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updated: 12/11/2013 1:24 PM

Aurora's Hopvine gets craft beers, pub grub just right

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  • The Hopvine Burger and house salad is a winning combination.

       The Hopvine Burger and house salad is a winning combination.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Owners Jan and Doug Isley opened Hopvine Brewing Co. in Aurora earlier this fall.

       Owners Jan and Doug Isley opened Hopvine Brewing Co. in Aurora earlier this fall.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • This ain't no ordinary baked potato. Hopvine's Smoked Potato is topped with pulled pork, cheese and beer-spiked barbecue sauce.

       This ain't no ordinary baked potato. Hopvine's Smoked Potato is topped with pulled pork, cheese and beer-spiked barbecue sauce.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Hopvine offers diners a chance to sample a variety of its house-made beers.

       Hopvine offers diners a chance to sample a variety of its house-made beers.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Sauteed Tilapia at Hopvine Brewing Co. is a favorite.

       Sauteed Tilapia at Hopvine Brewing Co. is a favorite.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • The dining room at Hopvine in Aurora is comfortable for gatherings with friends or dining with family.

       The dining room at Hopvine in Aurora is comfortable for gatherings with friends or dining with family.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • The Smoked Pork Rillete is a customer favorite.

       The Smoked Pork Rillete is a customer favorite.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Hopvine Brewing Co. brews a variety of beers on-site.

       Hopvine Brewing Co. brews a variety of beers on-site.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Start a meal at Hopvine with smoked chicken wings.

       Start a meal at Hopvine with smoked chicken wings.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Hopvine Brewing Co. opened up earlier this fall just outside Westfield Mall in Aurora.

       Hopvine Brewing Co. opened up earlier this fall just outside Westfield Mall in Aurora.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

 
By Marty Cusack
Daily Herald Correspondent

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.

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.

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