Cheap and cheery: The Hub adds flair to casual pub fare

This past week, I made the acquaintance of a reader who drunkenly told me that my food reviews are incredibly harsh. This judgment may be true of my past couple reviews; as the venerable Judge J­udy once said, “I’m like a truth machine.” However, I do write positive reviews if I feel they are deserved, and the following is a case in point.

The Hub in North Adams (55 Main St.) is that rare gem of a restaurant you wish you had found earlier in life. Unlike at other casual restaurants like the ’6 House or Water Street Grill, the Hub has brightly painted walls and large windows that give it a cheery ambience – the restaurant’s logo even uses bubbly font. The Mason jar mugs and black and white photos of North Adams add to the restaurant’s homey, neighborhood charm; it’s easy to imagine the fairly new restaurant (it opened in 2008) living up to its name.

On Saturday during the lunch rush, the restaurant was filled with customers eating burgers and salads with their beers. But despite the hustle and bustle, the wait staff remained both friendly and attentive – a rare combination, in my experience.

My companion and I started with the Pig Pen Shrimp ($7.25): six shrimp wrapped with bacon, seasoned with Old Bay and grilled with a generous coating of barbecue sauce. This dish was the highlight of my meal, and a must for anyone not keeping kosher. The jumbo shrimp were tender and succulent; the bacon was so crispy it made the shrimp seem deep-fried and the homemade barbecue sauce had a tangy orange flavor – a perfect complement to the saltiness of the bacon.

I also ordered one slider as an appetizer. I love a good slider, and let me tell you, the Hub’s slider is a good slider. It’s not that the components were particularly impressive – no truffles or foie gras here – but the construction was exceptional. The burger to bun ratio was just right, and the slider had just the right amount of onion and pickle (one generous slice of each) and special sauce. Moreover, the bun was freshly toasted and the burger hot off the grill, and at $1.50 each, the slider is a perfect way to get your burger fix without ordering one as an entrée.

After gobbling down our appetizers in about a minute flat, my companion and I eagerly awaited our entrees. When my soup sampler ($5.75) arrived, I quickly decided that I would leave the best for last – clam chowder – and eat the worst first. I am not particularly fond of beans, and the first soup of the sampler was 15-bean soup. As I tucked into the soup, I was surprised by how tasty it was. The variety of beans – including big chewy lima beans and little tender black beans – gave the soup a great texture, and the tomato-based broth has the richness of pork, presumably from stewing with the generous chunks of ham. Next was the Hungarian mushroom soup – a simple chicken broth-based soup that tastes like mushrooms and onions sautéed in butter. In other words, it was very tasty, albeit a bit gloppy and thick.

Finally, I was ready for the clam chowder. But as soon as I took a spoonful, my heart sank and I felt like I was in the middle of Starch City. My guess is that the clam chowder boiled with the potatoes for too long because the soup was unbelievably thick and flavorless while the potatoes were overcooked. But what I was disappointed by was the lack of clam flavor and clam chunks. It made me wonder if they even used clam juice in the soup, and the clam bits were so small and sparse that I handed my soup over to my companion. I’ve had much better clam chowder at Whitmans’, although I did enjoy my other two soups.

Despite our rather heavy lunch, my companion and I shared a bread pudding ($4.50) for dessert. The bread pudding came out piping hot with a golden chewy top and silky, creamy custard underneath. The pudding was studded with plump raisins and full of cinnamon flavor – nothing fancy, but certainly a satisfying classic.

I’m not sure when I’ll be able to go to the Hub again, but I am already excited for my next visit – I can’t stop thinking about that shrimp. It’s a shame more students don’t go out to North Adams to eat, because the Hub is truly a delight. The food, service and atmosphere are wonderful, and the reasonable prices make the Hub perfect for students. Next time you go out to eat in the area, forget Hobson’s Choice or Water Street Grill – try something different and head to the Hub. And order the Pig Pen Shrimp.

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