Hopmonk | Sebastopol

Despite a rough start, BiteClubbers say fare has improved

Editor’s Note: Though BiteClub has not returned to HopMonk since 2008, fans tell me the food has improved a great deal and is a solid choice for tasty pub grub.
BiteClub was ready to love Hopmonk. All the build up, all the hype, all the beer. What could go wrong? Apparently a lot.

I’m willing to overlook a whole heck of a lot when a restaurant first opens. Kitchens need time to get the drill right. Staff need breaking
in. Hey, it’s a brewpub for goodness sake, right? All taken into account. My recent experience went way beyond needing a few suggestions. It was downright upsetting. Where’s the supposed chef wunderkind, Lynn McCarthy hired to run the kitchen?
For openers, the menu lists a made-to-order, warm German soft pretzel with mustard as an appetizer. Nifty! But when it arrived at the table stone cold, BiteClub had to wonder just how made-to-order this pretzel actually is. Our server kindly took it back. And then returned it piping hot out of–and I have to guess here, but I’ve made plenty of microwave pretzels — the microwave. Soft, gooey and steaming in the middle. You don’t get that kind of heat from “baking” in an oven per the menu. Okay, for $2, we’ll move on. But bad first impression.
For the next mistep, my dining companion was handed a pulled pork sandwich. She didn’t order a pulled pork sandwich. We then waited as the server explained that she enjoyed the pulled pork sandwich and that’s probably why she had given that order to the kitchen. Um. Right. Okay. We waited patiently.
BiteClub ordered the mussels and pub fries (an appetizers) as an entree. On the plus side, the $11 order was huge.
Goody! Except that the mussels were dry and rubbery, negating the thrill of having so many of them. The mussel broth made with Belgian
stout was so bitter it was almost impossible to eat. Was it me? Nope, my pal confirmed the overwhelming bitterness of the broth. Too much
stout in the mix? Methinks. The usual sweet, briny goodness of the mussel liquor just couldn’t compete. The pub fries and aoili were a liferaft of edibility. We both dove in with gusto, still waiting for her sandwich.
When it finally arrived, my pal’s Hopmonk Reuben was soggy and tired. Corned beef was nicely done, but the rest of the
lineup–sauerkraut, remoulade (?), and Gruyere–needed a pep talk. Served with a handful of chips and a pickle, I found myself apologizing
to her repeatedly for my last minute decision to come to Sebastopol rather than treating ourselves to lunch at Chloes.
Okay I’m thinking, maybe we’ll end on a good note with dessert.
Another ruh-roh moment. Dry slices of dense, hard-to-cut chocolate stout cake that left us in search of something to wash the whole thing down. Maybe a beer would have helped. Maybe a little more oversight of the kitchen. Maybe a little more time.
Service was commendable. The beer lineup is stellar. The use of local purveyors is terrific. The potential is great in such a high traffic area. But BiteClub’s still got a bitter taste in her mouth. And not just from the mussels.
Is Hopmonk off the hook, or just off? Tell us.

Hopmonk, 230 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol