Restaurant Review: Restaurant Review
Hop on over to the hopping Hopdoddy, but we hope you'll be careful hopping off those stools
Reviewed by Virginia B. Wood, Fri., Jan. 21, 2011
Sun.-Thu., 11am-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 11am-11pm
Hopdoddy Burger Bar1400 S. Congress Ste. A-190, 243-7505
Sunday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-11pm
Creating successful new restaurant concepts is a tricky business requiring talent, a skilled eye for prime locations, and a fair amount of luck. The Austin market has proven to be a fertile breeding ground for viable, duplicable restaurant concepts. River City is the hometown of successful barbecue, Mexican, Southwestern, Japanese fast food, taco, burger, and ice cream chains. The city has been inundated with new twists on the quality-burger concept over the past couple of years – homegrown P. Terry's and Mighty Fine are flourishing, not to mention chains such as Five Guys and Mooyah. The newest entry in the local quality-burger sweepstakes is Hopdoddy Burger Bar, a joint venture of two of Austin's most successful restaurant teams – Larry Foles and Guy Villavaso (Chez Fred, Z'Tejas Southwestern Grill, Eddie V's, Roaring Fork) and chef Larry Perdido and Chuck Smith (Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill).
Hopdoddy took over the failed Cissi's Market & Wine Bar space in the heart of the busy SoCo shopping district in the late fall and is experiencing an enthusiastic response from the neighborhood. According to the menu, the nonsense word "hopdoddy" celebrates the "perfect union of burgers and beer: handcrafted beer (hop) + (doddy), the nickname given to the native cow in Aberdeen, Scotland." The menu offers an exemplary burger lineup in the $5 to $9 range, with an emphasis on quality ingredients: buns freshly baked in-house; hand-crafted patties of freshly ground beef (or bison, tuna, or veggies); name-brand and/or local cheeses; apple-smoked bacon; garden-fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and onions; and homemade condiments. My current favorite burger is the Llano Poblano ($8), a juicy patty enrobed in pepper jack cheese, strips of roasted poblano chiles, and crisp strips of apple-smoked bacon. The last burger I liked this much was the Roaring Fork "Big Ass" Burger, quite likely this one's kissing cousin. The fries are equally appealing: extra-crispy matchsticks of Kennebec spuds dusted with herbs and sea salt ($2/$4) or paired with a side of addictive chili cheese sauce for $5. (The chili cheese fries alone are worth a visit.) Add a luxurious Maine Root root beer float ($4) or a milk shake ($5) made with house-churned ice cream, and you've got yourself a $20 all-American burger home run. The craft beer component here boasts the participation of several area producers, with taps dedicated to (512) Brewing, Independence, Live Oak, Saint Arnold, and Real Ale. The bar menu also offers some distinctive cocktails prepared from local distillers' wares, homemade syrups, and fresh-squeezed juices. We saw many frosty glasses of beer being served alongside burgers, and the bar appears to do a very brisk late-night business.
Serious attention to quality details is reflected in every aspect of the Hopdoddy operation, and I really loved the food there. However, I've rarely been as conflicted about a restaurant review because, as much as I respect the operators and like the food, I found the space itself completely uninviting. The room is filled to capacity with tall bar tables and stools packed close together. Perhaps a hip, young bar crowd makes itself comfortable on those tightly packed, spindly stools late in the evenings. But at 1pm on a Saturday, when representatives of every demographic in the city showed up for burgers and beer, few people looked comfortable. I know we weren't. The only three regular-height tables were at a premium among the many families dining with kids. The bar stools were, at best, uncomfortable for senior citizens, and at worst, a liability nightmare waiting to happen for patrons holding little kids. Hopdoddy's founders have yet to disclose whether or not this eatery is the prototype for an upcoming chain. I'm betting they would have a smash hit on their hands, as long as it includes comfortable tables and chairs. Please.