I stopped in for beer (really, really cold beer) and dinner at Hop Jack's, which opened Aug. 10 in Bonney Lake last month. I wanted to test two things: just how cold is the beer, and just how family friendly is a neighborhood restaurant that appears to have an awful lot of 21-and-over bar seating in proportion to dining room seating.
My visit was a Monday night and the place was packed. I'm happy to report that a threatened 45-minute wait resulted in only 20 minutes of milling about in the small lobby with all the other families with kids. I enviously eyed the open tables in the spacious bar.
We brought a baby and high maintenance 8-year-old along for the trip - just to test what owner Mark Eggen told me in a phone interview about Hop Jack's intended family friendly vibe. A fussy infant and a demanding 8-year-old who asks a lot of questions are both good tests for places that say they cater to kids and families. Our server passed. She was patient in answering the 8-year-old child's question about what kind of cheese was in the house-made mac and cheese (a blend) and on the grilled cheese sandwich (cheddar, not processed). The baby was fussy, but I don’t think anyone around us noticed because the packed restaurant was far, far too noisy to hear even a wailing baby turned up to full volume aggravation (note: tall ceilings and concrete floors make for a lot of clamor). For the record, I'd only bring kids to restaurants that advertise their kid friendly virtues. A good test: do they have a kid's menu? If so, kids are safe to bring along (but please watch your kids, nobody likes to see your kid running around the restaurant).
The menu and atmosphere of Hop Jack’s reminded me of a Red Robin meets The Rock meets Applebee's. That makes sense because owner Eggen previously was an exec at Red Robin and owns two Rock franchises in South Hill and Lacey. Eggen opened Hop Jack's with partner Greg Troger, also a Red Robin alum.
The menu has a something-for-everyone vibe and with very affordable prices. Many entrees for $10 or less. The bulk of the menu is fairly-priced sandwiches and burgers with a few pastas and entrees.
The barbecue quesadilla appetizer ($7.95) was a cheesy, smoky dish. And when I say smoky, I mean really smoky. I don’t know what was smokier – the barbecue chicken, the smoked chipotle mayo or the meaty chunks of bacon. The smoke was tamed with a drizzle of sweet barbecue sauce and cooled off with a helping of mild salsa and guacamole that was a bit flat tasting. The grilled bread with brie appetizer ($7.95) would have been far better had the cheese not cooled to a congealed mass. Brie is divine when oozing, but less appetizing when it becomes a gelatinous cheese block.
Stick with burgers and you’ll be happy at the value. The black and bleu burger ($8.95) came with a juicy patty that looked handformed, and was dredged in spices. Atop the patty oozed a generous pile of pungent blue cheese, crispy fried onions, lettuce, tomatoes and a healthy smear of chipotle mayo. The flavor volume was turned up to noisy with the competing spices, chipotle mayo and blue cheese. This is a burger for someone who appreciates a full-palate assault from pungent, smoky, assertive flavors. Accompanying skins-on fries were crisp and tasty for freezer fries.
Pork pasta ($12.95) comes with something called “hog wings,” which we imagined might be some kind of kitschy play on pork chops, or maybe even ribs. We asked, and our server didn’t know what the "wings" were, which we found a bit baffling. The “wings” turned out to be three pork shanks perched atop a plate of penne pasta tossed in a buttery alfredo sauce with roasted garlic, caramelized onions and mushrooms. The “wings” were tender and fall-off-the-bone good with a sticky, sweet glaze. Warning: all combined, this is a pretty rich dish and, like the black and bleu burger, the flavors really compete for your attention.
The fish tacos ($8.95) were another stellar value, but I might suggest they change the name to beer-batter tacos because the fillets were heavy on the coating, light on the Alaskan cod. Fresh salsa dressed up the bland flavor of the filets some. The tacos came with tortilla chips, but my server suggested substituting a salad and I was glad she did. I was rewarded with a side salad with crisp veggies and house-made honey mustard dressing.
My dining partner joked that the Monster prime rib dip ($8.95) could have been renamed the “little goblin sandwich” because the sandwich was small on flavor and meat. It also was dry. A layer of melted cheese would have helped where the accompanying horseradish sauce did not. House-made potato chips were crisped perfectly.
Kids will appreciate six choices of meals, and parents will like the $4.95 price tag. And young food snobs take note, the macaroni and cheese is house made (not Kraft) and the sandwich comes with cheddar cheese, not the processed stuff.
And now for the beer. When he opened in August, Eggen told me that he wanted to serve the frostiest beer in town. The beer taps have some kind of high-tech frosting apparatus, so it’s not unusual for beer to come served with ice crystals. And, indeed, the beer we ordered - Pabst Blue Ribbon, the Widmer Broken Halo IPA and Deschutes Black Butte porter - all came very frosty. A beer slushee can feel the wine equivalent of being served a glass of syrah or merlot with ice cubes in it, so if you’re of the mind that chilly beer equals deadened flavors, take note. I thought the temperature of my porter was way too chilly. I couldn't taste the deeper coffee notes of the Black Butte, a porter I drink often and am familiar with.
Other readers who have contacted me also agree the beer is just too cold. As TNT Diner reader barley jim snarkily commented on the Hop Jack’s thread here, “Even marginal beer deserves to be given a chance and (served) at a proper temperature, NOT FROZEN! I can never return and I may never erase that image from my memory. Why? WHY? WWWHHHHYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Note: Hop Jack's doesn't have a dessert menu. That's right. No dessert - which may be a good thing after eating pork pasta or a big blue cheese burger. Good news for you gluttons, though. Old School Custard is just a few doors down.
Hop Jack’sWhere: 21290 Highway 410, Bonney LakeHours: 11 a.m. to midnight 7 days a weekPhone: 253-862-6530Web: http://hopjacks.net/ (not affiliated with hopjacks.com, a restaurant in Florida)