When going somewhere new, patrons should only have one rule: Order what the restaurant should be known for, not menu filler. When I went to Hops Burger Bar, a new restaurant on Spring Garden Street in Greensboro, I had no intention of ordering their pizza. Right there on the sign, they let you know their specialty.
Memorial Day usually means cooking out and staying outdoors, weather permitting, but my friends and I had other plans. You could call us lazy — and rightfully so — or you could call us curious. We knew we wanted summertime, long-weekend staples: burgers and baseball, and we knew we did not want to cook for ourselves.
Three of us, awaiting a fourth, sat at the bar enjoying beers from their extensive microbrew list to even ourselves out after a particularly big night on the town. As we exchanged stories of the previous night’s inebriation, we grew hungrier and decided to have Hops’ goat-cheese appetizer. The chef told us that they get their cheese from Goat Lady Dairy, a small farm in Climax.
We had all eaten from that farm before and knew to expect good food. The cheese came with pita points and crackers, but the kicker was the pepper jelly smeared on top. It really set off the creamy sweetness of an already delicious appetizer. Between three men, we barely finished the plate. We learned pretty quickly that Hops does not leave the public wanting for more.
Once our friend arrived and we got some baseball on — the Battle of the Beltway, Nationals v. Orioles — the staff moved us to a table with a better view of the game. We easily could have taken their ample outdoor seating on a beautiful day and some day we certainly will. For this occasion, though, we completed our mission by ordering our burgers.
The menu included several different 6- to 8-ounce choices and a complete “build-your-own” section for the finicky patron. I chose the Pickleback, a burger with fried onion, spicy barbecue sauce and bourbon-marinated pickles. You also get your choices of fries from an extensive list of options including regular sea salt, atomic, sweet potato, truffle oil and parmesan — my choice — among others.
The entreés came quickly for the amount of time you’d expect for a fancy sandwich, and they did not disappoint. The 6-ounce proved big enough for me after the appetizer. The meat was juicy and perfectly cooked to match the spicy barbecue sauce slathered on.
The real treat were the thick-cut pickles in such great number that they were sliding off the burger. Bourbon-marinated pickles and barbecue sauce worked so well together that I wanted to try to make them myself. Problematically, I would likely drink all the bourbon before I used it for cooking. I totally approved of Hops’ usage here.
The French fries, also large in number, added to the meal nicely.
They were not as greasy as other truffle-oil fries I had tried, and the parmesan cheese added a layer of flavor to a normally too-rich experience. Though the fries came with ketchup, I barely touched it.
By the end of the meal, everyone at the table looked sated. Each of us raved about the food like we raved about our jaunts from the night before. Hops gave us another story to tell the people around us. We sat through another beer and another full inning of the game before planning naps and a future visit.
One of the signs that a restaurant will do well is how they prepare their signature dish. Hops Burger Bar makes a damn fine burger and fries. They have good beer, they have good appetizers and they have a good staff. Best of all, they have options on a great menu.
That said, I might never try the pizza.
2419 Spring Garden St., Greensboro; 336.235.2178