Restaurant review: Hubbard Grille still evolving for the better

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From the October 24, 2013 edition

Hubbard Grille ain’t sittin’ still. In the span of a few years, it’s graduated from buzzy upstart to Short North stalwart. And though Hubbard’s always offered some decent eats, based on recent meals, I’d say this handsome, comfy and masculine-looking spacious place is cooking better than ever.

Over the summer, a new chef came in and refreshed Hubbard’s menu with lighter, more Latin-tinged touches. On top of that, a great slate of autumnal daily specials has just been announced.

The latter include Wednesday’s “Love for the Locals,” when half-off Happy Hour deals apply to menu items starring Ohio-sourced goodies (e.g. Barley’s, Four String, North High Brewery and Great Lakes drafts go for $3.50 then; OYO and Watershed-fed cocktails are $5; and not-cheap entrees like Tenderloin Medallions, a Chipotle Rubbed Ohio Pork Chop and a Sweet Heat Chicken sandwich are price-slashed to a more affordable $6-$15). Other daily bonanzas: all-day HH deals on Sundays (otherwise, HH is Monday-Friday, 4-6:30) and a twofer all night on Mondays, when draft beers are half-off and Hubbard’s Crispy Brussels Sprouts are only a buck for a small order.

You want those sprouts. Regularly priced at $8 for an astoundingly large platter of them, they’re like veggie candy — sweet, extremely dark-charred, pleasantly crinkly outside and served with a sticky “rioja reduction.”

Those went down righteously with HH beers ($2-$3.50) and half-off HH cocktails ($5), such as a potent, fruit-laced-but-not-too-sweet “New” Old Fashioned. I also tried the soda poppy, wine cooler-esque Tincho Hub.

Back to the grub, I loved the Short Ribs & Shrimp ($13; $6.50 during HH). Their semi-swanky, modern plating belied old fashioned pampering from a tangy tomato jus, excellent cheese grits, clean-tasting shellfish and pot roasty meat.

Likewise decadent was a huge and buttery bowl of Honey Jalapeno Cornbread ($6; $3 at HH). Crusty on top and moist and cake-like underneath, I liked it fine, but it’s so sweet it could be a dessert.

Hubbard’s starkly presented, semi-deconstructed and extra-garlicky Caesar Salad ($7) is a good one. Served with melba-toast-crisp crostini, its creaminess is balanced some by DIY squeezes of lemon.

Newer items like the Tuna & Watermelon Ceviche ($13) are also visually and orally pleasing. This big “small plate,” which mounds up doppleganger dices of citrus-kissed fish and fruit, provides plenteous plantain chips for scooping. Sorta unusual but pretty fun.

Two other newer menu additions I tried were certainly worthy too. The attractive and tomato-rimmed Chimichurri Steak Salad ($19) combined a lively garlic and parsley sauce/dressing with rare-seared flank steak slices, a lotta frisee, radishes, cucumber “noodles” and unnecessary dried cranberries (Hubbard’s fare generally exhibits a penchant for sweet-tooth-caressing that exceeds my palate).

Even better was the Cajun-Spiced Mahi Mahi ($26). Nicely, spicily crusted and tender and juicy underneath, this entree featured a steaky piece of mahi mahi that’s as good as any you’re liable to eat anywhere else in town. Also on the plate were more nifty cheese grits, al dente haricot verts, salty diced pancetta (which effectively framed the various flavors) and a “lobster butter sauce” that tasted a lot like hollandaise.

With rewarding dishes like these, my interest is piqued in whatever direction the future holds for this frequently changing and still-improving place. Stay tuned.