I've always felt that it's easier for good food to make up for poor restaurant service than it is for good service to make up for poorly prepared food.
However, my recent trips to Hub Restaurant and Ice Creamery are forcing me to rethink.
Walking into Hub, I was first struck by the unique, industrial décor. It blends into the budding young, posh downtown scene nicely, with oversized features, exposed brick and beams, and interesting focal points—such as the collection of upside-down lamps hung at the back of the dining space.
On the weeknight when we visited Hub for dinner, there was a big show at the Rialto Theatre, so downtown parking and dining space were at a premium. The restaurant was bustling, but there were a few scattered two-tops available, and we were seated promptly at one near the back of the restaurant, under the lamps.
During both visits, our dining experiences took a turn for the worse after we were seated. On both visits, a harried busboy roughly clanked water glasses on the table without a greeting, a smile or a "someone will be right with you." And during both visits, we then sat, sipping water and perusing the menu. And waited. And waited. And waited.
Finally, during our dinner visit, a server came up, apologizing profusely, and took our drink, appetizer and dinner order. Hub has a nice drink menu, with some inventive-looking cocktails, as well as wine and beer on tap. In fact, Hub probably has one of the best draught-beer selections in town.
Anchor Steam pints ($4) arrived a few minutes later, followed soon by the antipasta appetizer skewers ($6) and a teeny, tiny cup of onion soup ($4).
The skewers, which change frequently, featured tomatoes, basil, mozzarella chunks and squares of corned beef, placed over a small pile of greens dressed with mustard vinaigrette. Served cold, the skewers were boring and difficult to eat, as the corned beef was jammed on to the skewer and did not want to be removed. The corned-beef chunks were too large and were extremely tough and chewy, and the greens were way overdressed with an intense mustard vinaigrette.
The onion soup did not fare any better. The cup was far too small and was filled too high, so when the spoon went in, the contents spilled over the side. The broth—or the scant amount that was left, thanks to the spillage and the massive, soggy untoasted chunk of bread that had soaked it all up—was bitter and lacked depth, and was not hot enough to properly melt the cheese, resulting in unappetizing, lukewarm chewy globs of Swiss cheese.
Thankfully, the entrées—which arrived after another long wait—were a much-needed improvement. Ted's rotisserie prime rib ($17) with sautéed vegetables, potatoes and a cup of au jus was tender, juicy and flavorful, even though it was hovering somewhere between medium and medium-well, rather than the medium-rare that was ordered. The vegetables were well-seasoned and crisp, and the potatoes were quite delicious.
My turkey pot pie ($12) was a huge portion topped with a brown, buttery, flaky crust, and was filled with large, tender turkey chunks and a wealth of crisp vegetables, from the usual carrots and peas to sweet corn and green beans.
As we enjoyed our tasty entrées and waited for water refills (which never arrived), a large party was seated at a neighboring bench, and a large curtain was closed around their table. This would be a neat feature—except that every time a server walked through, or someone got up from or sat down at their table on the side that neighbored ours, the person would bump into our table, sloshing drinks and interrupting our meal.
About 15 minutes after our entrées were finished, and all the glasses on the table had been emptied, our server reappeared to clear plates and drop off a few free samples of their ice cream flavors. The ice cream was spectacular. There were six spoonful-sized bowls of different flavors, but the real standouts were the oatmeal apple cookie, the bananas foster ice cream, and a bourbon-laced ice cream. The samples were enough to satisfy my sweet tooth without ordering a bowl or a cone.
During our weekend lunch visit, the food even was better—but the service was, amazingly, even worse.
The restaurant didn't seem to be understaffed, since there were several wait-staff members hanging out by the ice cream station and the hostess booth, and it wasn't an exceptionally busy weekend. We were seated at an awkward two-top at the front window corner of the restaurant, we waited more than 20 minutes before we even saw our server; we saw him only three times during the entire meal. The table that was seated just after us waited even longer, and had to eventually find a manager before getting any service.
The food was all on par with the entrées we had on our previous visit. My porchetta sandwich ($10), filled with rotisserie pork, caramelized onions and greens, was tender, salty, porky deliciousness, all on soft ciabatta. The fries, which come with pretty much all lunch meals, were fantastically crispy on the outside, and hot and flaky on the inside. Ted said his bacon cheeseburger ($11) was filling and tasty, with a soft, buttery bun, but it was also overcooked, well-done instead of medium. He also tried out one of their mixed drinks, the Stubborn Hubster ($8), which was summery and refreshing, with vodka, ginger beer, mint and lime juice.
The second time we saw our lunch server, he took half of my sandwich to box up, and we asked for water refills and a salted caramel ice cream cone to come with the check. After 20 minutes, we finally had to flag down a busser to ask for water and find out where our server—and my sandwich—had gone. The server finally appeared a few minutes later, apologized for the horrible service, gave me a salted caramel ice cream (which was absolutely divine) in a bowl instead of in a cone (single scoop $3, double scoop $4.75), and comped the ice cream.
Good food doesn't always make up for poor service, because I won't be back.