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Published: Friday, 4/16/2004

Restaurant review: Hops Restaurant Bar & Brewery ****

As a dedicated drinker of bottled domestic beer, I have never much cottoned to the draft microbrews sold everywhere. Some of those I've tried over the years seem to have been made from hay, or raspberries, or some other beer-averse fruit, while others carried an unpleasant hint of textiles.

Well, either my tastes have changed or the microbrews around here are getting better. In particular, the beers at Hops Restaurant Bar & Brewery on Dussel Drive in Maumee seem much more flavorful and satisfying - perfect for washing down the Hops food, which compares favorably to that of most other chains located in Toledo.

It's a classic American eatery, with a predictable menu: Steaks, seafood, comfort food such as meatloaf and chili burritos, and sandwiches, along with the usual mix of soups, salads, and three or four desserts.

The varieties of beer we tasted on a recent visit ranged from Clearwater Light, akin to an American light beer, and Lightning Bold Gold, a medium lager, to Alligator Ale, a variation on Guinness Stout, and the dark Flying Squirrel Nut Brown Ale. For a quick primer, I recommend the Brewmaster's Sampler ($3.50), which on our visit included four-ounce tastings of four staples and two seasonal beers.

The TV-ridden bar and wood-paneled dining room at Hops - jam-packed with couples and families on weekends - offer views of the gleaming silver tanks adjacent to a glass-enclosed area where the various ingredients are boiled, filtered, and fermented into beer. But of course, patrons are at least as eager for the food, and in that regard the restaurant has two things going for it right off the bat.

First comes the complimentary introduction to the meal: two warm, fresh-baked croissants spread with sweet honey butter. Then, if you're smart, you'll

ry introduction to the meal: two warm, fresh-baked croissants spread with sweet honey butter. Then, if you're smart, you'll

order a crock of the wonderful baked potato soup ($2.99), which includes everything you'd expect from a baked potato minus the skin - potatoes, smoked bacon, grated cheese, and onion in a hearty cream base.

Depending on your appetite, try the ale (onion) rings ($1.99), the side caesar salad ($3.49), Baby Back Ribs ($11.99), Hickory Roasted Chicken ($10.99), a fresh catch of the day ($15.99), or a choice of sandwiches, from a blackened prime rib ($10.99) to a pricey choice of three burgers ($6.99-$7.49).

From the sandwich list, I chose the chicken scallopini club ($7.99), which, though greasy and very un-scallopini-like, filled me up with fried chicken tenders dressed with onion, tomato, and lettuce on grilled panini bread.

On a recent dinner visit, we sated our hunger with a skewer of five gulf shrimp and a generous cut of tender Atlantic salmon, all glistening with a Cajun-style walker's wood sauce ($15.99). And a brewmaster steak ($11.99 for 9 ounces, $13.99 for 12), delivered medium rare as ordered, was good and juicy, if a bit stringy around the edges. It came with a Hops house salad and a spicy dish of black beans and rice - digested, of course, with a glass of golden lager.

Contact Bill of Fare at fare@the blade.com

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