Decemburger: Hopfields

First came 50 Burgers, 50 Days. Then Novemburger. 2011 wraps up with a burger a day for Decemburger.
Day 14: Hopfields
3110 Guadalupe St. 512-537-0467,
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Tuesday-Friday. 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday. 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday. Closed Monday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 12.14.11
At three weeks old, Hopfields is the newest player in Austin’s New Tavern movement, a reimagining of the bar-and-grill formula that includes Contigo, Haddingtons, Black Star Co-op and the upcoming North Loop shop called Drink.Well. Hopfields is an exercise in the unexpected, starting with the fact that it’s in a strip mall just north of the Drag’s main UT circus corridor. It shares the block with a yoga studio, an Australian hot-pocket shop and a car wash, but the inside feels like a world unto itself.
A stout bar anchors the front, sheathed in rough wooden slats that look like they were pulled from the floors of half a dozen different saloons. A mirror with the mottled silvering of age reflects thick communal tables where rope-handled boxes hold napkins and mismatched forks. People gather around wooden benches and single-pedestal tables on yard-sale chairs under hammered tin lamps and bare filament bulbs. In its rustic austerity, Hopfields couldn’t feel less like a strip-mall tavern.
Only the tap wall announces itself with color, a circus-tent mosaic of washed blues, parchment yellows, dusty reds and matte black. The taps, 34 on this wall alone, form a triumphant arch of Austin craft brewing, including the fledgling Hops & Grain brewery, with two taps. Its hickory-brown Alt-eration ($4.50 a pint) finds a dry midpoint between ale and lager styles, and a porter from its Greenhouse series ($5.50) pins down the profile with the cigar-box roast of a stout and a maltier sense of humor. Hopfields is carving a niche with other hard-to-find cult beers like Real Ale’s XV ($6 for 12 ounces), an imperial stout like a craftsman’s toolbox, with a knife-sharp alcoholic bite followed by a chiseled finish of toasted oak.
The burger: Oh right. This is a food report. And my first visit suggests Hopfields is as dedicated to its kitchen as it is to the keg room. If this were a sandwich report, I’d tell you the simple combination of baguette, butter, silky sliced ham, rind-gilded Camembert and whole cornichons is one of the best in the city, the kind of sandwich you’d see Bourdain acknowledge with a knowing nod. With a salad of assorted greens and vinaigrette, it’s an $8 lunch that will carry the rest of the day. The Pascal Burger ($10 with fries, add 50 cents for jalapeños) is a streamlined assembly of fat-balanced beef, thick slices of creamy and tannic Camembert, caramelized onions and whole cornichons, which add a sweet-and-sour snap only dreamt of by the ordinary hamburger pickle. I probably compromised its purity by adding jalapeños, but they’re pickled in-house and add a depth of flavor without scorching the gentler earth around them.
Fries or rings? Pale and delicate, these potatoes put the French back in fries. It’s like they were made just for you, this fragile handful, as if each one were sculpted with just enough form and color to qualify as a rustic side dish rather than models for a still life. OK, that’s going too far. Good fries. If there are two of you, and if you’re giving the tap wall a workout, I’d offer a “small bites” sampler for $8, with sliced baguette, marinated olives, pickled onions and cornichons, hard and soft Antonelli’s cheeses and a first for me: a deviled egg pickled to a bronze sheen and filled with a yolk frappe almost as smooth as mayonnaise. If you were hoping for the menu’s promise of nuts, ask if they’re available. We missed out.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
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