drafts that they have on hand can be sampled in flights or placed in 64oz growlers or 32oz cans to go.
The bar is also a restaurant as it serves an incredible lineup of food options for brunch, lunch, dinner, and for those late night eaters too. While their brunch fare is a bit weaker than their options they offer later in the day, it’s still a fun spot to grab drinks and some tasty food with friends or family in the morning. One dish I’ve tried for brunch is the skillet scramble made with homemade chorizo, scrambled eggs, crushed breakfast potatoes, white cheddar, salsa, verde, sour cream, and scallions. When I had this dish the eggs were a bit cold and the housemade chorizo lacked the spiciness I come to expect, but the dish did come in a legitimate skillet which was fun. During my chilaquiles kick I had to try DryHop’s version which features fried tortilla chips, housemade salsa roja, pico de gallo, Cojita cheese, and two fried eggs. It certainly hit the spot but it didn’t hold up to the flavor and texture of others I’ve tried in the city.
For lunch, dinner, and late night grub DryHop Breweres has some of the best in Lakeview East with an extensive menu including cornbread, tacos, pasta, salads, fish, and a pork chop just to name a few options. The issue is when I go to DryHop there are four things in particular on their menu that are so good that I can’t help but order them again: their Skillet Mac N’ Cheese, Poutine, Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich, and The Burger.
DryHop has some of the best mac and cheese that I’ve tried in Chicago so far. Their Skillet Mac ‘N Cheese is enormous, served in a skillet with pasta, smoked cheddar, toasted breadcrumbs, and a sunny-side up egg sitting atop this masterpiece. Peas and applewood smoked bacon can be added for an even more indulgent experience. Having had this dish both not sober at all and sober I can say it has been a delicious hit every time, with the yolk from the egg combining perfectly with the taste of the cheese and the texture of the breadcrumbs.
The fries at DryHop are already good, but adding applewood smoked bacon, aged cheddar, scallions, and lots of sausage gravy to them makes them a hell of a lot better. That is DryHop’s mouth watering Poutine plate that can be split as an appetizer or devoured as a main dish you your heart desires. It makes for a messy yet rich and indulgent experience.
I’m pretty picky when it comes to my fried chicken for some reason, but I fail to find flaws in the bar’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich. The breast meat is fried to perfection with a savory and crispy coating and paired with white cheddar pimento cheese, sweet pickles, and slaw. If it is your first time at DryHop Brewers and you find a willing partner to split with you I highly recommend sharing the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich and The Burger for a bit of sandwich heaven on earth.
The Burger that I just alluded to is my favorite item on DryHop’s menu. Chicago’s burger game is one of the best and the bar’s custom blended burger with ancho chile-tomato jam, arugula, pickles sweet onions, and raw milk cheddar is among the best in the city. Of course it wouldn’t be the same experience without adding on an egg and for those who want all the meat they can get you can also add on applewood smoked bacon.
You can’t really go wrong at DryHop Brewers. Their lineup of original beers and delicious spins on American classics should appeal to anyone and the fun and hip atmosphere make it one of the “it” places to hang out, drink, and eat in the Lakeview neighborhood.
Hopleaf Bar has been around in the Andersonville neighborhood since 1992 serving hearty Belgian inspired food and offering a staggering selection of beers from around the world. As such, the bar and restaurant attracts beer enthusiasts from around the city and is usually a slightly older crowd as no one under 21 is allowed in even to eat. Especially on the weekends and during the summer the bar and restaurant gets packed and wait times for tables usually reach 45 minutes to an hour on average. The outside of the restaurant and even the initial room you enter when walking in is fairly unassuming, but once you delve deeper in the building you realize how massive this place is.
There are multiple rooms and levels to get your drink and dining on in Hopleaf. The entrance to the building is a smaller room that has more of a dive bar feel and a small bar counter top. Further back near the host stand is massive dining room with a high loft-like ceiling, multiple windows to let sunlight in, and tons of beer brand signage from across time periods and countries. Walk even further back and you will find the quaint and charming outdoor patio/courtyard where everyone wants to be in the summer. The bar’s latest extension includes another huge room with a large window that is left open during warm months, a larger bar counter top, a view into the kitchen, high ceilings, exposed brick walls with more beer brand memorabilia, and a second story overlooking this room from above.
Hopleaf has the best selection of beers that I’ve seen in the city and they continue to switch out beers weekly to keep the menu fresh. The bar also has an assortment of wine and spirit options for those who don’t enjoy beer. While they have a particular focus on amazing Belgian beers, they bring in bottles and drafts from near and far so that there is something for everyone. The bar’s passion runs deeper than just finding amazing beers from around the world to offer to customers. Hopleaf bartenders make sure to pour each beer in its appropriate shaped and/or branded glass and they host multiple events with a focus on particular breweries or beer types.
While Hopleaf does come off first and foremost as a bar, its focus isn’t just on beer. In fact, they have some of the best food in the Andersonville neighborhood which is saying a lot because Andersonville has a lineup of amazing restaurants. Hopleaf changes their menu up constantly but focuses primarily on Belgian cuisine. As a Belgian staple they always have Mussels on their menu that can be ordered Belgian Style (steamed in Blanche de Chambly with sliced shallots, celery, thyme, and bayleaf) or Porcini/Miso Broth (made with sauteed ginger, shallots, fennel, ramp kimchi butter, cilantro, and scallions). With an allergy to fish and seafood I sadly have to watch others devour their gigantic baskets of mussels, but I continue to hear amazing things about this dish.
From pork belly to octopus, most appetizers at Hopleaf are very unique and ever changing. Current options as of January 27, 2018 include Bitterballen, which are beef sausage gravy croquettes served with spicy mustard aioli, and Sourdough Mushroom Toast made with truffled duxelle goat cheese, sautéed mushroom mix, petite arugula salad, and pickled red onions. I have not had the pleasure of eating these two dishes but they are making me drool on my keyboard as I type these very words.
Some year-round mainstays on Hopleaf’s appetizer portion of the menu include their Pommes Frites and Onion Rings. The Belgians do fries very well and Hopleaf Bar does them just as good. Their Pommes Frites consist of a basket of perfectly crispy and salty fries served with aioli for dipping. They make for the perfect appetizer to inhale yourself or share with friends, but be careful as many main dishes at Hopleaf come with a side of fries. Hopleaf’s Onion Rings are also delicious and unique, as they are not the traditional thick onion rings usually served in America, but rather they are thinner yet still crunchy onion rings that are served with a spicy mustard aioli that is among the best dipping sauces I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. When you dip I dip you dip!
Hopleaf Bar also changes up their salad options constantly, but they always remain extremely fresh and flavorful. I had a salad that was made with kale, beets, apples, and pumpkin seeds for a delicious autumn-inspired salad while my girlfriend has tried their cucumber salad saying that the watermelon dressing was delicious and refreshing, making for a particularly tasty salad on a summer’s day. One current salad option that stands out to me as a must try is the Beet and Brussels Sprouts Salad made with roasted beets, shaved Brussels sprouts, fennel, apples, pepita, pecorino, and brown butter vinaigrette.
Although Hopleaf changes its entrees quite a bit they know better than to change their phenomenal line up of sandwiches, usually served with fries on the side. They have the best sandwich options in Chicago hands down with classic spins on sandwiches like their Toasted Nueske Ham Sandwich (on pumpernickel with ham, gruyere cheese, and apple tarragon) and traditional European fare like their massive Beelers Pork Schnitzel (on a pretzel bun with panko crusted and fried pork, whole grain mustard aioli, and grilled and pickled cabbage).
Their most unique sandwich, the CB&J, is one I’ve never seen anywhere else or heard of before. The sandwich composes of house-made cashew butter, fig jam, and raclette cheese on toasted sourdough bread. It is always hard to pass up ordering this sweet and savory sandwich that is also served with house-made potato chips and Stilton mac and cheese.
While the CB&J is up their in my battle for favorite sandwiches at Hopleaf, the Duck Reuben and Grass-fed Brisket sandwiches top the list for me. The Duck Rueben is slow roasted pekin duck breast served on marble rye bread with cranberry cream cheese spread, ementhaler, and house-made sauerkraut. The duck is tender and its salty and savory taste combine well with the sweet cream cheese spread, acidic sauerkraut, and the sour and earthy rye bread. The Grass-fed Brisket sandwich is served on a light rye bread, consisting of Montreal-style dry rubbed brisket that is slow roasted and wrapped in bacon, stone ground mustard, and house-made dill pickles. The brisket is extremely juicy and tender and pairs well with the spicy and smoky mustard.
The entrees at Hopleaf are unique and ever changing, but always exceptional! Dishes have included a bit of every type of meat you can think of including quail, venison, duck, rabbit, and wild boar. One entree that is usually on the menu though is their Steak Frites. This dish is a 12oz wood-grilled pasture-raised Oregon Painted Hills Farm NY Strip with a choice of maitre d’ butter (butter, parsley, lemon juice, salt, and pepper) or seasonal butter served with their amazing fries. While it is one of Hopleaf’s more standard dishes it hits the spot when you want to splurge a little bit on a savory and indulgent meal.
The other entree that I’ve had at Hopleaf before was a chicken dish, but without remembering the name or having a photo it’s hard to recall all the components of the dish. All I know is the chicken was so juicy and combined well with the vegetables that were served with it. I wouldn’t hesitate to grab another chicken dish at Hopleaf again, and in fact the restaurant has a Belgian Fried Chicken Night on the first Monday of every month. Sign me up!
Every time I’ve been at Hopleaf Bar I’ve been so full of beer, fries, and other delicious foods that I haven’t had the will or desire to order from their seasonal selection of scrumptious desserts. However, my girlfriend Erin Larson has assured me that their dessert is up to par with the rest of their offerings. She had the Blueberry Goat Cheese Cheesecake in the summer and said it was incredibly creamy and rich, calling it “the best cheesecake I’ve ever had!”
My good buddy and fellow blogger Pete Spedale (seriously though if you enjoy movies or just want an honest review on a particular movie check out his awesome site Be Movie See Movie right here) sums up Hopleaf Bar perfectly. He says Hopleaf is, “the perfect bar for a beer drinker: a great rotation selection of Belgian beers, by far the most under appreciated country in beer creation. In addition, the food selection is not only reasonably priced, but it also provides unique spins on classic meals, like a Cashew Butter and Fig Jelly sandwich, the CB&J. Easily one of the 5 best bars in the city.”
In the end you can’t go wrong with either Dryhop Brewers or Hopleaf Bar. They both have stellar service, a great offering of beers, and phenomenal food with innovative twists. There are other Chicago restaurants and bars with the word “hop” in the name including HopCat and Hopsmith Tavern, but Dryhop and Hopleaf are a hop above the rest.
-Michael Averbook, Foodie Extraordinaire