I’ll be blunt: I did not have high hopes for Cheba Hut, the new cannabis-themed sandwich shop on campus. It seemed gimmicky. Theme restaurants are rarely known for their excellent cuisine; nobody goes to Medieval Times because of their excellent turkey legs, or to Chuck E. Cheese because their pizza is reminiscent of old Naples. The mere existence of a restaurant called “Cheba Hut” seemed like a collegiate gag, the type of place guaranteed to strike fear in the heart of every small-town parent dropping his or her kid off for freshman orientation.
As a restaurant theme, sinsemilla could go either way. On the one hand, ravenous hunger is a known side effect of pot, as well documented by Cheech and Chong. But on the other hand, that appetite is not commonly understood to be a discriminating one. When was the last time you heard of somebody getting high and going out for a good osso buco or a baguette with some pears and Comte?
Not surprising about Cheba Hut is its décor. Bob Marley poster: check. Jamaican-flag color scheme: also check. What was surprising, and pleasantly so, was the food. Madison’s Hut benefits from being the latest in a chain of Chebas; it has predecessors located on other college campuses (natch) in places like California and Colorado (also natch). So despite the fact that our Hut is relatively new, the food and its execution feel polished and well-thought-out.
Cheba’s sandwiches come in three sizes: the 4-inch “Nug,” the 8-inch “Pinner” and the 12-inch “Blunt.” I sampled three different sandwiches in “Nug” size, which sounds diminutive but is enough to feed one gal with a conventionally sized appetite. The “White Widow” featured bacon, chicken, crunchy veggies and house-made ranch ($4.50). I ordered it on the garlic bread and it was scrumptious, served open-faced as are all of Cheba’s sandwiches.
The Hawaiian “Pakalolo” ($4.20) combined ham, pineapple and Swiss for a sweet-salty treat, especially good with the added punch of banana peppers, and recommended by Cheba’s friendly staff. The vegetarian “Griefo” ($4.20) was a crisp garden of sprouts and other produce with pepper jack and hemp cream cheese, which I found indistinguishable from conventional cream cheese, especially against the backdrop of all those fresh vegetables.
The secret weapon at Cheba Hut is its selection of house-made condiments. The house dressing is an herbal vinaigrette, but they also make their own chipotle mayo, horseradish sauce and teriyaki glaze. The bread is another strength, available in whole wheat, white and garlic; all baking is done off-site.
Certainly, the counterculture theme will draw customers to Cheba Hut out of sheer novelty or devotion to either the cause of legalizing marijuana or the stuff itself. But sandwich-lovers should not be put off by the goofy sandwich names and punny menu. You may feel a little silly going to a restaurant called “Cheba Hut,” but its “toasted” subs are seriously worth seeking out.