The Grill at the Huskie Den in the Holmes Student Center opened this week with an exciting new look and an amazing menu.
The new design combines the former Blackhawk Cafeteria and the Huskie Den recreation area, replacing those facilities with a 12,000 square foot dining and entertainment venue spread across two levels. Gone are the glass walls that separated the two venues, and getting from one to the other is dramatically simplified thanks to a new stairway and an elevator that directly connect the two levels.
The venue offers upscale pub food in a sports bar atmosphere while providing opportunities for viewing sports, enjoying live entertainment, playing pool or bowling. Starting next semester, it also will include a bar with a wide selection of craft beers and wines.
“We hope that this becomes a social hub, a place where students – as well as faculty and staff – will want to hang out, watch a ball game or listen to a concert,” said NIU President Dr. Lisa Freeman. “It is an exciting part of our efforts to create a vibrant central hub of activity on campus.”
As striking as the facility is, the menu is expected to be a major draw. It was created by NIU Food Service Manager Kevin Shirley, an executive chef who trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, whose resume includes stints overseeing culinary operations at Navy Pier and the United Center in Chicago. With a resume like that, it is unsurprising that Shirley is setting the bar high for his latest venture.
“I don’t want to compete with other establishments, I want them to compete with us,” he said. To do that, he has created a menu full of surprises, as well as perennial favorites that will attract a crowd.
The most over-the-top menu item, he says is probably his “Don’t Be Jelly” burger, which comes topped with peanut butter, jelly and bacon – a combination that he discovered at a Chicago food truck. He likes the burger, but confesses that his personal favorite is the Sweet Home Chicago burger, which comes topped with Italian beef and giardiniera peppers.
Other distinctive offerings include a buffalo chicken popper wrap, a strawberry medley salad (which comes with grilled chicken on mixed greens, with fresh strawberries and a mango chardonnay vinaigrette. For those with a sweet tooth, dessert choices include deep fried cheese cake. A wide variety of appetizers, sandwiches, wraps, wings, nachos, salads and side dishes round out the menu.
For the remainder of the semester, only the restaurant will be open with lunch service from 10:30 a.m. until 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. Starting next semester, the entertainment venue will open and evening and weekend hours will be added.
The Grill at the Huskie Den will accept cash as well as credit and debit cards. Students who have meal plans that include Flex Dollars can spend those dollars at any of the HSC venues. Students, faculty and staff also can pay using Huskie Bucks, if they prefer.