Durham's New Hop + grind Restaurant

The new Hop + grind burger spot gets it right
The interior of Durham’s new Hop + grind combines retro touches and modern trends to create a funky, welcoming space you’ll want to spend time in. Photo by Bobby Buivid

Burgers, it could be said, are having their day. The beef patty on a sesame seed bun has long been a staple in the American diet — it’s an easy grab-and-go food — and it’s satisfying on many levels. But the perfection of that meld can be difficult to nail down, duplicate and dispatch to the continually more demanding dining public. There’s the quality of the meat itself — does it need to be locally sourced and grass-fed? The bun and its texture are often debated. And then there is the height, width and breadth of all the amendments. Is more better? Is there a perfect balance? Is there no end to the creativity that can be piled upon that humble slab of ground meat?

Bobby Marcotte, head chef at Tuckaway Tavern in Raymond, wanted in on the trend of juicy glory. He has worked for several years making Tuckaway burgers fabulous, with meat ground fresh almost hourly, and a full market’s worth of ingredients on hand to add to the mix.

About a year and a half ago, Marcotte teamed up with Bobby Buivid, a restaurant design professional, and they started planning the ultimate burger joint. Does it take that long to open a restaurant? Well, yes, according to Buivid, who says, “We wanted to make sure everything was perfect, from the food to the environment to the service. We bounced ideas off of each other every day.”

The restaurant is full of repurposed items, such as spray paint cans as tap handles. Photo by Bobby Buivid

The new Hop + grind in Durham has a wealth of charm. One could say that ambient lighting and décor are the most important aspect of a new restaurant if you want people come in from the cold and sit a spell. Buivid wanted a theme from the start that “embraces the past, but chases the future,” he says, adding that they became “pickers” for six months while they collected ephemera, 1950s beer memorabilia and a really cool tin BEER sign.

There is an obvious nod to the beer-loving past. Buivid had retro picnic coolers fitted to contain the beer taps. The tap handles themselves are the spray cans they used to add graffiti to the walls and tables. Vintage lard tins have been turned upside down to become shades for heat lamps at the pass. “We wanted to appeal not only to students, but to their parents, alumni and the folks living in the region too,” he says.

Service has been given plenty of thought as well. “We wanted to bridge the gap between an In-N-Out Burger experience and a higher-end, sit-down experience,” says Buivid. “We are calling it craft/casual.” The duo has incorporated aspects of fast serve, such as the line-up-at-the-register ordering experience, but they give the food chef-driven quality. It seems to be working. There is plenty of time to read the menu and take in the vibe while in the queue. You can watch as the food is placed at the pass, ready for the servers to take to the seated diners. You might even want to change your order as attractive burgers and fixings are quickly dispatched. Seating options include stools at the bar, community tables and high-top tables, each hand-built and topped with spray-painted designs, including one that says “Game Changer.”

The menu is all about burgers, from traditional beef to chicken or pork. Photo by Bobby Buivid

Marcotte’s plan all along has been to “revolutionize the burger,” he says. The team ultimately decided on a selection of ground meats, from beef to chicken to pork. With the starting menu, there are four versions of each — all with a spin that reads like a poetic ode to food lust. How can you say no to additions of ham, sweet pickles, Fontina, mustard, crispy ham and cabbage slaw for the Infidel pork burger. The burgers are not cooked to order, but seasoned and spiced in a mix, while the toppings add the over-the-top experience. When I mentioned I really liked the taste of beef (as in rare), Buivid said that they are adding an artisan burger for aficionados of rare meat. Thank you.

This is not just a burger joint. Marcotte has added marinated and breaded fried chicken breast served with a drizzle of spicy honey or ranch dressing. There’s fried mac and cheese, pulled pork and fries fried in beef fat — just like the old days. Their fried “pickles” are actually fried green tomatoes for a nice tart bite between full face-on burger mouthfuls. There are also creative salads for vegetarians. Vegans should probably walk on by or just enjoy the local brews, of which there is a nicely curated rotating list. Buivid promised there would also be one “highly prized” regional beer available on tap. A bucket of throwback beer cans, including PBR and Hamm’s, are kept on ice for the truly nostalgic or cash-strapped.

Burgers might be the stars of the food show, but the beer selection is top-notch. Photo by Bobby Buivid

Other drink offerings also recall an earlier era. Hop + grind sodas are house-made syrups served at the counter, soda fountain-style. Find a Saigon cola with a taste of ginger, cherry vanilla and an orange Creamsicle — all pretty sweet. The malts are classic, but include a Mexican cocoa with cinnamon and chilies and the Black Forest with chocolate, raspberry and cherry.

That’s pretty much the story, but according to Buivid, it’s just the first chapter. He will undoubtedly keep working to perfect this baby. Plans include adding a rack of old UNH yearbooks for guests to laugh at hairstyles of the past or find parents and friends. And this pair of Bobbys just keep thinking. The carefully considered Hop + grind in Durham may be the mother ship for a host of other stores using this craft-casual brand. Buivid was not free to say, but he pointed in a southerly direction as the next gambit. Are they changing the game? Not sure. Wild and crazy burgers are out there. Retro décor is all the rage. Counter-to-table service can speed delivery, which is always a good idea. Local brews, by themselves, can get a crowd of beer lovers and beer makers pretty excited, in itself creating a neighborly atmosphere.

Dining out is more than sitting down to good food. It’s the experience that people crave, and getting that right can be more difficult than frying a burger on a flat top. Here’s to Hop + grind, and all those who try to juggle all the hospitality elements. They got it right here. Now pour me another Tuckin’ Good IPA, please.

Categories: Features, Restaurant Reviews