It went down like this:
“Hey, wanna go eat at The Hub?”
“Sure! I’ve been looking forward to that.”
A few minutes later we were whizzing across the new Abraham Lincoln Bridge, and Mary started getting skeptical. “Are you lost? That place is right next to the Comfy Cow. I’m pretty sure that’s Indiana ahead.”
I grinned. “Not that Hub. This is a whole ‘nother Hub.”
And so it was. Let the glitzy new sports bar in Clifton where River City Tire used to be wait for another day. This Hub in Jeffersonville, Indiana, is smaller, funkier and features a one-of-a-kind cuisine for the region: Its offbeat, multi-ethnic bill of fare is built on roti, a tasty Indian flatbread.
Clifton’s Hub is fancy and new. Jeffersonville’s Hub is cozy and old, a smallish clapboard bungalow that fits comfortably into its neighborhood. Its two beige rooms are filled with shiny, polished maplewood tables. Hardwood floors creak unexpectedly underfoot, another old-house quirk, as is the brick chimney rising between the two rooms. Air conditioning was cranked up high the other day, leaving our dining area borderline cold, a condition that co-owner Sam Jones attributed to a powerful new compressor installed to keep the kitchen habitable. Fair enough. Summer’s on its way.
Service is utilitarian: Self-serve fountain drinks (or, if you like, fancy teas or espresso drinks), paper cups and napkins. But fresh daisies in attractive glass vases elevated the mood, as did tap water offered in fancy carafes.
Line up and place your orders at the counter, with the entire menu chalked on a black wall behind. There’s plenty of variety, with roti in more than two dozen combinations for breakfast, lunch, and, a recent addition, dinner.
In Indian restaurants, roti and other flatbreads come along as a side item. The Hub puts them into more significant service, taking over where tacos, pitas, or even Texas toast might otherwise serve. You can have them breakfast style (from 7-11 a.m.), some Anglo-style and some with a South-of-the-Border accent, including an item, called “El Chapo,” that’s wrapped around a fried egg and chorizo.
Lunch (and dinner) roti are categorized among chicken, beef, pork, fish, veggie and vegan, and they range the culinary world from down-home out to Latino, Italian, French and Swiss flavors. One makes a decent small plate and two, a pretty good meal. And here’s the best news: They’re deliciously affordable, topping out at $4.50 for The Victory, a roti-wrapped ration of smoked brisket, slaw, fried smoked jalapeños and salsa. Salads, a short list of sides, and house-made desserts round out the menu. Everything is made in house, it appears, and management pledges, “We try our hardest to support all local, sustainable, humane sources.” I salute this, and I think it shows in quality fare.
Everything we tried on a lunch visit was first-rate, good enough to inspire me to brave the scary highway maze at both ends of the new bridge again.
We started with a large All Kale Caesar ($8) that was more than big enough to share. I’m not a huge kale fan. I know it’s good for me, but I didn’t grow up eating that stuff, and it still doesn’t inspire me. But this kale was good. Maybe because it’s “baby” kale, it’s tender, crisp but not chewy, and lacked the stronger bitter flavor that puts me off its grown-up kin. They were tossed with a tangy pale-gold dressing and garnished with grated Parmesan and crunchy Parmesan “crusts,” thin-sliced tomatoes and a few toasted pecans. Not a traditional Caesar, but a good one, with a diverse mix of flavors that all worked together. We cleaned the plate.
Two roti — the fried-cod Bees Knees and the smoked-tofu Wizard (both $4) — hit the spot. The roti made a great vehicle for both. The Hub’s roti are thick, tender with shortening but pleasantly chewy, with a good, subtle wheat flavor and plenty of heft to carry their tasty payload.
The Bees Knees carried a lightly battered chunk of mild, flaky white fish about the size of a stumpy carrot, nestled in bibb lettuce and a “house tartar sauce” and was elevated by crunchy crispy thin fried potato strips. The Wizard was stuffed with smoky, firm, crunchy-sided tofu cubes good enough to persuade even the most hardened carnivore. It was dressed with yellow corn niblets in a smoky, chipotle-spicy ranch dressing.
Mary identified the “magic cookie bar” ($2.25) as an iconic treat made from the recipe on the Eagle Brand Condensed Milk label. Stuffed with flaked coconut, chewy, not crisp, it reminded me of a chocolate-chip and walnut macaroon.
Overall, everything we tried suggested an eye and taste for making simple food appetizing. I’m not surprised it was slammed at lunch time, with crowds filling the tables and a line back to the door. Lunch for two came to just $19.53, and we let their iPad calculate a 25 percent tip to show a little support.
The Hub Cafe
716 E. 10th St.
Robin Garr’s rating: 91 points