Bubba’s has bread pudding made of Krimpets. Got your attention?
You know the running joke in the old Looney Toons cartoons, the one with Pepé Le Pew swooning over a passing female’s aroma contrails? That’s kind of what happened to me as I walked toward the front door of Bubba’s Texas BBQ recently. First came the hint of smoke in the air; then a pungent whiff of something more meaty; and finally, when I opened the door, the smell of Texas BBQ in all its heady glory, like a new line of colognes: Caveman, by Calvin Klein.
This is the latest entry into our city’s ever-sprouting crop of smoke- and fire-cooked meateries, a Lone Star bar with ample TVs, straightforward decor and one serious smoker.
And that, really, is what matters most here: The meat, and the manner in which it’s cooked.
This is the way of all flesh here: a stint, ranging from two to 30 hours, in the one-ton-plus smoker custom-designed by the eponymous Bubba himself, which includes nine doors, a hunger for the hickory, oak, and maple that feeds it, and an almost alchemical ability to turn mere meat into something better suited to poetry and Hallmark cards.
Pit master Robert “Bubba” Kolbasowski, a Texas native, is a stickler for details, and his 21-spice dry rub and homemade BBQ sauce are remarkable testaments to his focus on every aspect of what gets sent out of his kitchen. Fortunately, he uses his sauces judiciously, never over-applying them, which would be the BBQ-crime equivalent to certain other offenses that get prosecuted in the Hague. And in truth, his best meats really need no additional sauce beyond what he adds—just a pile of paper towels and beer, and they’re good to go.
Brisket is the ne plus ultra here. It remains untrimmed until after it’s completed its 24- to 30-hour vacation in the smoker, which allows the fat atop it to slowly melt into the meat itself. A sliced Everest of it, strata upon strata of beefy stupendousness, arrives jiggling like a Jell-O mold. It falls apart with the slightest pressure of the tongue, and disintegrates into a buttery, smoky-sweet memory within seconds. I actually swooned after my first bite.
Smoked sausage also achieves Himalayan heights. Here, the balance of smoke and spice-heat anchors it, and the tension between the two is pitch-perfect. It’s all cocooned in a natural casing that snaps with each bite, and highlights further the toothy grind of meat inside. Right now it’s being sourced from Kissin Fresh, right in the neighborhood, and the product is excellent.
Ribs, however, were held back by an over-charred carapace. The meat beneath that shell was smoke-pink and tender, but the black layer on top lent each bite not only an overwhelming sense of bitterness but a toughness that stood out even more sharply given the succulence of everything else. The ribs, though, were one of the very few slip-ups.
On the opposite end of that spectrum were the wings, beguilingly smoke-perfumed, impossibly moist, and tossed in a choice of three sauces (mild, hot or BBQ) that each would be a highlight anywhere in the city.
The other quibbles—the ziti, say, in the mac and cheese was a bit overcooked—were minor given the exuberance of the flavors. That side-dish classic, for example, still won me over with its thick pepper jack- and Monterrey jack-kissed béchamel and three-cheese combo of cheddar, Parmesan and mozzarella, all of it framing the meaty lardons. And there was nothing to balk at when it came to the other sides, either: The collard greens had been cooked down to the point of falling apart, and their earthy funk was expertly countered by a fantastic vinegar-brightened sweetness, as well as pork belly. Kernel-studded cornbread, both sweet and savory at once, proved to be a perfect vessel for sopping up all the commingled juices puddling the plate.
The pricing here doesn’t look cheap on the menu, but given the size of the portions, it actually represents a fair value, especially if you order one of the mixed-meat platters. The Lone Star Combo, for example—three meats, three sides, cornbread, pickles—fed two of us, including my seriously carnivorous friend, and also left enough food for us each to bring home a full dinner portion for the next night. (Including dessert, though in all honesty the TastyKake Krimpetbread pudding, with its homemade butterscotch, didn’t last until morning; Executive Chef Mike Buhles does a very nice job in this department and others.)
Even as the temps continue to plummet, I’ll have to roll down my windows every time I drive by this excellent new addition to the city’s growing reputation as a sort of barbecue meatopia. I don’t want to miss that smell, and the promise it holds.
Cuisine type: Texas-style BBQ.
Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 3:30pm-midnight; Fri., 3:30pm-2am; Sat., 12:30pm-2am; Sun., 12:30pm-midnight.
Price range: $3-$22.
Atmosphere: Friendly and unpretentious.
Food: It’s a smoked-meat-lover’s heaven here.
Service: Laid-back and professional.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014