HopCat: Food made for drinking 

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Great beer list. Good bar food. Pleasant service. Long waits on busy nights. Cool bathrooms. Crack Fries are good, but Pretzel Nuggz rock.

There you go: A review of HopCat that would fit on Twitter.

And really, that pretty much sums it up. HopCat, the huge new bar that opened this summer at the intersection of College and Broad Ripple avenues and Westfield Boulevard, doesn’t have the kind of menu that requires a lot of explanation.

Unless you’re talking about the beer, and then, with 130 taps, there’s plenty to talk about — if you’re so inclined. I realize that the massive beer selection is the focal point at HopCat, and clearly, beer fans love the variety.

For, me, though, such lengthy lists are like huge menus – overwhelming. I just don’t need that many options. I mean, I find the 38 choices available at Twenty Tap to be a bit much. Even there, it can take me so long to figure out what beer I’d like to try that I tend to order one I’m familiar with just to avoid having the server make yet another trip back to the table to see if I’ve decided.

More knowledgeable beer drinkers likely enjoy the search for something new more than I do. And if they carry a “beers-I-want-to-try” list around in their heads, then HopCat’s brew menu will be just the thing. I do appreciate that HopCat divides the beer list into categories – so if you want a pumpkin ale, for example, you can look in the “fruit/veggie/spice/smoked” section and quickly see that there are three varieties.
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But HopCat, with its 9,600 square feet, black velvet paintings of rock stars and restroom walls adorned with Rolling Stone covers, seems to be designed to appeal to crowds rather than connoisseurs. And even with two bars and plenty of seating (including an indoor section with picnic tables as well as an outdoor patio), patrons can face a lengthy wait on busy weekend evenings.

That’s why we stopped in before noon for a recent Sunday lunch on a Colts game day. Although we walked right in at 11:45 a.m., by the time we left, the place was packed.

And why wouldn’t it be? HopCat seems like a great place to watch a game (I specifically noted customers settling in on the comfortably wide barstools). It’s not especially cheap, though, so even if you just want to have a couple of beers and an appetizer, you’ll easily drop 20 bucks.

We started with an order of Pretzel Nuggz, $8, and while that seemed pricey for a dozen little pretzel balls, mustard and beer-cheese sauce, they were delicious. That beer-cheese sauce was especially tasty, and we took our servers advice and kept what was left for dipping the fries – which, of course, we had to try.

The original HopCat in Grand Rapids has won kudos not only for its beer, but also for its addictive “Crack Fries.” In fact, the restaurant even holds an annual Crack Fries-eating contest during which winners have come close to eating 2 pounds in under 6 minutes.

They certainly are tasty. The seasoned, beer-battered fries are $4.25 (or $12 by the pound). They also come as a side with sandwiches and burgers, so we opted to try them that way, and while “addictive” is going a bit far, they are very good. We did try to figure out just what makes the seasoning so appealing (beyond the salt and pepper, of course), and it might have something to do with the white and brown sugar our server clued us in on.
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We also tried a burger, and the half-pound $10.95 Bar Zee, one of HopCat’s original signature burgers, was definitely hearty. Topped with bacon, beer bar cheese (which you can also get as a dip) and pickled jalapenos, the burger definitely didn’t lack for flavor, although it was cooked more than the medium requested.

The rosemary chicken salad wrap, $9.50, was stuffed with a generous portion of chicken, grapes, pecans, bacon and spinach and was an appealing option. We also added on an extra to share, a cup of HopCat’s Killer Mac and Cheese, $2.95, which we enjoyed plain, though you can get it loaded with chicken, chorizo, mushrooms, tomatoes and more.

There were plenty other menu items that sounded good, from bar classics such as fish and chips and a Reuben sandwich to chicken tacos and porter-braised beef. But it just might be a loaded version of those Crack Fries that will lure us back.

Jolene Ketzenberger covers local food at EatDrinkIndy.com. Follow her on Twitter @JKetzenberger.

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