There comes a time in every Bitch’s brunch life where she has to brunch alone. For me, it was last week at Studio at the Freehand. It happened again the other day at Hop House Harlem, a taproom and kitchen I like to go to in my neighborhood. But unlike many people I know, I truly enjoy eating alone and feel none of the desperation or awkwardness that prevents some people from sidling up to a bar solo. When I’m comfortable, that is. But comfort comes with a few conditions.
For me, the keys to a good comfortable solo dining situation are location, bar size, bartender friendliness, and the hard-to-nail down “vibe”—a combination of music, other patrons, interior design, and my mood. And on this particular Saturday the vibe was mellow and chill, probably because I was one of the only customers when I arrived at just after noon (opening hour). So I had the place to myself! Talk about ideal. (I appreciate how Hop House’s brunch starts late—at 12 p.m. It gives late risers like myself a fighting chance to make it to brunch!)
The other comfort qualifiers measured up as well—inside Hop House is a spacious bar; a friendly bartender, Maurice, who patiently waited for my order as I sat at the bar talking to my dad on the phone for five minutes before even looking at the menu; and minmal but elegant decor with bits of greenery, light wood accents, and exposed brick.
I had a bad cold this day, but I knew I needed to drink on the job, so I ordered one of the $5 cava cocktails—a sweet deal. At Hop House, they pair the cava with fruit purée or juice (strawberry, orange, or blackbery) for an infusion that’s bright and appealing. I ordered the strawberry and knew right away it’s perfect for all day drinking—and at that price, you’ll be tempted. Tread lightly, my friends! I forgot my own advice and ordered a second round—blackberry this time—which tasted more of cava than berry but was still enjoyable.
Brunch entrée-wise, Hop House basically has the same menu it serves for lunch and dinner with a couple of egg-y dishes thrown in. It’s worth noting that Hop House, as the name suggests, is a beer place; its focus is on local craft beer, not brunch foods. And even though my focus that day was on brunch food, not beer, my short rib hash—a suggestion from the bartender—provided solid enough ground so as not to spoil the fun.
This hash is a combination of chopped peppers, onions, potatoes, and diced short rib that sits under two poached eggs and a dollop of green chili sauce. Mine arrived lukewarm, which threw me for a bit of a loop since I think it would have improved the taste and experience if the dish had more heat.
This particular dish was saucier than most, a bonus for me because I would bathe in sauce if I could. I encountered a few grisly/fatty bits of meat, but I’m particularly picky about those; they might not bother a less persnickety person. Overall, the dish tasted good enough, but I wouldn’t order it again. I’m into bold flavors and normally prefer things that pack a bigger punch.
Because I’m never not snacking (or at least looking for a snack), I also ordered a side pretzel. I was at a beer hall after all. The pretzel was warm, soft, and accented with extra-large salt crystals—a perfect specimen in my mind. And it was a great size for one perosn; I ate the whole thing. Two mustards—one traditional, one jalapeno—came on the side for dipping. (Yay sauce.)
The Bitches say B. Hop House Harlem offers a laid-back spot to grab a drink and a bite with friends or cozy up to the bar solo. The food might not push any envelopes, but the restaurant’s attentive service, good location, and comfortable setting will keep the neighborhood coming back.
Hop House Harlem serves brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.