Twenty years ago, you had maybe three or four places to get a wide selection of craft beers -- even fewer if you wanted a spot that served up locally brewed ones. Since then, it seems like new brew pubs open more frequently than corner drugstores; yet only a handful seem to get it right.
Count Hopvine Brewering Company in Aurora as one that gets it right.
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Hopvine Brewing Company4030 Fox Valley Center Drive, Aurora, (630) 229-6030, hopvinebrewingcompany.com
Cuisine: Upscale pub grub with brewery onsite
Setting: Pub atmosphere with bar and table seating
Entrees: $9 to $27
Hours: Noon to 11 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday
Grand opening celebration: Hopvine invites diners to its official grand opening pig roast and craft beer challenge from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 19. Radio station The River 95.9 will broadcast live during the event.
Open just more than a month and located on the outskirts of Westfield Mall (formerly Fox Valley Mall for you old-timers), and taking up the space of the old Pockets pool bar, Hopvine provides all the ingredients for a memorable night at the pub: comfortable seating, welcoming, gracious staff, innovative pub grub and a nice selection of beers crafted on site.
Owners Doug and Jan Isley have several years of brewing experience; they've provided head chef Tom Beckert with wonderful tools of the trade including an on-site smoker, while award-winning brewer Ken McMullin uses fresh ingredients to create Hopvine's signature brews in the large, visible kilns.
One way to start your evening is with the beer sampler: five, 5-ounce pours of Hopvine's fresh beers including Aurora Amber (American amber ale), Brew Monkey (Belgian trippel), Urban Tumbleweed (hefeweizen), I.B.A. (a take on India pale ale) and Splagna (German kolsch). Special seasonal beers will be added throughout the year -- go quick and you still may get some of the limited Ehrmagourd -- a porter made with smoked (yes, smoked) pumpkins. Hopvine's full-service bar also features signature martini and cocktail selections as well as a variety of wines.
Those who aren't too familiar with matching food and beer will get an assist as the menu offers specific Hopvine craft beer suggestions with each selection. Take a chance and surrender to the brewmeister's choices. Just wanting to munch while enjoying the beers? Try the candied walnuts or the popcorn of the day.
Although Hopvine offers many interesting appetizers, don't pass on the 10-piece Smoked Chicken Wings; spice-rubbed, smoked and then fried, these succulent wings are in no need of a sauce. Other appetizers to try are the Smoked Pork Rillete served with Apple Raisin Chutney and the Spicy Goat Cheese Dip, which includes pancetta and dried cranberries. Another nice starter is the chili -- available by cup or bowl -- made with shredded smoked beef.
For me, the mark of a good brew pub lies in whether they can deliver a top-notch burger, and the Hopvine Burger hits the mark. A half-pound prime beef patty topped with pulled pork, bacon, onion strings, white cheddar and a rich red wine sauce and served on a toasted, bakery-fresh bun, this behemoth satisfies the biggest appetite. While offered with fries, I skipped those in favor of the side salad -- a Caesar-style offering that was a perfect complement to the meaty burger.
While it might seem like a side dish, the Smoked Potato is actually a filling entree. A huge Idaho spud is spiced-up, baked and smothered in smoked pulled pork, cheddar cheese and amber ale barbecue sauce.
Other interesting entrees include the stout-braised beef short ribs served with potato purée and spinach, and the coq au beire -- a take on the classic French chicken with wine -- chicken braised in Hopvine Amber Ale, mushrooms and onions and served over buttered egg noodles.
The beer-theme food extends to dessert with the Chocolate Stout Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich. The Banana Split features brûlée bananas, three flavors of ice cream, toffee, whipped cream and house-made hot fudge.
With all it has going for it -- great food, top-notch brews, attentive service -- Hopvine is hopefully going to be a permanent fixture on the Aurora/Naperville dining and bar scene.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.