On a recent Sunday, my wife and I drove up 281 and into the heart of San Antonio’s ever-expanding Northside suburbs to try out Big Hops Gastropub, the most recent addition to Rob and Kylie Martindale’s stable of craft-beer establishments. Taking over the location that formerly housed the Tap Exchange, this location augments Big Hops’ focus on providing artisanal brews to the thirsty, growler-toting masses with a foray into beer-focused cuisine.
Like its parent growler station on Broadway, Big Hops Gastropub sits in a strip mall. Flanked by a Chinese restaurant, a children’s dance studio and a dentist’s office, it’s a slightly surreal locale for a tavern. Once inside, however, all the trappings of a contemporary brew haven are on full display—flat-screen TVs playing major league sports, handsome wood-and-corrugated-tin decor and several dudes with gnarly beards and workman’s shirts pouring and partaking of IPAs and stouts from across the nation. There are 51 taps here, with roughly two-thirds of them tapping Texas kegs, most prominently Branchline, Karbach and Busted Sandal.
Taking advantage of their Sunday special ($3 off every Texas-made beer), I ordered a pint of Ranger Creek’s Strawberry Milk Stout (normally $5.50). My spouse, being very close to nine months pregnant, opted for the Saint Arnold’s Root Beer ($3 and, sadly, not discounted), also on tap. Our friendly and knowledgeable server brought our beverages in the pub’s signature pint glasses—squat little guys that look like beer barrels in miniature. Perhaps because of this design, there was less head on the stout than I’d anticipated, but one need not be particular when he drinks Ranger Creek draft for $2.50.
Though I’d heard good things about the duck fat frites, we opted instead for the “WTF?!” (What The Fries?!) ($12). A gourmand’s take on the Quebecois staple poutine, the appetizer ladles pork gravy, melted cheese curds and bacon over the pub’s Belgian-style frites and comes in a cast-iron skillet. Though the hearty toppings rendered the fries more moist than I cared for, it quickly became apparent why our northern neighbors go nuts for this stuff: with all that fatty, starchy flavor, it’s a perfect pub food.
After polishing off the skillet, my wife and I pondered our dinner options. The Big Hops Gastropub kitchen prides itself on both its locavore ethics (every ingredient comes from as close a proximity as possible, with all menu items made in-house) and its cerveza-centric focus. Simply put, everything on the menu is meant to maximize the beer. However, there was one dinner that seemed the most obvious choice for the ultimate ale-oriented supper: the bratwurst ($9). Comprised of a house-ground bratwurst staked to a pretzel bun and served with sweet, tart sauerkraut and spicy mustard, this was a fitting reminder of Germany in the midst of an overtly American brewpub. When it proved difficult to negotiate wrapping up the meat in the bun, I did things kindergarten style and tore pieces of the bread off with my hands.
The bratwurst was incredible: substantial without being too chewy and reminiscent of the boar sausage at Liberty Bar; the pretzel bun offered a soft, salty complement. The side of frites, sans the animal-product toppings of the WTF?!, struck an ideal balance between a crispy exterior and soft, starchy interior and made a great conduit for the ketchup, which came with an unexpected kick. I’d ordered a Branchline Woodcutter IPA (usually $5) to go with my meal, which made for a great Old-New World collision of flavors.
My wife ordered the tinga nachos ($11), which consisted of shredded, spiced chicken, queso and crema laid over a bed of tortilla chips. The presentation was pretty urbane for nachos, with the meat and dairy arranged artfully down the middle of a basket of chips rather than haphazardly spilled all over them, but the asado-esque flavors were on point.
As we paid the bill, our unfailingly-attentive server reminded us that there were beer specials for every night of the week at Big Hops Gastropub, featuring comparable deals to the Texas-specific discount we’d enjoyed that day, ensuring that anybody on the North Side can find find quality beers and killer noshes seven nights a week practically in their own backyard.
Big Hops Gastropub
22250 Bulverde, Ste 106