The Rapidian

HopCat hype proves true on most counts

I've visited the world-famous brewpub on a number of occasions and have generally been satisfied with my experience. This time I visited HopCat with a critical tongue, questioning the build-up surrounding the beer, the ambiance... and the Crack Fries.
Killer Mac & Cheese at HopCat

Killer Mac & Cheese at HopCat /Steven Michael Holmes

HopCat Grand Rapids

25 Ionia SW
Grand Rapids, Michigan, 49503

Open 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. seven days a week

Weekly Events
Monday-Friday Burger and Beer Special: 4-6 p.m., pair any $4 Michigan-made beer or any HopCat beer under $6 with a burger for $6
Wednesday Mussel, Wings, and Pitcher Night: Deals on mussels, $0.50 wings (minimum order of 6), and 25% off pitchers
Thursdays $3 Thursdays: Select beers for $3
Grilled Cheese and Crack Fries at HopCat

Grilled Cheese and Crack Fries at HopCat /Steven Michael Holmes

Interior of HopCat

Interior of HopCat /Steven Michael Holmes

If you've lived in Grand Rapids for a while, there's a fair chance you've been to HopCat. If you don't live in Grand Rapids, it's probably one of the first places you go to have a brew in Beer City U.S.A. Rated the number one brewpub in the U.S.A. by RateBeer and the number three beer bar in the world by BeerAdvocate, HopCat has a reputation for quality as both a brewpub and a restaurant. I visited HopCat this Saturday with a friend to try their food and beer to see if it lives up to the hype surrounding it.

I've been to HopCat a few times, and when I go it's usually for their selection of beer. The brewpub has 48 frequently-updated taps that feature local, regional and global brews. You will inevitably find something you've never heard of, as well as some of your old favorites. HopCat, also a brewery, always has a few of their own brews on tap as well.

My friend and I ordered our beers, and when they arrived we took turns trying each other's choices. HopCat's Zugspitze was light and drinkable. My friend's Sin & Tonic, a juniper and citrus spiced ale from New Belgium Brewing Company, landed light on the palate and then burst with citrus flavor; its taste was startling and unexpected.

The food is affordable, with the average price of a dish around $9. Most of the menu items are American in style, with a few Italian- and Mexican-inspired selections as well. Apparently craving cheese and feeling a little nostalgic, my friend and I chose HopCat's interpretations of some American classics. My friend chose the Grilled Cheese with tomatoes and onions and a side of HopCat's famous Crack Fries, supposedly as addictive as their namesake, and cheese dip. I ordered the signature Killer Mac and Cheese, and opted not to add any extra meat and veggies, though this is an option. Mostly because I am a college student and will save three dollars where I can, but also because I wanted to see how the dish stands by itself at $8.50.

Our meals arrived quickly; we waited 15 minutes at most and were surprised when our waitress appeared with our hot plates. The Killer Mac and Cheese was warm, creamy and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs. Even on its own, the dish had a satisfying texture and full flavor, but I can imagine it being just as delicious with the addition of tomatoes, chicken or any of the other varieties of toppings they offer. I found it filling without the toppings, but I have a small appetite and the extra toppings might be necessary for a hungrier customer.

The Grilled Cheese featured three different cheeses: Swiss, cheddar, and feta. Tomatoes and onions fortified the already robust flavor of the strong cheeses. I found the sandwich delicious: another affordable selection with a big payback.

As for the Crack Fries, I have tried them a few times now and still fail to understand why people are so excited about them. My friend shared a few of his with me, and we were mutually unimpressed. They were pretty average fries with a little extra pepper; they came to us lukewarm and by the end of the meal they were cold.

Being as well-known as it is, HopCat is bound to be a busy place. In my experience, this has been almost invariably true. During popular dining hours and in the later hours of the night, HopCat is usually packed with customers. Even this weekend, when my friend and I visited the restaurant at 3 p.m., just after the lunch crowd and before the flood of dinner diners, there were only a few open tables. You can't make reservations at HopCat, so if you want to visit at a time when you can expect a lot of people out on the town, such as a Friday or Saturday evening, you can expect to wait at least 15-20 minutes for a table.

In the grand scheme of things however, for an excellent meal and a wide selection of beer, waiting 15-20 minutes isn't so bad. In fact, for a world-class brewpub, I'd say it's pretty darn good. 

In my experience, the volume at HopCat is almost always loud, no matter what time of day. Even at 3:00 in the afternoon, the music was turned up high and the customers' voices were raised to be heard over it. As a soft-spoken person, I am often frustrated when I have to shout to have a conversation over a meal. But I can't deny the volume adds a bustling energy to the ambiance. If a quiet dinner for two is what you're looking for, HopCat is not the ideal option, but it's perfect for a night out with friends.

HopCat has the familiar feel of a classic pub, but with a modern twist. The pub decor features dark, warm tones accented with brick walls and a wooden floor and ceiling. Artwork covers the walls and hangs at different angles from the ceiling. The feel is eclectic and classic, but the loud alternative music and the youthful staff add energy and modernity to the atmosphere. If the giant beer selection isn't enough to lure you in, surely the friendly staff, delicious food or inviting environment will. 

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