Hop Alley Brew Pub
25 South Main Street, Alpharetta GA 30009 (map); 770-696-2097; hopalleybrew.com
Cooking Method: Griddle
Short Order: Brewpub that goes the extra mile with everything, including the burgers
Want Fries with That? They're great, but feel free to stray into their other sides, too
Price: Hop Alley Burger, $8.50; 50/50 Baconburger, $11.50
Man, I hate being scooped. In this profession, I certainly try to keep my fat little finger on (or at least near) the pulse of the local eats scene, staying abreast of which chef is going where, who's rejiggering their menu, which restaurants are closing down, and perhaps most important, which new spots are about to hang out a shingle and throw open their doors. It's my job—literally—to be in the know about such matters. So when a neighbor casually mentioned Hop Alley Brew Pub and then tacked on a nonchalant, "I'm sure you've been there already," I simply nodded and let him finish his story.
Then I ran home and hit Google.
I'm glad I did, because I just found a great new hang that I'll be adding to my rotation for sure. The brewhounds can go nerd out over ABVs and IBUs all day long, but this little gem I hadn't even heard of is cranking out excellent burgers that are among the best I've found recently.
Sure, those gleaming tanks lined up behind the bar are the star of the show at Hop Alley, with a formidable selection of house draughts and bottled beers to pick from. But if you're looking for some grub to go with your grog, there are some interesting choices here for you, as well.
The Hop Alley Burger ($8.50) starts with eight ounces of 80/20 Certified Angus. It's seasoned with salt and pepper and then hits the flat top to be griddled diner-style. The kitchen did a fair job of leaving some pink in my medium-rare and presenting me with a burger that sported decent exterior crust yet was still wonderfully juicy inside. All the better for those squishy toasted Engelman's buns to soak up.
Not content to stick to just the basics, Hop Alley goes a little off-book with some of their options. Take cheeses, for example. Sharp cheddar and Swiss are to be expected, perhaps, and pepper jack does up the interest ante somewhat. But when our server offered Tomme as another alternative, I found myself scrambling for a search engine once again. (It's similar to a white sharp cheddar, and I found my thick slice of it to add pleasantly salty notes to the burger.) Executive chef Matt Schreiber had been offering Munster, but found its availability too spotty, so he's bringing in the Tomme and an Asher Blue from a specialty supplier in the southern part of the state.
Much like straying from your go-to beer to try something new, a little experimenting is a good thing at a place like Hop Alley. And the kitchen has plenty of diversions to tempt you with, like a Pimento Bacon Burger and a Burger of the Day special. But the truly adventurous may be drawn to the handful of happiness that is the 50/50 Baconburger ($11.50).
When Hop Alley opened less than two months ago (so that's why I hadn't heard of it), these half-and-half patties were being supplied by a local butcher. But Schreiber decided he could do them in-house. Now he grinds Nueske's applewood bacon himself and folds it into the ground chuck. If you feel the need to totally pig out, add strips of bacon on top for another two bucks, but this one is plenty porky on its own.
You'll be warned ahead of time that the 50/50 will show more pink than normal due to the bacon in the mix. As you might expect, it's got some extra grease to it, and it does tend to fall apart a little more than the standard beef model. But the flavor is all there, baby. Interestingly, my palate registered more "sausage patty" than "burger" with the 50/50. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. It's a fantastic sandwich, and one I'll gladly order again. It just hits a different button, that's all; if I came in completely jonesing for a capital-B burger, I'm not sure the Baconburger truly kills that particular craving.
Hop Alley takes extra care with the sides, seasoning their fries with a house blend that Scheiber calls "a little salty, a little heat, a little sweet." They're excellent, as are the sweet potato fries. But the kitchen also goes a bit rogue with offerings like cheese grits, a veggie of the day (cream corn, collard greens, or speckled butter beans, anyone?), or onion rings hand-dipped in a thick beer batter...using the house brew, of course.
I may not have been the first to find Hop Alley, but I'll definitely be going back. And I may be paying a bit more attention to where my neighbor says he's eating out from now on.
About the Author: Todd Brock lives the glamorous life of a stay-at-home freelance writer in the suburbs of Atlanta. Besides being paid to eat cheeseburgers for AHT, pizzas for Slice, and desserts for Sweets, he's written and produced over 1,000 hours of television and penned Building Chicken Coops for Dummies. When he grows up, he wants to be either the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the drummer for The Gaslight Anthem. Or both.