By Jamie Swinnerton
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By Cafe Society
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Hopping mad: There's a right way to do a brewpub (see above) and a wrong way. Anyone interested in the latter should drop by the year-old Hops Grill and Bar Restaurant, at 149 Steele. The only nice thing I can say about this link in a Tampa-based chain is that it's so casual you can take your family there. But why would you want to?
The Florida origins partly explain why Hops serves its beer so cold that frostbite kits should sit on the tables next to the ketchup. There isn't a beer expert in the world who would say that a quality beer should be served any colder than 42 degrees, with stouts at about 55; since few places monitor their beer temps, most are colder than that. But our waitress bragged that Hops brews check in at around 33 degrees--which is just plain dumb. Maybe if I were back in my former Naples, Florida, home during a 98-percent-humidity day in August, then I'd appreciate a beer at this temperature. This is Denver, though, and chilling the beer so much (and then serving it in frosted mugs, another beer-connoisseur no-no) makes it difficult to drink the stuff without getting an ice-cream headache. Not to mention the fact that cold beer is tough to taste. "The colder the beer, the less carbonation that is released; the less carbonation that is released, the less aroma the beer gives off and the less flavor there is," say the authors of the book Beer for Dummies. The only beers that should be served ice-cold, they add, are "the kind you chug down after mowing the lawn."
Which leads to the second reason why Hops might chill its beers: It's afraid that otherwise, you could actually taste them. We ordered a sampler ($1) that included two ounces each of four of Hops' beers. It doesn't matter what they were, because they were all awful. They had absolutely no flavor when they first arrived, and even after we let them sit around for an hour, they were still bland. Thank heavens they only set us back a buck.
We thought the food might be better. Nope. The one keeper was an appetizer called Uptown Pizza ($5.95), a wafer-thin crust topped with steaming spinach and melted Monterey Jack and parmesan cheeses--very tasty. But like the beer, the salads were served ice-cold. Once it started to thaw, the romaine in the Caesar (which came with the entree) turned into a nasty, soggy mess, and it made even the goopy dressing watery. The house salad ($1.95), topped with an odd garnish of potato sticks and a standard-issue honey-mustard dressing, was another chilling disaster.
At least the "Brewmaster Steak" ($10.95) arrived warm, if not the medium we had ordered. Closer to rare, this twelve-ounce sirloin was dull--not that we'd had high hopes, since the menu claims "we use only carefully aged Top Choice corn-fed beef," which is sort of like saying "We pour only the best years of Riunite." Warm, however, is a generous word for the degree of temperature that had been applied to our two burgers. My toddler had wanted to try the plain American version ($5.95) with cheddar, and I'd gone with the California variation ($6.45) that included Jack cheese, sour cream, bacon and Hops' "own secret sauce" (ketchup with mayo?). The waitress plopped both down and disappeared for a long while; in the meantime, I cut the American burger into pieces and discovered that it was raw in the center. E. coli, anyone? I nabbed a busperson and sent the thing back, then bit into my burger only to discover the same raw deal. At last our waitress returned and took mine away with an "Oh, sorry about that." After fifteen minutes--but not even a refill of water while I starved and watched my husband eat his steak--we finally had nice, new burgers that were pretty good. But that wasn't good enough.
Hops, feel free to skip and jump on out of here.