Spot on Hops

I love a new restaurant. It doesn’t matter if it’s down here, in the Southern Tier, or up North in the Watertown area, which I visit so often. The opportunity to sample a new culinary point-of-view, the possibility of tasting something great, is as exciting to me as a new saddle for a horse enthusiast or a new casino to a gambler. So, you’ve probably observed my anticipation over the past few months as I waited for the Hops Spot, Sackets Harbor’s new fine beer/eclectic food mish mash, to open. I “liked” its Facebook page ages ago, and delighted in owner Ryan Chaif’s global gallivanting and menu-building process. And I posted pics here of their almost-completed tiny location, in front of the Boathouse Restaurant and Bar on Main St in Sackets, in the space previously occupied by Karen’s.

The Hops Spot

My parents and I finally went to Hops Spot for dinner a couple weeks ago. Blessed be, it did not disappoint after all my many months of expectant obsession. Neigh, we had a really chill, relaxing, fun and delicious dinner – one that you would be wise to copy. First off – the beer? Sorta kinda totally epic. I’m not a huge beer drinker, and I in no way consider myself a connoisseur, but the fruity beers I’ve sampled at Hops Spot: Unibroue Ephemere and Dogfish Head Festina Peche, were crisp and refreshing, great for food pairings. I don’t know how to pronounce that first one, but all I can think of is unibrow. Hee. The Dogfish Head peach beer was less sweet or cloying than I expected, and almost juicy in taste and mouth-feel. I loved it.

I have been to Dogfish Head’s brewpub, and it is similarly delicious and fun

The approach to food at Hops Spot is refreshing and different as well. The owners, who are Canadian, have brought a Great White North perspective to beer pairings, which a menu heavy on poutine (a French Canadian staple), sausages, hearty sandwiches and cool, world-cuisine appetizers. It shouldn’t surprise you that I was focused on breaking my recent low sodium drudgery up with a substantial dose of gravy, bacon, and cured meat. I ordered the classic poutine and the harvest dog. I must note that the two wait staff on duty had some trouble taking our order – apparently the summer staff were still new and didn’t have the proper operation of the cash register under their belts yet. But the two young girls were certainly pleasant and tried to be hospitable whilst staring inscrutably at the machine.

Fries…cheese…gravy. What’s not to like?

Poutine tends to mystify those who haven’t had the pleasure of Canadian travel. You might ask why one would need both cheese curds and gravy on top of already-delicious French fries. I’ll tell you why: because the rich, sharp, barely-melted cheese and the warm, ooey gravy beat the tar out of ketchup any old day. The Hops Spot’s fries are money: hand-cut, double-fried, crispy and pillowy at the same time, like God intended. In this case, the cheese curds were a bit less sharp than I’m used to. I think these were Adam’s Reserve curds, which can be acquired at Jefferson Bulk Cheese on Rt. 3. The gravy, now that was something special. They use a homemade beef/beer gravy here on their poutine, and it is divine. Again, lighter and less salty than I expected for poutine, but with a depth of flavor that was surprising and delicious. This is refined poutine, the likes of which might be found at Montreal hot spot Garde Manger. The dish as a whole was addictive, and the kind of thing that could kick off a food obsession if I’m not careful. I am eager to return and try the La Canadien iteration, with duck confit and NY State camembert cheese, which is brie’s funkier cousin.

My harvest dog was fun, inventive and tasty. A quality hot dog topped with more Adams Reserve cheddar cheese, bacon, crisp Granny Smith apple slices and a drizzle of maple syrup – this combo sounds gross, but like so many odd food pairings, was fab. You know I love sweet things with my bacon, and I was pleased that I could still taste the hot dog through and around all those other flavors. The cheese and bacon brought the salty, the syrup brought the sweet, and the apple brought the texture and tartness needed to make this experiment successful. The only failure here was the bun, the bottom of which disintegrated somewhere around my second bite, and made eating the rest a challenge in decorum and ensemble preservation.

Shine on, harvest dog. Stay golden.

Dad ordered brauts and sauerkraut – clever fellow. Naturally, this is perfect beer food. The Germans didn’t mess around where beer or sausages were concerned, and neither does Hops Spot. These are mild Liehs & Steigerwald beer brauts, made in Syracuse and renowned for quality. The mess of sauerkraut piled on top of the wieners was the best I’ve had since a high school trip to Switzerland – less salty than commercial varieties and somehow more savory…I wonder if they make this in-house? The brauts were snappy, rich with fat and pork goodness, and completely, undeniably yummy. The whole grain mustard served alongside was also of very high quality and created the perfect bite on a fork with the fluffy, tart kraut and the snappy, fatty braut.

What’s your perfect bite?

As is increasingly her way, Mom chose not to play in our reindeer games and got a salad. A salad! The nerve! But I have to admit, if you’re going to have a salad, this one isn’t a bad choice: greens, berries and blue. A mix of local baby greens, boisterously red strawberries, and blue cheese, again from Adam’s Reserve and resembling gorgonzola dolce more in taste than any other domestic blue I’ve sampled, this salad sung. She did not stop raving about that blue cheese for nearly 24 hours. I guess that’s a sign of a happy customer and a good salad, no?

Sue proclaimed, “Perfect for a hot summer night!”

There are things on this menu the three of us just simply couldn’t order and still fit into our pants, but that I am extremely interested in: the grilled beer cheese sandwich is calling my name, for one. I am a sucker for a high-end, artisanal grilled cheese sammie. The beef on weck, fish and chips and loaded fries also are destined for a plate near me sometime soon. Most of all, though, I like the idea and subsequent feel of this place: well thought-out food in a sleek little dining room with a big, airy patio out front from which to do some excellent people-watching and beer guzzling. This is the kind of European dining we’re starved for in the states, and I welcome both the Hops Spot’s Euro vibe and focus on local products. We graded this new hot/hops spot a 7.5 on the BHS scale.

So yeah, I liked the Hops Spot. I’ll be back, and so should you! But in case your travels are taking you to Cayuga Lake this weekend instead of Sackets, I thought you should know I had lunch at Sheldrake Point Winery last Saturday, and this is what I ate at Simply Red Bistro:

Fried chicken with honey butter, cornbread, slaw and fries!

I KNOW. Get some! My personality is big, but y’all know, my hunger is bigger!

The Hops Spot on Urbanspoon

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