Middletown's Hop Knot Marries Craft Beer And Inspired Pretzels

Carb-lovers have Mike Boney and John Schauster to thank for Middletown's new spot, dedicated to one of food's greatest marriages: beer and pretzels.

The partners opened Hop Knot on Main Street in April, pairing a menu of freshly baked pretzels and a tap list of 24 craft brews. It's their first restaurant venture, but as co-founder of Manchester's Top Shelf Brewery, Boney brings unique perspective and beer knowledge to the enterprise.

Boney met Schauster, a Manchester native, through the brewery, and the two discussed the idea of opening a craft beer bar with a straightforward food menu. Coincidentally, during the planning process, they each mentioned pretzels as an option.

"We didn't want to have a full, crazy restaurant menu, but we wanted to have food," Boney says. "That's where this came into play. Pretzels and beer [are] perfect; it's simple and it's easy to repeat, so we can do it [with] more locations down the road."

Boney and Schauster searched for potential locations in downtown Hartford, Manchester, West Hartford and Glastonbury, they said, but nothing fit the bill. In Middletown, they settled on the former Shadow Room nightclub at 170 Main St., and transformed the 73-seat space over about four months' time, building a lengthy bar and tables from reclaimed barn wood. Slate-blue walls are adorned with brewery signs and colorful pop-art prints of pretzels.

"Downtown Middletown is a big foot-traffic area," Schauster says. "We get a lot of that, and people who flock from neighboring towns — and from all over Connecticut — because they want to experience something new."

Hop Knot's pretzels are made to order. Each one starts as fresh dough, and then they're rolled, blanched and baked until golden. Traditional pretzels ($4 and $5) are finished with salt; others are flavored with garlic basil, cinnamon sugar, Asiago parmesan or cool ranch.

Stuffed pretzels ($8 and $9) offer indulgent combinations of warm bread, melted cheese, meats and veggies. The Caprese (tomato, mozzarella, pesto) has been an early favorite, along with the jalapeño and cheese Popper; the pizza-esque Italian with pepperoni and mozzarella; and the Spin, with spinach, artichoke and blue cheese.

"It's a matter of catering to all different crowds and what kinds of foods they like," Schauster says, adding that they've given the kitchen staff liberty to come up with new ideas for specials.

Experimental menu items have included a gyro-stuffed pretzel with seasoned meat, feta and tzatziki dipping sauce, and a cheese-stuffed pickle wrapped in pretzel dough. Hop Knot also takes customer suggestions, creating a taco-inspired stuffed pretzel with beef chili, cheddar and onions and peppers following a Facebook contest.

Each pretzel comes with a choice of one dipping sauce: house-made beer cheese, laced with Sea Hag IPA from Woodbridge's New England Brewing Company; mustards; marinara; pesto; jalapeño honey; blue cheese; spinach-artichoke dip; and sweet options, including Nutella and strawberry milk chocolate mousse.

Guests have enjoyed the pretzels as snacks and late-night bites, Boney and Schauster said, but lunch visitors are often looking for heartier options. Hop Knot also serves "knot dogs" ($7 and $8) with pretzel dough twisted around hot dogs, sausages and kielbasa, and a variety of pressed sandwiches ($8 to $10) with buffalo chicken, roast beef, pastrami and the "Elvis,"which comes with mascarpone, peanut butter and bananas.

About 50 percent of the two dozen craft beer taps are dedicated to Connecticut breweries, Boney says, with regular offerings from Oxford's Black Hog, Bloomfield's Back East, Stratford's Two Roads and New England Brewing.

"For us to be able to support them, it gets them more business, and lets them grow," he says. "It works out well."

The rapidly-rotating beer list stays updated on BeerMenus.com.

About 100 "mug club" members (with a long waiting list) have their own reserved, numbered mugs and enjoy regular discounts and specials. Hop Knot also recently introduced trivia nights on Mondays, a "huge hit," Schauster says, and the bar encourages tableside amusement with a shelf full of classic board games.

"There's not anything like this in Connecticut," Schauster says. "Overall, it's just unique, especially coming to such a budding Main Street downtown area. Middletown, where there's millions of restaurants … we needed to be different because otherwise we'd be lost in the mix."

Hop Knot, 170 Main St., Middletown, is open Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. 860-788-6651, thehopknot.com.

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