A number of things are unique about The Hub Cafe.
Not to say that uniqueness isn’t present in various forms in other Lincoln dining establishments, but The Hub seems to possess an abundance of such distinctiveness.
It is part of a city/private collaboration – a private business located on city property. It is a farmer-owned restaurant. It exercises a commitment to purchasing produce from 20-some different area farmers, 75 percent of which are located in Lancaster County. It has a community and personal vibe that resonates from the cafe’s ambiance, staff and menu offerings.
Having opened in January 2016, The Hub is owned and operated by Doug Dittman of Branched Oak Farm, a third-generation farm that is also a certified dairy and creamery in northwest Lancaster County.
Located along the picturesque Antelope Valley Trail, The Hub’s name is inspired by the popular biking and pedestrian trail, with its interior themed as an axis and destination for those who use the trail. Some of the cafe’s interior design – including stone and concrete work, murals and even a wine bottle chandelier – were executed by Dittman and include cycling references.
The concept for an eatery that featured locally grown produce from sustainable farms was one that had percolated for years with Dittman. Emphasizing a connection of urban and rural communities, the low-key Dittman says, “One grows up in Nebraska and is accustomed to the agricultural landscapes of corn, beans and wheat, but doesn’t necessarily think about where it [produce] goes and who eats it.”
Showcasing local produce and displaying a different agricultural model, the restaurant provides a conduit for farm produce.
The Hub gets the majority of its produce from Lone Tree Foods – a collective comprising local area farm producers. “All boats rise with the same tide,” Dittman remarks, explaining that all farm participants in Lone Tree Foods are treated equally.
What this means to Hub customers, according to Anastasiya Krestovsky, the cafe’s front manager and event coordinator, is the opportunity to be challenged in their dining experiences. “People may be unused to new ingredients [in the Hub’s dishes],” Krestovsky says.
Executive chef Jake Thiessen – with 16 years in the food industry in Japan and the U.S., including Lincoln’s Le Quartier Bakery & Cafe – is charged with creating this fare. “The Hub provides fresh, healthy food. The whole establishment has a certain flair that you do not find elsewhere in Lincoln,” he says.
Breakfast during the week is served all day, with the cafe’s lunch menu available at 11 a.m. According to Krestovsky and Thiessen, traditional breakfast crowds are generally composed of older individuals, while during the lunch hours the customer base is a mix of university faculty, business professionals, cyclists and runners. The weekend brunches are popular with families and university students.
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Dittman emphasizes that The Hub’s uniqueness is like nothing else in Lincoln, while Thiessen credits it as providing the best breakfast in town – “not just eggs and toast.” Krestovsky remarks that in addition to the great food, The Hub staff furnishes great service and genuinely enjoys working and serving at the cafe.
According to Thiessen, the restaurant would be making a few changes to the menu this fall, so some of the following menu offerings might have disappeared.
For breakfasts, the toast-and-biscuit choices include Branched Oak Farm quark and jam ($4.50), smashed avocado and preserved lemon ($6.25), biscuits and gravy ($6.50), and French toast ($9).
The breakfast entrees include the simple (eggs, breakfast links and potatoes), $9.25; hub skillet (potatoes, red peppers, caramelized onion, sautéed greens, Shadowbrook Farm feta, scallion and Branched Oak Farm sausage), $9.50; and smoked ham scramble, $9.75. (Both the simple and the skillet will see minor ingredient changes on the fall menu.)
Also on the breakfast entrée list are two customer favorites. According to Thiessen, it is the awesome fried farm egg sandwich (over-easy egg, Branched Oak jack, balsamic roasted red onion, aioli and greens on a warm buttermilk biscuit) at $7.50, while Krestovsky cites the huevos rancheros (two over-easy farm eggs, smoky black beans, roja and verde salsas, pickled red onion, Shadowbrook Farm feta and griddled corn tortillas) at $10.
The lunch menu offers soup of the day ($4 cup/$6 bowl), and two salad choices – kale salad ($8) and Grain Place quinoa tabouli and simple greens ($9.50).
Five sandwiches range from quinoa tabouli vegetable wrap, grown-up grilled cheese and squash banh mi (grilled squash, carrot and daikon pickle, house-made kim chi and sunflower tahini on baguette), each $8.50, and crispy local pork gyro or open-faced chicken tinga, each $9.50.
The Saturday and Sunday brunch menu includes the same toast-and-biscuit offerings and adds in two brunch pizza possibilities – the Bill Murray or the Gwyneth Paltrow, each $14. Many of the daily entrée and sandwich offerings are reflected in the “something hearty” brunch listing – the simple, smoked ham scramble, hub skillet, huevos rancheros, grown-up grilled cheese, squash banh mi and open-faced chicken tinga. A new item for the weekends is the savory breakfast bowl ($11).
Looking to the future, Dittman says that discussions with the city about adding an outdoor beer garden and possible band shell are in the very preliminary stages.
“I’m proud of what we are doing,” he says. “By using local producers, we are keeping dollars and produce here [in Lincoln]. The Hub is a place to connect people, run by people who care. It is a good way to live.”