Monday, July 15, 2013

Hangriest Hour: Summer tapas at the Top Hat

Posted By on Mon, Jul 15, 2013 at 12:46 PM

Hangriest Hour this week is all about the tapas lifestyle. Nothing’s more fun than kickin’ it with a pack of good friends and eating your way European-style through a menu of delicious summer morsels.

What you’re getting: Tapas are a Spanish tradition, but the term has been expanded to include any menu of small-portion appetizers. The Top Hat started serving a tapas-style menu earlier this year, and though there is a variety to choose from, many of the options adhere to traditional Spanish recipes.


Favorite tapas dish No. 1: Ahi tuna nicoise. This is a spicy one, but it’s also light, so it’s perfect for summer. Crisp green beans, olives, potatoes, tomatoes and red onion make for a tiny salad. The olive oil and Murray River sea salt give it a rich, bright flavor. $8.

Favorite tapas dish No. 2: The tortilla espanola looks like bite-sized lasagna, but it’s actually made from potatoes, mushrooms, leeks and spicy pepper aioli. It’s potato salad’s sophisticated cousin.

Favorite tapas dishes Nos. 3 and 4: The braised beef brisket and the sautéed brussels sprouts are staples that carried over onto the summer menu. In particular, the braised beef brisket, speckled with garlic chips, melts in your mouth—especially when you dip it in the sherry honey aioli. It’s almost unbearably good. Server Cara Webb says these two dishes stay on the menu because customers love them so much. “I’ll ask you how they are as a formality,” she says, with a confident smile. “But I already know they’re good.”

The man behind the tapas: Top Hat owner Nick Checota has final say on what stays on the menu, but the ideas and recipes are developed by Chef Erin Crobar. Crobar recently won the Local Fest chef competition and he’s also won Iron Chef at the Western Montana Fair the last two years.

Why get tapas: Tapas are best eaten with a group, and the experience of trying different things off the menu facilitates a social atmosphere. There’s no chance of ordering remorse because you can try so many different dishes. It’s like speed-dating, only you’re dating food.

How to find it: Top Hat Lounge, 134 W. Front Street, open 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.

Hangriest Hour serves up fresh details on western Montana eats. To recommend a restaurant, dish or chef for Hangriest Hour, email

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