With 132 craft beers on tap, including several from Nebraska, HopCat’s draw is obvious.
But the chain restaurant that opened in mid-March at 601 P St. in the Railyard is a place to go for some tasty, unique pub food, too.
Take the Barnyard Burger ($11.75), so named for the cow, pig and chicken products you will find in and on it. The half-pound burger includes Wisconsin cheddar cheese curds, hickory-smoked bacon and fried egg salad smothered in HopCat’s signature cheese sauce on Texas Toast.
It’s incredibly messy to eat. But, boy, did I enjoy it. You don’t want to ruin this burger with any condiments.
HopCat is the latest addition to the Railyard’s burgeoning dining scene. Started in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2008, the chain has expanded to 10 more cities, but no two restaurants look the same. Lincoln brought in San Francisco artist Lauren Asta to create a funky black-and-white mural in the main dining room.
HopCat will keep 20 Nebraska-brewed beers on tap all the time -- its "Local 20." The other 112 taps will rotate different beers based on availability and seasonality. The mix is fairly evenly divided among lagers, IPAs, stouts, Belgians, ambers and more.
In addition to the craft beers -- HopCat offers no domestics like Budweiser -- the restaurant is known for its Crack Fries. These are beer-battered fries sprinkled with a cracked black pepper seasoning. Eaten with HopCat’s signature cheese sauce, they can be quite addictive.
HopCat takes ordinary foods and makes them extraordinary and, in some cases, extremely rich, like my burger, which was covered in the cheese sauce.
My wife enjoyed the Madtown Grilled Cheese ($9.95), which features a Wisconsin dill havarti, smoked Gouda and Muenster cheeses with apple slices, garlic aioli and honey on grilled Italian sourdough. The combination of the cheeses and aioli, well, let’s just say half a sandwich would have been plenty.
Still, it was quite tasty and one of the better grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve had. It came with with a apple-tomato soup with bleu cheese crumbles. The soup had a kick to it, bringing a bead of sweat to my brow.
The menu features a selection of entreés (fish and chips, build-your-own macaroni and cheese, etc.), gourmet burgers, sandwiches and wraps, with prices ranging from $9 to $12. Meals include Crack Fries and a pickle wedge.
On my next visit, I’m looking forward to the chicken salad wrap, featuring a salad with rosemary, grapes, red onions, bacon, pecans and spinach. It should pair nicely with a lager or light ale on a summer day. Grade: A.
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Our server, Erik, totally won over my wife. He suggested several beer options when she told him her preferences and helped with her menu selection. He checked on us periodically and took time to tell us about his beer favorites and shared stories about the restaurant’s busy first few weeks.
He did not, however, mention a charge for beer samples. We racked up an extra $3 on our bill for two samples. I get it … you don’t want to give away expensive beer, but a heads-up would have been nice.
Turnaround from the bar and kitchen was speedy, so no complaints there. The only other bothersome thing, and this is very, very minor -- it’s long distance when calling HopCat from a landline in Lincoln. Weird. Grade: B+
Utilizing the 8,500-square-foot space on the first floor of the Olsson Associates headquarters, HopCat is, well, huge, with seating for 300 guests.
The main dining room is must-see, with the custom-made mural from Asta and a ceiling featuring images of rock music icons ranging from David Bowie to The Beatles.
My wife and I sat in what I’m calling the Dorian Gray room, which included one wall with nothing but mirrors and others with more art pieces depicting rock stars.
With its high ceilings, hard floors and large glass windows, HopCat can be loud. We dined on a semi-busy Thursday night, and my phone app decibel counter hovered in the “loud car’ range. Grade: B+
HopCat includes several choices beyond appetizers, which also are worth noting. Entreés include a Killer Mac & Cheese ($10) as is or create your own with such mix-ins as roasted red peppers or porter mushrooms; The Kitchen Sink ($10.95), a chipotle black bean burger topped with Spanish rice, corn, a veggie chili and and aforementioned Madtown Grilled Cheese. You also can swap a chipotle black bean burger for any of the gourmet burger choices.
Two of the chilis are vegetarian: a veggie chili with beans and peppers and a cheese ale soup, and two of the three salads are meatless. The appetizers include the Crack Fries, bruschetta, giant-sized tater tots and a house-made spinach and artichoke dip.
The beer lineup features several gluten-free options. However, gluten-free menu items are limited. Check with servers to see if entreés can be altered. Grade: B+