Tucked in an alley just off Grant Street sits Hops & Hominy, another in a line of "Southern food" restaurants that opened up a while back when it was the hot new trend in San Francisco.
A nice, mostly bright, place with high ceilings, which is great as it helps dissipate the noise level that can sometimes make dining unpleasant in town. Especially great here as even on a Wednesday night this place was packed. Upon sitting down we are greeted with a small cornbread loaf in a cast iron pan and a side of honey butter.
Kudos one that this was hot out of the oven and two the butter was soft and able to melt into the soft delightful white cornbread. I could have eaten the whole thing (or 5 of them) but I was with others so I was polite. This was really good and I liked how they just served it free, just like the South where you automatically get a basket of some kind of bread of most every restaurant. We then picked out mac and cheese and crawfish croquettes as appetizers.
The croquettes were a mix of wild rice, Louisiana crawfish, serrano peppers and a side of Old Bay aioli. This was decent but not spectacular. It tasted like someone had rolled some gumbo into a ball then breaded and fried it. That's not a totally bad thing but here you really couldn't taste the crawfish, it could have used more, and cut back the rice a bit as it was closer to a rice ball. The mac and cheese was creamy sharp cheddar with bacon and toasted breadcrumbs on top. It was hot and piping out of the oven and I liked the tangy sharpness of the cheese and of course the bacon just kicked it up a notch--delicious. One could easily have this and a side of cornbread and be very happy here.
From this we chose creamed collards and sweet potato hash as side dishes and I went classic Southern and got shrimp and grits for my entree.
The collards weren't traditionally creamed, actually they were barely creamed, more like heavily sautéed with ham hock and crushed red pepper, which was fine because they were good. They were cooked tender and the ham wasn't all fatty and didn't add too much saltiness--nicely done. The pepper gave it a good little bite to boot. The has wasn't exactly what I expected but that was fine, the sweet potatoes were soft and buttery and again, the house cured bacon gave it a good saltiness to offset the sweetness of the potato, a perfect combination. Once more cornbread and sides and I could be satisfied, which was good because the shrimp and grits were just so-so. They were white gulf shrimp, cheddar grits, crab and a brandy sauce. Yes the shrimp was not overcooked, but the grits were too thick, more like polenta. There wasn't enough sauce to offset they thickness and it didn't taste like brandy or much like anything. And if there was crab in there it was overshadowed by the cheddar because I didn't taste them and didn't realize crab was supposed to be in there till I re-read the menu. Too bad, grits seem to be something a lot of restaurants in town try to do but don't quite seem to get there. I say this as a good Southern boy who has pretty much eaten a river of grits in my life so I'm not just talking smack, I feel like I know what they should be like, and this wasn't it.
The entree notwithstanding, I would still go back to this place as there are enough good things going on with menu to fill my hunger, plus, some of the plates of fried chicken I saw going out looked really tasty. Next time I'm so getting that.