The title should be a hint: this post will have egregious use of initials. As any beer nerd in Chicago knows this: Hopleaf is the OG of beer lovers’ gastro-pubs. Unlike most other GPs, Hopleaf serves some real-deal “ethnic” food (if you consider the Benelux part of Europe ethnic).
Actually, the Benelux countries do represent a quite varied cultural tradition considering the tiny land area that they cover. You have the Holland, Friesland, Flanders, etc. They are more different than the outsider might know, and Hopleaf does a couple of regional classics from the area quite well (Mussels and frites are about as “Belgian” as it gets). For my money, the frites are the best I’ve had in Chicago. Every time I have been to Hopleaf, the entire party at our table has been quite happy with their meals.
This rare culinary homage (in the U.S., at least) to Benelux cuisine is great, but what I really like about Hopleaf is how they used quintessential American traits to create the restaurant. The idea of the GP was innovative when they opened and their beer list hints at one of the few areas where the U.S. is still a top-shelf innovator: Beer. Belgian and American choices abound, but the American breweries have been making great Belgian-style beers for years now. Belgian breweries, who have been a little slow to match wits, are just now starting to come up with new offerings.
Hopleaf is a unique, well-put-together Chicago institution. I highly recommend it for anyone who is any kind of beer nerd or the rare individual who gets Belgian food cravings (What!?). Unfortunately, Hopleaf is like any restaurant in the city that does a great job: it is packed on weekends and tables can be very hard to come by, even early. They also don’t take reservations, which makes planning your evening there carefully even more essential.