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Award-Winning Brews and Pub Grub Blues

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If this were a beer column, it would contain 550 words of pure adoration for Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB). It would describe the gustatory fireworks that happen in a Hopworks pint. It would gush about the breakfast-worthy Survival Stout, with its deep grain hues, subtle sweetness, and shock of strong coffee. It would go on and on about the mellow, hoppy astringency of the perfectly refreshing organic HUB lager.

But this column is primarily concerned with food. And the food at HUB can be pinned down in three words: not that great.

HUB is located in a sprawling, remodeled fuel depot on SE Powell. There is a lofty mezzanine and a large main floor with a play space, beer garden, restaurant, and bicycle-themed bar. Working away beneath it all—the steaming heart of the operation—is the brewery itself. In general, the space is bright, noisy, and often packed. The diverse crowd of middle-age white-collar types, Lycra-clad bikers, throwback hipsters, and the occasional hop-headed hippie all seem quite happy drinking elbow to elbow. But despite a small army of attractive front-of-house staff, the crowds at HUB can lead to spotty service, even on weekdays.

A forward-thinking "eco-brewpub" committed to local and organic in all things, HUB's green credentials extend from the brewery to the kitchen. And though their beer is a great ambassador for a sustainability-minded philosophy, the food just isn't pulling its weight.

The menu is general pub grub, but the burgers, fries, sandwiches, and pizzas are accompanied by breathless descriptions of their provenance. Unfortunately, the Cascade Natural tri-tip steak cannot rescue the bland Powell Steak Sandwich. Yes, the steak is nice and tender, but the chipotle pepper sauce—a kind of anemic, sweet barbeque sauce—does little to pep up the too-mellow provolone. The whole thing, piled into a hoagie roll with limp grilled onions and peppers, is simply underwhelming.

The trend continues with the black pepper and garlic beer sausage, again served in a hoagie roll. If there's pepper in this sausage it's completely lost in the mealy consistency of the meat. Again, there's so little flavor that it's hard to believe that it has been cured in pilsner. The mustard accompanying the sausage has almost no kick and does little to pep things up.

Pizza appears to be the flagship creation at HUB—"New York style," meaning it yields enormous, thin crust slices. A patron encouraged me to try the Cascade Mountain Range, which includes pear, tri-tip steak, onions, blue cheese, and chives. The creativity shown in combining these particular flavors on a pizza is impressive. Everything works quite well. The pear sweetness complements the steak while the blue cheese adds some sharper notes. But just when hope emerged that HUB's pizza would be enough to pull the menu out of the doldrums, I was confronted with a slice of pepperoni pizza, baked too long, causing the cheese to curdle on top. It shouldn't have left the kitchen.

HUB deserves commendation for their amazing beer. And I'll admit that their Cajun potato wedges are crave worthy. However, their kitchen must begin to meet the same standards as their brewery. Currently, it seems all the flavor has been reserved for the brew.

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