The Hub is a sports bar and casual eatery that is located at the edge of campus housing, and it caters to its target audiences to a tee. For college students, whose bodies demand large quantities of sustenance, the dishes are super-sized and modernized diner fare for $10 or less. The food is giddy-making in its largess, as the burgers are tall, the burritos are doused in sauces zig-zagging across the tortillas, and fries come in delightful tin cups. For the sports fan, one can dine with the constant din of multiple stadiums roaring in a perfect D flat (or so I imagine), with confetti-colored jerseys flitting about on a multitude of large TV screens. Quite impressively, a colossal television fashioned out of nine large screens hangs center stage.
I visited The Hub, which is in a storefront of a new apartment complex, for brunch on Sunday at 11:30 am. I enjoyed a surprisingly relaxed atmosphere, which I cannot imagine would be the case on a game-day. I was amused by how the high ceilings, mod décor, and wire rope railings reminded me of the ARC gym; I almost expected students to be running laps on the second floor. I was especially relieved that there were no gratuitous Chief Illiniwek images accompanying the many Illinois “I” banners.
The Hub’s selling point for their brunch is the bottomless mimosa. For $6 dollars, you can have as many mimosas your heart could desire for an hour. If your effervescent bacchanalia exceeds an hour, one can extend the bottomless mimosas at $4 for another hour. The mimosas’ flavors are orange, fruit punch, tropical punch, and berry. They were being constantly refreshed, and their jewel tones that looked appetizing.
The brunch menu is largely Tex-Mex inspired, with meat-heavy entrées such as short rib burritos and roast beef benedicts. The lighter dishes, whose heft is mostly from eggs, are the breakfast burrito, or egg avocado toast.
I started with the coffee, which endeavored to be a medium-roast, but was very watery and weak. I imagine this coffee would be perfect for long study-dates, as one could drink a great quantity for an extended period without pitching over in heart palpitations.
Trying to stay away from too much meat, I shared the arugula and quinoa salad, the chilaquiles, and pancakes with my dining partner.
The arugula salad ($11), which came in a large bowl, was unfortunately tasteless. Though, the quinoa studding the greens added a subtle heft and nuttiness. The almonds topping the salad were nicely toasted as well. But that’s where the satisfaction ends. The arugula was limp and lacked pepperiness, and seemed to have been in its plastic container a bit too long. The balsamic vinaigrette made a watery whimper, the feta cheese barely squeaked of saltiness, and the red onions had no bite. There was no asparagus, as promised on the menu, and the blueberries and strawberries had barely any flavor. This is to say: perhaps one should not come to a sports bar for a salad.
The pancakes, however, were top-notch. One gets six enormous and fluffy pancakes for $6, which makes this a perfect dish to share with a crowd. As the pancakes approached the table, I was hit with the unmistakably nostalgic smell of funfetti birthday cake. These are probably the sweetest pancakes I’ve had, and are perfect for a morning indulgence. They are served with whipped cream, butter, and maple syrup which add a deeper note of sweetness. If you’re in the mood for pancakes aspiring to be closer its sweeter cousin, the cake, these are a treat.
The chilaquiles also fit the bill for a lighter, but substantial, dish ($7 plus $1.50 for chorizo). The corn tortillas were crispy on the edges, but also softened by the egg and salsa. The chorizo was highly seasoned with spice and salt, and added bursts of flavor. The tomatillo salsa was fantastic, and its vibrant acidity cut through the salty meat and creamy egg. While the dish was quite satisfactory, the same cannot be said for the beans and rice accompanying it. The beans and rice had a canned quality which tasted flat and disappointing in contrast to the rest of the dish.
The Hub meets all the expectations one could have for a college-town sports bar and hang-out informed by the stylizations of gentrification. The Hub is located at the confluence of the new student housing and apartment buildings, so it is perfect walking-distance for their denizens. The huge servings, and straight-forward, highly-seasoned, and loud flavors provide instant gratification. And importantly, drinks are largely under $10, and the impressively arrayed TVs stream all the sports in high definition.
The Hub is located at 601 South 1st Street, #102, Champaign, and serves brunch Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.. For more information, visit its website.
All photos by Jean Lee.