7545 N Clark St, Chicago IL 60626 (map); 773-262-3783; thehophaus.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Solid burgers with a very nice variety of toppings along with the options of less common animals make Hop Häus a very worthy neighborhood joint, if not a destination burger spot
Want Fries With That? Yes. The waffle fries has a good crisp exterior soft interior and some good potato taste, though some were over seasoned
Price: 1/2-pound burgers start at $9.95; beef mini-burgers, $4.95; wild game mini-burgers, $5.95
If there was ever any doubt that making a good pizza is more difficult than making a good burger, one need only look at Leona's and Hop Häus. Leona's has been serving pizza in Chicago for sixty years. To be fair, it's been a long while since I had a pie from Leona's and it wasn't bad, but I haven't heard anything to make me think I should run out to review the place for Slice. Even the restaurant's own menu merely acclaims them as "immensely satisfying."
A few years ago, the Leona's restaurant family (there are 13 locations now) decided to branch out into burgers with Hop Häus, and the company is already putting out burgers vastly superior to the pizza they've been selling for six decades. Hop Häus has two locations, the original in River North and the newer location in Rogers Park. Both restaurants are a cross between a creative burger spot and a nice sports bar, featuring half-pound burgers along with a wide array of mini-burgers they call sliders, including a number of so-called "Wild Sliders" created from animals other than cows.
The half-pound burger comes with a choice of a wide array of toppings. We settled on blue cheese and fried onion strings, a combination that was as delicious as expected. The burger was ordered rare but cooked to medium, a mistake that the receipt showed was a mistake by the server, not the chef. So at least in our case, the kitchen was hitting its temperatures.
Despite being cooked more than I would have liked, the burger was juicy. The meat was well seasoned with a restrained hand and stood up to the blue cheese and onion. The pretzel bun held together and added a nice bit of extra flavor.
In addition to the half-pound burgers, Hop Häus offers a selection of what they refer to both as sliders and as mini-burgers. Because there is nothing slider-esque about them other than their small circumference, I think "mini-burger is the appropriate term. Unlike the big burgers, these ones come with their own names and pre-selected toppings. We went with The Häus and the Sautéed 'Shrooms.
The Häus comes with sharp white and yellow cheddar, bacon, thousand island dressing and lettuce and tomato. The Sautéed 'Shrooms features the obvious sautéed mushrooms along with Swiss cheese, garlic Parmesan, lettuce, and tomato. As was the case with the large burger, the meat in both the mini burgers stands up well to the generous toppings. In fact, the meat pretty much rendered the sautéed mushrooms moot as they were apparently sautéed in something that did not impart much flavor.
Unquestionably, the most intriguing items on the menu fall under the "Wild Sliders" category, which includes uncommon burger meats like kangaroo and wild boar as well as some relatively tame non-cow burgers like lamb and buffalo. I tried the wild boar mini-burger, which comes with smoked gouda, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and ranch dressing. This was actually my second favorite burger of the night, although when eaten with all the toppings, I probably wouldn't have noticed that the burger was not made of beef. When I tried the meat on its own, it definitely tasted of porky goodness.
Both the large burgers and combinations of more than one of the mini-burgers come with a couple of sides. For each, customers get their choice of fries or mac and cheese and their choice of "confetti slaw" and julienne pickles. The fries are mass-produced waffle fries that were cooked to crisp/chewy perfection. Some of them were over seasoned and some had no seasoning, but when eaten together they were good. The mac and cheese had some Velveeta taste to it and the pasta was a little mushy, so it gets points for taste and loses a couple for texture. None of the sides were outstanding, but they were all fine.
For a neighborhood burger place, Hop Häus is a great place to sit and eat. There is a really nice outdoor area, and there are a ton of flat screen TVs inside and outside. There are plenty of burgers around that are better, but there are a lot more that are worse. As a burger destination, I wouldn't run back, but for a sports bar, it has some of the better burgers around.