Barbecue Bliss; So-So Sides

Bubb's Grub: a little bit country, a lot of food

If ever there was ever a restaurant more appropriately named than Bubb's Grub, a Texas-style barbecue joint way north in Catalina, I'd be surprised. From the woody smoke aroma as you walk in the door to the blue-jeans-wearing servers to the massive servings of well-cooked meat, the details make it clear: You're in for a down-home, ass-kicking, belly-busting meal.

The drive to Catalina can be long (depending where you live and/or the time of day). But with up-close views of the mighty Santa Catalina Mountains and limited desert landscape, it's a pretty drive (in spite of the rapid growth along this once-wild corridor). By time you arrive at Bubb's, you'll be in the mood for a hearty Western meal.

Western, in this case, means Texas barbecue. There's pork, chicken and ribs aplenty, and, of course, the requisite Texas favorite--beef. Other items include BBQ spaghetti that combines pork and beef that's been Bubb'd (no explanation), deep-fried shrimp and some salads. On Fridays, there's a Wisconsin fish fry.

Bubb's is decorated as you might expect: lots of wood, a cement floor begging for peanut shells, steer horns, cowboy boots, animal pelts, blankets and plenty of cowboy artwork.

Our server was so brand-new that she had to read the menu to make sure she understood what we were ordering, but she was learning and trying hard. To the credit of the folks at Bubb's, they did have a trainer by her side. This young woman filled in the gaps that the new girl forgot.

We kicked off the meal with an order of tobacco onions with prairie sauce ($4.95) and burnt ends and pieces ($6.50). John ordered a beer, and I ordered a sarsaparilla. We waited to order our entrées as the menu needed another look-see--there were quite a few intriguing choices.

For entrees, John chose a bar-b-que combo ($10.95) that included Texas beef brisket and some pulled pork shoulder (chicken, smoked turkey or a hot link are the other options). His side kicks, as they are called at Bubb's, were the cattle drive beans and prairie potato salad. I ordered the boss hog ($19.50), a full rack of hog wild, lip-smacking barbeque pork ribs. My sides were hillside red potatoes and mac and cheese.

Our server brought the appetizers faster than greased lightning. One plate held a mass of deep-fried, lightly battered onion shreds. The prairie sauce was a mayo-based dipping sauce enhanced with just enough hot spices to tingle the old taste buds. The other plate was exactly what it said: bits and pieces of nicely burnt beef brisket pieces, slathered with Bubb's award-winning sauce. Both were more than finger-lickin' good. We finished off the bits and pieces, but barely made a dent in the onions and had them packed up to take home.

Entrées arrived next: Both of our plates were overflowing. My ribs held plenty of tender meat that had been cooked out back in Bubb's big smoker. A mopping of Bubb's award-winning sauce had turned to a spicy, charred coating. Bubb's sauce is rich with spices, picante sauce, peppers and more. Cooked, it's hot stuff; fresh out the jar, it lights a fire in your mouth. These ribs didn't even need the extra sauce; they were that good.

John's meal was enough for two hefty eaters. The pulled pork almost melted in your mouth, and the brisket was also tender and tasty. He poured some of the milder barbecue sauce on top. It was all that was needed.

Our side kicks were disappointing (save for the beans). My mac and cheese suffered from overcooked pasta and undercooked sauce, and the red potatoes weren't anything to brag about. The potato salad was heavy with onion and, like the red potatoes, was only fair. The beans were quite delicious: Black beans and pinto beans were served in lightly spiced natural juices. They went well with the smoky meats.

We were way too full to even attempt dessert, and since all are ice cream-based, it would have been impossible to get any one of them home in time.

Our lunch visit was on a Saturday. There was a small crowd, so a table was easy to find. Service this time was decidedly more experienced and relaxed. The server even wore a cowboy hat!

John had the brisket sandwich ($6.95) served on a kaiser roll. His sides this time were the beans again, and the red potatoes. I ordered the quarter-pound burger ($5.45), also served on a kaiser roll. My sides were the spicy black bean salad and the steak fries. We both ordered lemonade.

John's meal was much the same as his dinner, only in a different form. Again, the beef was tender and smoky, with the beans good and spicy, and the taters so-so.

My burger was less than what I would expect from a meat-lovin' joint like Bubb's. Oddly, the bun is what made this burger good. The fries were thick-cut, but again, nothing different or outstanding. My bean salad didn't win any raves, either.

We did order the house special dessert: apple cinnamon delight ($3.95). This was a cowboy take on apple shortcake. Crispy, cinnamon-sprinkled tortilla chips were topped high with vanilla ice cream, thick baked apple slices, whipped cream, a maraschino cherry and a dusting of more cinnamon. It was rich and just different enough to almost finish off.

Bubb's has hits, and Bubb's has misses. The folks there know their meat. And their hearts are certainly in the right place--they want to serve people good barbecue. But competition for barbecue lovers is tough, and a little tweaking might help keep Bubb's in the fray.

One thing's for sure: You'll walk away from Bubb's Grub with a full belly and probably a take-out container of some good barbecue.

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