In the Kitchen: Hungry Brew Hops
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The people of Newmarket should be thanking the city of Chicago.
For it was there six years ago that Boris Fong, owner of the Hungry Brew Hops Brew House and Eatery on Newmarket's Main Street, was first introduced to craft beer.
It was an “aha” moment for Boris.
“It changed my whole perception of beer,” he explains. “I never knew what it was until then.  I kept being taken to these craft beer places that were packed on a Monday night or a Tuesday night and I realized that we had nothing like that in Toronto.”
Having spent his whole life working in kitchens and knowing the restaurant trade inside out, Fong decided that this was his chance to open the restaurant he'd always dreamed about. He had recently lost his father to lymphoma so he decided life was too short not to take the chance.
“I said to myself, ‘If I don't do it now, I never will,'” he says.
After doing some research and coming up with a concept, he started looking around for suitable locations within the Toronto suburbs, but came up wanting.
“Then all of a sudden I kept meeting people from Newmarket,” he says, “and someone suggested Main Street.  I came up here and saw this old bank building for lease and I said, ‘Perfect.' It had the old world meets new world kind of look I was looking for.
“I saw a huge potential, but I was scared out of my mind,” he says.
He and his wife, Keren, put everything they had into the venture, but their hard work and passion has paid off and today the Hungry Brew Hops is a roaring success, constantly buzzing with customers who appreciate the urban vibe.
It is the first gastro pub north of the 401, Fong explains, something he still finds hard to believe.
The explosion of craft breweries and the interest in craft beer has certainly been serendipitous for Fong, but he knew when he tasted those beers down in Chicago that he was on to a winner.
“If someone cares about what they eat, they care about what they drink,” he says. “The local craft breweries are all about natural ingredients. It's tasty stuff.  Good food and good beer together is a wonderful combination.”
Fong admits it's impossible to keep up with the amount of new breweries starting up, but says that “good beer is good beer” and that he sources beers and ales from all over the province and beyond, including some American craft beers.
The Hungry Brew Hops carries about 28 different craft beers on tap at any one time, with Fong changing them regularly to keep his thirsty customers interested.  He also has four Ontario wines on tap.
But customers don't just come for the beer.  Fong takes pride in the food served at the Hungry Brew Hops, describing it as “comfort food kicked up a couple of notches.”
The menu has something for everyone from homemade burgers using a special house grind to curry lamb potpie and bacon fat popcorn, a big hit with the regulars.  
The important thing, says Fong, is consistency. “I have been in kitchens my whole life, so I know what good food is, but you are only as good as your last meal served, so you have to try and be consistent.”
The people of Newmarket have certainly embraced the gastro pub and Fong says he feels like an honorary resident thanks to the support he has received, during building and since he opened.  
“I'm here every day now. It's really hard work, but it's my life and I love it. It's been a crazy journey, but well worth it.”
With the success of Hungry Brew Hops under his belt, Fong is now turning his attention to another venture, right next door on Main Street.
Lil' Brew Hops is set to open soon, serving tapas-inspired “sharing plates” drawn from world cuisines. It will be an altogether more intimate experience, with a focus on service, says Fong, with two sittings per night as opposed to the bustling no-reservations style of the Hungry Brew Hops.
Serving wine and crafted cocktails, Boris hopes to achieve the ambience of a modern European bistro. “We will be playing old records on a record player,” he says.
Newmarket's Main Street is fast becoming an eating and drinking destination, as new places open up bringing choice, and customers, to the town.
With Hungry Brew Hops regularly serving 400 people on a busy night, and Lil' Brew Hops opening up next door, that looks set to continue.
It might not be Chicago, but it is definitely worth the visit.

Hungry Brew Hops
211 Main St., Newmarket

Beer Broth Mussels
Serves 1.
30 mL (2 tbsp) vegetable oil
450 g (1 lb) fresh PEI mussels
5 mL (1 tsp) bird's eye chilli, chopped
5 mL (1 tsp) chopped ginger
5 mL (1 tsp) chopped garlic
250 mL (1 cup) your favourite lager
125 mL (1/2 cup) coconut milk
1 plum tomato
green onion, cilantro for garnish
salt and pepper to taste
lemon wedge
toasted slices of French baguettes
Heat oil in a medium frying pan.
Add mussels when oil starts to smoke.
Add bird's eye chili, ginger and garlic and saute for 1 minute.
Add lager and coconut milk and bring to a boil. Simmer for 4 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add tomatoes.
Serve, garnished with cilantro, green onions and lemon wedge and topped with slices of French baguette.


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