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A&E >  Food

After a slow start, Hop Jack’s struts its stuff

At Hop Jack’s, beer is served through an icy tap system that delivers 34-degree beer to a waiting glass. (Lorie Hutson)
At Hop Jack’s, beer is served through an icy tap system that delivers 34-degree beer to a waiting glass. (Lorie Hutson)

For years, North Side residents languished in a gastronomical vacuum. With few exceptions, our dining out options revolved around the array of fast-food joints and Chinese eateries that dot Division Street.

But things are looking up. The arrival of Wasabi, O’Doherty’s and McClain’s Pizzeria have enlarged our culinary options.

The latest addition to the north Spokane dining scene is Hop Jack’s, a casual pub offering seating for both the adult crowd and folks with families. This is the first Hop Jack’s in Spokane and the sixth restaurant in the chain for owner Mark Eggen of Rock Solid Restaurants.

With 14 burgers on the menu and several soups, salads and sandwiches, Hop Jack’s promises something to please every palate.

However, my first visit didn’t start out promising.

Last week a friend and I stopped in for lunch. We stood in the entryway admiring a sepia-tinted 30-foot mural of men on stilts, gathering hops for beer brewing. No one greeted us. “Do we seat ourselves?” asked my friend. We looked for a “Please Wait to be Seated” sign, but didn’t find one. A few tables were filled in the bar and a couple of booths were occupied in the restaurant. The minutes ticked by. Finally, someone noticed us and ushered us to a table.

Things improved immensely from that point. Upon learning this was our first visit, our knowledgeable server gave us a quick rundown of menu and tap highlights, advising us about generous portion sizes.

Despite the chill of the winter afternoon, my friend’s eyes lit up when she spotted the “Icy Drinks” listed on the menu. Hop Jack’s features a variety of cocktails served in an ice mold nestled inside a glass. When I rolled my eyes at her drink choice – a White Gummy Bear Martini, our server said, “It’s actually my favorite cocktail on the menu.”

Since the restaurant offers 16 regional beers and prides itself on an ice tap system that delivers 34-degree beer, I focused on the tap selections and chose a glass of Irish Death. This dark ale from Iron Horse Brewery in Ellensburg tastes like Guinness, only better.

Our drinks arrived promptly, and though I giggled at the sight of the two drowned Gummy Bears in my friend’s glass, she was delighted with her choice. “Refreshing,” she said. “And not too sweet.”

For lunch she ordered the Mediterranean Hummus Plate ($8.25) from the starters selections, while I chose the soup and salad combo.

My bowl of French onion soup featured a perfectly browned cheese crust with plenty of onions and croutons swimming in the beefy broth. Hop Jack’s version is lightly seasoned and avoids the overly salted error that’s common to French onion soup.

The generously portioned house salad was perfectly adequate but nothing to write home about. However, the tasty triangles of garlic-buttered flatbread that came with it were a pleasant addition. At $7.95, this was a bargain lunch.

The flatbread also accompanied my friend’s hummus plate. In fact, she much preferred the bread to the tortilla chips that lined the plate. The addition of fresh veggies provided welcome crunch and while she pronounced the hummus tasty, she said, “I’d rather have more veggies and less chips.”

When I returned for dinner, I brought my husband and son. This time, though the restaurant was packed, we were promptly greeted and seated.

We started our meal with 13-year-old Sam’s choice: onion rings. Derek and I weren’t impressed with the run-of-the-mill extra crunchy rings, but Sam was happy. He’s a dipping sauce connoisseur, and quickly became a fan of the Hop Jack sauce that was served alongside. “I like it! It tastes like fry sauce mixed with barbecue sauce.”

While he enjoyed a soft drink, Derek and I sampled the deliciously crisp Angry Orchard Hard Cider.

Sam insisted on ordering the Double Burger ($12.25), even when our server informed him it featured 12 ounces of ground beef. Topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle, red onion and Hop Jack’s spread, it proved hard to handle. He grew frustrated as bits of burger spilled from the sturdy Kaiser roll. All of Hop Jack’s burgers start with hand-formed patties and they do tend to crumble.

The burgers and sandwiches come with a choice of Hop Jack’s house-made potato chips, fries, fresh fruit or salad. Sam mastered the burger, but most of his fries remained on his plate.

Derek decided to warm up with a Jalapeño Burger ($11.50) featuring a Cajun seasoned patty with chipotle mayonnaise, lightly grilled jalapeño peppers, pepper jack cheese, bacon, lettuce, and tomato. Our server told him the jalapeños were unseeded and extra spicy, but Derek was undeterred. However, his eyes grew big after his first bite. “That’s not spicy, it’s HOT!”

Beads of sweat dotted his forehead. Fortunately, he’s a fan of heat, and bites of his side salad helped him balance the burn.

I chose the Flat Iron Steak Sandwich ($12.95), served on a ciabatta roll with caramelized onions, chipotle mayo and a side of house potato chips. Billed as “a steak sandwich you can eat with your hands,” it proved difficult to take a bite of. Although cooked medium as ordered, it was still a steak – something perhaps best eaten with a knife and fork. The flat iron steak entrée probably would have been a better choice.

The house-made potato chips proved to be a hit. Served with garlic ranch dipping sauce, fresh potato flavor exploded with every satisfying, non-greasy crunch.

As we finished our meal one of Sam’s friends stopped by our table with his family. He’d tackled the Big Juan Burger, served with bacon, frizzled onions and tomatoes stuffed inside a grilled cheese sandwich. Sam found a new goal, “I’m getting that next time,” he said.

And there will be a next time. Friends have raved about Hop Jack’s Happy Hour and the restaurant offers breakfast on the weekends.

For now we’re happy that the gastronomical vacuum in north Spokane has been filled – and so has the void in our tummies.

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