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Hops Supply Company
5400 Oleander Drive
Bottom line: Hops is good and on its way to being exceptional!

BOOZE AND BURGERS: Hops Supply Company offers an innovative menu to pair with craft brews. Photo by Trent Williams

BOOZE AND BURGERS: Hops Supply Company offers an innovative menu to pair with craft brews. Photo by Trent Williams

The word ‘gastropub’ was coined in 1991 and refers to English public houses, which improve their menus beyond standard pub fare. Although, the spell check on my computer doesn’t seem to recognize it, gastropub was added to the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary just last year. Simply put, a gastropub is either a restaurant with a much better beer and liquor selection than most or a bar with a menu pushing beyond mozzarella sticks, potato skins and wings.

Recently, LM Restaurants Hospitality Management opened its own gastropub with Hops Supply Company located on Oleander Drive across from Tidal Creek Co-op. Philosophically, there is a lot to like about Hops. Their website boasts a seasonal menu dedicated to local ingredients, as well as an excellent beer selection.

Hops Supply Company will look familiar to many. Housed in the former Eddie Romanelli’s (and Flat Eddie’s afterward), much of the exposed brick interior remains the same, but the dining room has an openness to it not often replicated in other establishments. I’m almost certain that from any corner table diners can see every other person in the place. Couple that with the visible kitchen and it’s an open-air atmosphere, friendly and comforting.

I opened with a flat-bread appetizer, replete with caramelized onions, Asiago cheese, roasted tomato, goat cheese and balsamic syrup. The sweet onions balanced elegantly with the tomatoes, and the syrup struck just the right note with hints of bitterness. The bread itself was excellent as well, if oddly cut. Yet, a heavy hand applied the goat cheese, throwing both the texture and the flavor akimbo.

Normally a sucker for smoked meats and cheeses, I opted for the smoked chicken fettuccine Alfredo. Chicken can be delicate; as one chef told me years ago: “Chicken is like painting on a white canvas.” The overpowering smokiness proved akin to standing too close to a camp fire and breathing in copious amounts of ash. This is unfortunate, because the chicken itself was cooked beautifully—juicy with a nice sear on the outside. Yet, the only flavor which broke through was smoke.

The fettuccine, modestly al dente, came covered in a flavorful cream and cheese sauce. Helping empower the dish were tomatoes, spinach and especially earthy mushrooms, lending a richness to the pasta. Without the chicken this would have been excellent.

Someone told me Hops was famous for its burgers. Always willing to partake of a good burger, I opted for the titular HopsCo variety, featuring bacon, herbed garlic cheese, tomato, lettuce, red onion and HopsCo sauce. Served on an exquisitely braided bun, the hand-pressed burger came cooked to order—a welcome treat after far too many medium-well affronts to the palate. Bacon, lettuce, tomato and onions are classic burger ingredients, and their inherent value to a sandwich need not be rehashed here. The garlic-herb cheese made for a fun new dimension; I’m not certain I’ve ever used a spreadable cheese on a burger before. However, the Hopsco sauce remained messy and overpowering. A concoction of barbecue sauce, mayonnaise, Old Bay, lemon juice, and pickles splashed all over the plate. It just provided too much without adding to the burger’s dimension of flavor. In particular, the citrus burst through, which didn’t jive with the beef.

I closed out with a dessert: warm blackberry-cherry cobbler. Served with the most delightfully soft scoop of vanilla ice cream and an orange-caramel sauce, the dessert tasted innovative. The fruits blended perfectly (I was told blueberry was in it as well, though it isn’t mentioned on the menu), and the sauce melded pure sugar with acidity nicely. My only quarrel is with the light application of a crust. The balance felt off, as if I were merely eating a bowl of fruit filling instead of traditional cobbler with a thick, buttery, flaky crust.

Hops Supply prides itself on a remarkable beer list, and it delivered. There are a couple of bars in town with a better beer selection, but none with as extensive a menu. I suspect our beer-loving brethren will make HopsCo a regular hangout. As well, the service came with both expediency and friendliness. My waitress offered to let me sample any of the draft beers before ordering. I assume this is policy for everyone, but it certainly made me feel special.

Something I pay close attention to at every eatery is how effectively it caters to all diets, i.e. vegetarians. Hops Supply Company’s menu isn’t effective in this department. While I suspect they’d be willing to make adjustments to existing dishes, by my count, the menu features three appetizers, three salads but zero entrées (and even that count includes one salad with egg). I hope during the next seasonal change, they address the shortcoming.

Overall, Hops could benefit from minor edits on most dishes. In all four cases, everything tasted one ingredient or element away from being exceptional. Not just good—exceptional. I suspect being less than a year old provides them a learning curve.

Though Hops Supply Company doesn’t have it quite right yet, the fundamentals—talent and concept—are in place and strong.
I will be back.

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  1. Lauren

    February 13, 2013 at 9:05 am

    As a vegetarian, I have trouble from time to time with finding restaurants in Wilmington that will cater to my diet. This, however, was never an issue at Hops Supply Co. They modified a pasta dish currently on the menu to suit, as well as made a few other “off menu” options with the flatbread pizzas on the menu. While there is not a stand alone vegetarian option as an entree, I was able to eat a satisfying and delicious meal all the same. Staff was helpful is finding out the base their soups are made of and made every effort to accommodate me as a diner. As far as I am concerned, they were more vegetarian-friendly than many restaurants in town! 🙂

    • encore

      February 13, 2013 at 12:11 pm

      Thanks for the update, Lauren! That’s great to hear! The reviewer did mention they’d modify anything…I suppose she’s wanting to see a more obvious menu for veggie-eaters only! —Shea

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