Allen Pierleoni

Extra-thick-cut bacon stars on the Hop House menu

Extra-thick-cut candied bacon at Hop House is flavored with brown sugar and cayenne pepper.
Extra-thick-cut candied bacon at Hop House is flavored with brown sugar and cayenne pepper. apierleoni@sacbee.com

Fellow restaurant reviewer Carla Meyer and I recently collaborated on a Sunday Life & Style cover story that got a lot of buzz – our top-10 list of favorite hamburgers around town. Like pizza and barbecue, burgers are among certain dishes that resonate on a visceral level with diners, who are loyal to their brands. Taste, after all, is subjective.

Along the way, someone urged us to try the new Exception Burger at Hop House, known for its rotating taps of super-hoppy India Pale Ales from local craft breweries (13 at last count).

That’s how lunch pal and Drone Pilots Federation president Bruce Parks and I found ourselves inside the beautifully appointed tap house – lots of reclaimed wood and natural light – but not for long. The patio was more inviting, our table under ancient olive trees and overlooking a little lagoon. The trees were brought to California from Spain in 1878, planted in a commercial olive grove near Oroville and then transplanted in El Dorado Hills Town Center.

The menu ($5 to $15) shows myriad variations of the grilled cheese sandwich and mac ’n’ cheese, along with french fries in four iterations and an abundance of pulled pork.

What grabbed us was the star of the show – ultra-thick-cut bacon. It’s on best display in a “small plates” slab of excellent candid bacon “confit,” meaning the bacon was cooked in its own fat. How else would bacon be cooked? The crispy-soft pork “mini-steak” was sweet with brown sugar and mildly heated with cayenne pepper.

Seven of the 15 items in the “sandwiches/burgers” column contained thick-cut bacon, along with the option of adding it to the non-bacon sandwiches for $1.50. You can also add pulled pork for $2. If we wished, we could have added bacon or pulled pork to the candied bacon, but why go over the top?

If you love dark, smoky, salty bacon – and the brew to go along with it – Hop House could become your go-to. We wanted to know more about the bacon – what cut is it? where is it sourced? why does it dominate the menu? – but the owner didn’t get back to us.

Meanwhile, the Exception Burger arrived, a thick patty of unexceptional ground beef on a grilled bun with mayo, covered in melted American cheese and topped with two slices of that thick-cut bacon and a sunnyside-up egg. Instead of complementing the patty, the bacon overwhelmed everything, turning the burger into a bacon sandwich wet with runny egg yolk. The fast-food onion rings were more crunchy coating than onion slices.

We liked the B.L.A.Twich, a half sandwich of bacon, avocado, lettuce and tomato on very tasty grilled sourdough, but the fresh and crisp house-made “spicy coleslaw” showed no flavor. We added a spoonful of Hop House’s signature Sriracha-citrus aioli, which helped.

The heat from the fish in the salmon salad had wilted the “wild” (really?) greens and cremini mushrooms, which was to be expected, but a heavy hand with the balsamic dressing turned the dish into a swampy, acidic mess. It was spiked with bursts-of-flavor lardons, cubes of crisped pork fat used in classic French dishes such as frisée salad and coq au vin. We agreed the salad was solid in concept, weak in execution.

Another Hop House is projected to open at the end of the month at 1475 Eureka Road, Roseville.

Two burgers worth the ride

Two of the best burgers we’ve encountered in our travels are in Carmel, at Brophy’s Tavern and the much more formal Grasing’s.

Last year, the Phoenix-based company that owns the five-star grande dame La Playa Hotel bought the Dolphin Inn and the adjoining Brophy’s, once a dimly lit and raucous locals’ hangout. It refurbished both, renaming the lodging Hotel Carmel and wisely keeping the Brophy’s name.

Now the pub is airy and bright, pulling from eight taps and decorated with vintage photos (including Henry Miller in Big Sur) and a showpiece collection of 1,000 beer cans from around the world.

The burger is a ground-to-order half-pound of Angus chuck on a brioche bun with bacon, earthy-tasting cremini and king trumpet mushrooms, and smoked fontina, served with crisp, well-seasoned fries ($14). If you prefer fish ’n’ chips, it’s the more upscale halibut, not cod. San Carlos and Fourth; 831-586-5566, www.thehotelcarmel.com.

Grasing’s patio is the place to dwell over its half-pound Angus bistro burger on a griddled ciabatta bun with bacon, avocado and cheddar ($18), and a side of house-made beer-battered onion rings ($8.50 and $13). Mission and Sixth; 831-624-6562, www.grasings.com.

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe

Hop House

Where: El Dorado Hills Town Center, 4364 Town Center Blvd., El Dorado Hills

Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight, Sundays-Wednesdays; 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Thursdays-Fridays; 10 a.m.-2 a.m. weekends. Happy hour 3-6 p.m. daily.

Food:  1/2

Ambiance:

How much: $-$$

Information: 916-358-3977, www.hophouseedh.com

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