It's March in Austin, not April in Paris, but Hopfields splits the difference
Reviewed by Melanie Haupt, Fri., March 23, 2012
Hopfields3110 Guadalupe #400, 537-0467
Saturday, 11am-1am; Tuesday-Friday, Sunday, 11am-12mid
Opened quietly in November by Bay and Lindsay Anthon in the small shopping center across from Wheatsville Food Co-op at 31st and Guadalupe, Hopfields has quickly established itself as a popular Hyde Park watering hole for those who might be a bit too mature for the typical bar scene. More than just a bar, though, Hopfields features French comfort food that transcends the genre of bar fare.
I met my husband for lunch on a Wednesday; for a while, we were the only patrons there, which made for an idyllic meeting indeed. We started out with the Hopfields small bites plate ($8): spicy Marcona almonds, some rather boring olives, a dab of sweet confiture, cheddar cheese, and fresh baguette slices. The olives were the only things left when our entrées arrived. For lunch, I chose the salade Niçoise, a reasonable portion of superfresh, tender lettuces, haricots verts, a few fingerling potatoes, seared tuna, and two boiled egg halves garnished with a dollop of house-made mayonnaise. A tidy crisscross of anchovy filets rested on the rim of the bowl, a courteous gesture for those who might otherwise not choose them as a salad ingredient. The salad was very lightly dressed, which I appreciate, and I found the subtle flavors of the dish very satisfying. My husband chose the Merguez frites sandwich ($8), a link of lamb sausage in a baguette, topped with frites that outmatched their sandwich companion. The sausage was fine, but the spices could have been more complex and the flavors more balanced. On the other hand, the frites are nearly perfect: not too thin or thick, with some skin, appropriately salted, and sprinkled with parsley. I stole so many from my husband's dish that I probably should have ordered some of my own. The space began to fill up as we paid the bill, including the arrival of a large group of male residents of what must be the coolest retirement community in Texas.
My next visit was a ladies' night out on a Sunday evening, which found the gastropub comfortably populated but not packed to the gills. (We had tried to go the night before but could not set a foot inside the door due to the crush of humanity within.) I ordered the cheese plate for our initial round of nibbles ($12), a selection sourced from Antonelli's Cheese Shop, the purveyors of every respectable cheese plate in this town. It featured a smoked bleu cheese, goat Gouda, and the breathtaking Quickes clothbound cheddar, which is creamy and nutty with a distinctive cave-aged bite. The plate was also accented with a tiny microgreens salad topped with a delicious onion jam and a daub of apricot confit with a tiny beet disc too small to share.
As I contemplated dinner, I decided that no trip to a French-inspired eatery is complete without a taste of a jambon beurre sandwich ($7). When my husband and I were in Paris about four years ago, the dollar was doing terribly against the Euro, so we ate a lot of ham-and-butter baguette sandwiches while roaming the various arrondissements. I would argue that the quality of the ingredients in the Hopfields version of this classic French street food far exceeds its Parisian counterparts. A generous portion of ham marries sweetly with a flavorful smear of French butter and a few cornichons; you can add a slice of Camembert for a dollar more, but it is completely unnecessary. The steak frites ($16) was also an unqualified hit, the meat cooked to a rosy medium-rare, tender and nicely seasoned. An artful smear of Dijon mustard situated on one side of the plate provided the only condiment necessary for this incredibly simple yet deeply gratifying dish.
To top off the evening, my girlfriends and I split a plate of crepes ($13), four thin pancakes made with Tripel Karmeliet beer from Belgium and dotted with lavender. The plate comes with a ramekin each of lavender sugar, apricot confit, and Nutella. Quite frankly, the lavender in the otherwise quite lovely crepes was an unpleasant surprise; the menu makes no mention of its presence in the pancakes, and I don't care to eat lavender. (Never mind that the flavor combination of the floral herb and a chocolate-hazelnut spread is ... not good.)
That aside, Hopfields is an exceptionally pleasant place to pass an evening with friends or a date. The staff is friendly, the space is homey and reminiscent of a Parisian gastropub (minus the cigarettes and grime), and the hip indie-rock soundtrack sets a progressive, contemporary tone. My girlfriends and I are already planning our next visit, and not just because the bartenders are cute.