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Wailing “Let's Go to the Hop,” Arkansas Times staffers filed downstairs last week to give the Hop a run. The hamburger palace's arrival in the Times' very own building (Heritage East at Scott and Markham) was a much-anticipated event, so much so that to get us to quit asking questions about when opening day would be the management decided to open a day early.
Unlike its mothership on Cantrell, here's a Hop you can sit in. The layout is only slightly different from the previous tenants' (a succession of restaurants), but tall two-tops and a counter with red-padded stools have been added. Folks flooded in once the doors opened, and not just newspaper people. That made service a little slow, but we didn't mind, settled in soft leather chairs and watching the latest celebrity embarrassment on CNN's “Headline News.”
We were a little embarrassed when our hamburger did arrive, thanks to its humongousness and the onion rings piled high on the side. The burgers here are 6-ounce grilled and hand-formed patties and they ooze beyond the borders of the bun. Our shame notwithstanding, we ate the entire thing, down to the last escaped pickle. One staffer puts the Hop burger somewhere in his local top five on the chart, thanks to size and seasoning.
The batter on the chicken fingers, however, lacked oomph, the staff chicken finger connoisseur says. She added, however, that the Hop's have potential: They're plump, juicy, not like the freezer case variety. But a little salt, pepper, whatever, is in order. Two staffers got fries instead of the onion rings they ordered, too — they were out of onion rings, but hadn't communicated that to the folks taking orders — and neither was offered a refund on the $1-plus price difference. It was opening day chaos, and we can't blame the Hop employees we saw for not trying hard, that's for sure.
Back to the onion rings, which caused some mild disagreement. The Hop's are heavily battered; we like a less heavy, flakier batter. We were dressed down, however, for this opinion by other ring-eaters. Only your own opinion matters when it comes to onion rings.
We interviewed some of the hipsters at the Hop. Drawing a comb through his hair while he pondered our query, one diner said the superdog — loaded with chili, onions and cheese — was “sloppy good.” He lamented the low dose of pineapple syrup in his pineapple shake (but observed, “Considering we're in a greasy-spoon wasteland downtown, we'll take it like we can get it”).
Another man, jeans rolled high enough to reveal snow white socks and penny loafers, had high praise for the vanilla milkshake. He enjoyed as well his taco salad — steaming ground beef atop fresh tortilla chips and enough shredded iceburg, he said, to keep the whole meal from devolving into mush. His only complaint: No cheese on the taco salad. How's that possible?
A Hop pro took issue with the ice in his cherry limeade. It wasn't the small grainy kind the Hop serves out west. We hear they're working on that, though.
Bottom line: Expect a few skips in these early days, but go to the Hop.
Three and a half stars
201 E. Markham
Yes, you can get a salad at the Hop, and you can have grilled chicken on it. There's also Frito chili pie. Malts aren't on the menu, but we spied a bottle of Milk Malt next to the mixer.
11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The menu says it delivers, but Hop owner Chris Isgrig says the logistics haven't quite been worked out yet. The other Hop will close at the end of June. Prices $-$$. Credit cards accepted. No alcohol.