Just another night of casual dining in Chicago brought my wife and I to Hopleaf Bar on Chicago's North Side, close to the intersection of Foster and Clark. It was an easy ride down Lake Shore Drive, and we found ample parking before heading in for some Belgian delight.
The entrance places you in a bustling bar, where there is open seating for food and drink. We headed to the rear of the establishment, where there is a small bi-level dining room, an open kitchen, and an outdoor patio. We put our names on a seating list, then went back to the bar to grab a drink. This was my biggest challenge, as there are over 40 beers on draft, along with three meads! I went for the Dogfish Head (one of my favorite breweries, out of Maryland) Festina Peche, a seasonal Berliner Weisse fermented with peaches. It was dangerously refreshing, as I could see myself guzzling a six pack in no time, and full of slightly unripened white peach flavor. The bar was unfortunately out of non-alcoholic beers for my pregant wife, but we were quickly summoned to our table anyway, so on to the food!
We started with the Sausage Plate- a plate full of a variety of organic sausages, bourbon pancetta, and white beans. It was extremely and I could see myself eating it on a nightly basis. All the flavor of the sausages with the crunchy pancetta fulfilled my meat lover dream. I would need a beer with more power, so I moved onto the Surly Brewing Company's Bender, a full oatmeal brown ale. Moving along, we decided to split entrees- an organic Montreal style brisket, and the CB&J, which was crunchy toasted sour dough bread sandwiching fig jam, house made cashew butter, and morbier cheese. Both were accompanied by Stilton mac and cheese, along with the french fries and garlic mayonnaise gave us the perfect Euro touch. The brisket was bright pink, and very tender and flavorful- making the ground mustard almost unnecessary. The mac and cheese was creamy and had good flavor, but was not quite as rich or as much of a knock-out as I expected. The CB&J, on the otherhand, was an awesome meadley of tastes, with some sweet fruit, rich nuttiness, and creamy cheesey bliss. It would easily make for the perfect lunch.
As if all of that was not enough, we went for dessert. The selection process was fierce, but we went with the apple fritters. Breaded fried apple slices, topped with powdered sugar, and caramel crème anglaise was what the doctor ordered. It might have been the most delicious ending to one of my favorite dinners.
All in all, Hopleaf Bar settled my belief in the fact that Chicago has some of the best casual restaurants in the world. Small neighborhood spots, like this, are spattered throughout the city, just waiting to please hungry patrons, only to turn you into regulars. It is going to be hard to turn this guy into a regular, since I love to try all kinds of new spot, but I will be back if I love it! Expect me back at the Hopleaf.