Drink of the week: Hub Punch
Where you can find it: HUB 51
The damage: $8 for a glass, $32 for a pitcher.
Why here? Frat party, confused, overpriced—these were the words a few of my acquaintances used to describe Hub 51, the River North eatery/bar by Jerrod and R.J. Melman, sons of Lettuce Entertain You CEO Rich Melman. While those aren't the kind of descriptors that usually leave me clamoring for a reservation, one adjective trumped them all: popular, as in you'll find a wait at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday. My curiosity piqued, I met my downtown-residing buddy Eliza there for some cocktails and appetizers to see what all the fuss was about. And we were lucky that Eliza cleverly books reservations on Open Table whenever possible to earn points toward free dining dollars. As soon as we walked into the cavernous, industrial-looking space, we eyed a group of young professionals lining up near the hostess stand; it was clear the eatery's popularity wasn't an overstatement.
How it went down: After checking in, we were immediately led to a table in the middle of the dining space, surrounded by a heavily animated, post-work crowd that kept the volume level hovering just at tolerable. We went straight for the drink list, though I already knew what I was after: the signature Hub Punch.
Designed by the restaurant's Beverage Director Josh Moore, the punch—made with equal parts Grey Goose Le Citron and Cazadores Reposado Tequila, Spain's tangy Licor 43, pomegranate juice and a handful of "top secret" additional juices (my money is on some orange and lime)—comes on tap, served out of a keg. Jerrod Melman says that on a good night Hub serves up 25 gallons of the stuff, and it's easy to see why. Served in a short rocks glass, the Hub Punch is like the jungle juice at a college house party (hence maybe the frat reference?); it's dangerously potent, because every sweet sip masks any hint of alcohol. A slight bite from the tequila does linger, and the tangerine-color concoction has a zesty citrus flavor. It tasted a bit too saccharine to down more than one, but it was perfect to kickstart the night.
Would I want to become a regular? By the time I polished off the punch, a massive mound of chicken nachos arrived. At $13, it was the priciest plate of cheesy goodness I had ever ordered, but the tender chicken, big piles of fresh-made guacamole and smoky salsa seemed to justify the cost. We also ordered the Three Green Bites, edamame, charred padrone peppers and tempura green beans. The light bites were a nice contrast to the heavy nachos and were definitely a nod to the menu's somewhat odd Asian influence. I think that's where the "confused" descriptor comes into play; ranging from burgers to sushi, Hub's menu does feel like it's suffering from multiple personality disorder. Still, I couldn't help but think of all the times I've craved maki but was stuck with a dining companion who cringed at the stuff. Maybe Hub, despite what some may consider its faults, is onto something.
Dana Kavan scours the city for drink deals so good you'll offer to buy a round and creative libations that outshine your average on-the-rocks concoctions. Want to give Dana tips on where to rack up a bar tab? Share your finds before her next night out.