By Jonathan Mandel
Where it’s at: 110 W. Hubbard in River North. HubbardInn.com
The scene: Several blocks removed from the Mag Mile, Hubbard Inn feels more pleasantly tucked away from the hustle and bustle of River North than most of its peers. The warmth inside the restaurant only completes the vibe. Its interior is an eclectic blend of early 20th century class: velvety red booths line the walls beneath once-avant-garde abstract paintings and intricately patterned tiles, and Victorian and Art Deco design flourishes abound.
Food and drink: Hubbard Inn toes the line between respect for the classics and propensity for innovation with ease. Their New England lobster roll, for example, has the three crucial elements of any lobster roll: the bun, the lobster and the mayonnaise. But this isn’t just any bun we’re talking about. Hubbard’s tasty lobster comes on a pretzel roll, the filet mignon of buns. Mixed in with the lobster are delightful little crunches of celery and apple. Their drink menu is no different: an array of classic cocktails done right, alongside their own exciting creations. (They also have wine and plenty of beer on draft.)
When it comes to bacon-wrapped dates, an increasingly ubiquitous modern classic, Hubbard Inn presents an insane concatenation of flavors and textures: smoky, crunchy bacon meets sweet, soft dates and savory, creamy ricotta — all served in a rich tomato broth. Nor does one of their most popular appetizers, the lamb meatballs, fail to impress. First of all, there are many small meatballs, as opposed to a few big ones, which is, quite frankly, refreshingly practical. But more importantly, the spiciness of the dish brings out the flavor of the lamb deliciously, and bits of fig and shavings of pecorino are a nice touch to top it off.
Hubbard Inn toes the line between respect for the classics and propensity for innovation with ease. … The tasty lobster comes on a pretzel roll, the filet mignon of buns. Mixed in with the lobster are delightful little crunches of celery and apple.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the turkey burger, which stole my heart. It has all of the flavors of a turkey, cranberry and brie sandwich, but put together in juicy burger form. The turkey patty is the perfect consistency; thick and tender, it melts in your mouth just like the ideal beef patty. One gets the satisfying experience of devouring a burger, but with a whole different collection of flavors.
What caught our eye: While the restaurant has more of a nightlife vibe in the evenings, it’s open, airy and uncrowded for weekday lunches. During these hours, the vibe is pleasant and relaxed, and the floor-to-ceiling windows let in tons of light. The plants and carefully curated decor make for a breath of fresh air in a neighborhood that can often feel a bit overwhelming.
We’ll be back because: For one, the food. Sure, River North may not connote “unique” in the way that some of Chicago’s other neighborhoods do, what with all of its department stores on Michigan Avenue. But the fact of the matter is that Hubbard Inn delivers when it comes to their menu. The dishes are familiar, but the flavors are exceptional, and the prices are reasonable, with most entrees and cocktails hovering around $12-15. The atmosphere, particularly during quieter lunch hours, is the icing on the cake.