Fed Man 55: Hopfields (45)

Mike Sutter’s Top 55 Austin Restaurants
No. 45: Hopfields
3110 Guadalupe St. 512-537-0467, www.hopfieldsaustin.com.
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday and Tuesday-Friday. 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday. Closed Monday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 09.11.12
Giant beers in little glasses. Big food from a little menu. Hopfields is a deceptive package. Outside it’s just a North Drag office storefront painted green. The inside suggests a pub from an older time, with stout wooden tables, bishop’s benches and a thrift-shop menagerie of chairs and flatware. At night, long-filament bulbs in hammered tin shades cast the kind of sepia glow loved by Frank McCourt wannabes the world over, a glow that barely illuminates a wall of wooden shingles painted with the logos of that day’s draft picks, poured from a wall that sparkles like a jewelry box with tap handles from elite brewers in Austin, the United States and a token few from the wider world. If a brewer has a special keg, it’ll find its way here: Double IPAs from Austin Beerworks and (512), the epically alcoholic Samael from Avery, Gnomegang from Ommegang, the New Belgium/Lost Abbey collaboration Mo Betta Bretta and a host of seasonal and anniversary beers.
But a great tap wall doesn’t make a Top 55 restaurant. For that you need a sandwich like Hopfields’ jambon beurre: silky imported ham on a baguette with butter like doughnut glaze and cornichons tiny and perfect like dollhouse pickles for $7. For a dollar, add rind-gilded camembert for a mingling of salt and cream and crust like you’d imagine from a French farmhouse table. The sour crunch of cornichons adds dimension to a Pascal Burger ($10) that already surrenders robust beef and that same camembert cheese to the cause on a real bakery bun with a baguette’s personality and the sweet, propelling twang of caramelized onions. Even so, the burger’s eclipsed by its companion fries, cut thin, showing enough skin for a wheat-field glow. They’re hot and seductive enough to lure you into picking mayonnaise over ketchup, good enough to land on my list of Austin’s Top 10 fries, with a capital-F for French.
More than sandwiches and spuds, Hopfields dresses up for a “small bites” plate ($8) that pairs good cheese with olives and pickled vegetables and quality jam and bread, maybe nuts, maybe some exotic treat like a pickled egg with bronze skin and a deviled center.  A special one late lunchtime brought mushroom tops like cobblestones on a firm-crusted tarte with a green salad and vinaigrette for $10, and a cup of cauliflower soup glistened with olive oil like precious stones. I might have swooned a little deep for Hopfields after a Stone Ruination chased by a Tripel Karmeliet, but when the cobwebs cleared, I still felt the electricity.
All flourishes aside, know that Hopfields is a minefield of beer that will knock a grown man to his knees, or at least backward off his chair like it did the night a no-refusal-weekend warrior adopted our table. “Here’s to Belgian women,” he toasted to everyone and no one. Even in that havering fugue state, they sold him another round. As New Tavern hangouts and craft cocktail bars proliferate like red cups at a kegger, let’s not forget that the guy who gets hammered on Belgian wit and fernet is the same public shirt-stain as the Bud Light and Jäger bum. The rules of overservice still apply.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)
Mike Sutter’s Fed Man 55: Austin’s Best Restaurants