Hub 51 – Chicago
For the last couple weeks, I’ve been working on a pretty big freelance project in the Benton Harbor area. After three days of work there, the client wanted to make a quick trip to Chicago to work out of their office there. Of course my employer wasn’t going to argue with a trip to Chicago even if it was for just a few hours.
The best thing, as I’ve mentioned before about freelance jobs, is the lunch. Unlike my normal job, we always find time to eat lunch…and usually it’s a pretty nice place.
Our plan when we got to the city was take care of business before lunch in the office, go to lunch, then finish up some other things we needed to do in the city. Our initial choice for lunch was Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill. On the drive to Illinois, I called Frontera to see about reservations. I was greeted by a recording that told me they were closed on Sunday and Monday. Damn.
Choice number two was The Publican. I got online to find a menu and found out they don’t open until 3:00. Damn.
So we’re stuck on lunch. I threw out a couple ideas, but no one seemed interested, so when we got to the Chicago office, we asked the adminstrative assistant. Right away she threw out one of her favorite places and it was just a short walk from where we were.
Hub 51 is on the corner of Hubbard and Dearborn in Chicago’s Near North Side. It’s on the street level of a pretty large building. The revolving door that takes you into the bar area is on the Hubbard Street side.
Once inside, the exposed ductwork and industrial feel hit you head on. The space is set up like a lot of the hip downtown spots that are taking advantage of the age and former lives of many of Chicago’s older buildings.
The hostess station kind of blends in to the bar. I noticed it, but the two people I was with did not. They walked through the dining room to a waitress station thinking it was the hostess. I hung back and made contact with the hostess. Once the other two people figured it out, they came back in time for a waitress to take us to a booth along the windows overlooking Hubbard Street.
The menu at Hub 51 is fantastic. They have a wide range of higher end entrees ranging from sushi to sandwiches. One of the big draws are the tacos which are made from fresh made corn tortillas. Trust me. They sounded tempting, but they’re served with rice and beans which would have went to waste had I ordered the braised chicken taco like I wanted to.
Instead, I ordered the First-Rate Cheeseburger with Hand-Cut Fries. The burger is fresh meat, but not hand formed. It was too perfectly round and looked like it had been formed in a press. It was cooked perfectly. It was a little pink in the middle and very, very juicy. It was served on a soft roll that had been charred on the grill which always adds a little extra depth to bread. The sandwich comes with choice of cheese and I chose cheddar. I realized as I was taking the last couple bites that it was actually white cheddar and it was delicious. The hand-cut fries were fantastic. They were thin and very crispy and had a really heavy dose of seasoning salt.
My employer found several things she thought sounded good, so she went for the soup and salad approach. For her soup, she got Black Bean Turkey Chili which is made with smoky pasilla chiles. The portion was a pretty large almost entree size bowl and she said it was fantastic. There was a little heat from the chile, but it wasn’t over powering.
For the salad, she ordered the Brussels Sprout Salad. Like most kids, that sounds quite awful to me, but she absolutely loved it. The Brussels sprouts were raw and topped with Medjooled Dates, Manchego Cheese, and almonds. It’s topped with a mustard vinaigrette which she had served on the side. She actually called this one of the best salads she’s ever had and couldn’t stop eating.
Our client was very excited about the idea of sushi. He has spent quite a bit of time in larger cities which have a variety of dining options. That’s something he misses in Southwest Michigan, so when saw that he could get sushi, he dove right in. He went with the California Rolls and I’m pretty sure he got six pieces on his plate. He polished them off in record time. I’m a pretty fast eater and he was finishing off the last of his plate before I took two bites out of my burger. He was really happy with his choice and really excited we chose a place that had such a wide variety of food.
The bill for the three of us was just a little under $50. It’s hard to argue with that price in Chicago at a place that is hot right now. We walked in just before noon without reservations and were seated right away. Within 15 minutes, the place was full people were having to find other options for lunch. All three of us agreed that the food was fantastic. We were pretty bummed when we realized Frontera was closed, but we found a pretty good alternative just down the street.