Bub City, Melmans’ lastest eatery, a so-so entry in city’s hot BBQ scene
By MICHAEL NAGRANT firstname.lastname@example.org March 20, 2013 4:38PM
Pulled pork with sides of waffle fries and onion strings is plated. Bub City restaurant is the subject of a restaurant review, photographed on Wednesday, March 13, 2013. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times
BUB CITY ★
435 N. Clark; (312) 610-4200; www.bubcitychicago.com
Hours: 11 a.m. – 2 a.m. daily.
Prices: Appetizers, $4.95-$13.95; BBQ, $11.95-$75.95; seafood, $11.95-$27.95; sides, $2.95-5.95; dessert, $3.25-$5.95
Try: Pulled pork, lamb ribs, Jack Rose cocktail and lemon meringue pie
In a bite: Country music and BBQ for out-of-town, wannabe city slickers.
KEY: ★★★★ Extraordinary; ★★★ Excellent; ★★ Very Good; ★ Good;
Zero stars: Poor
If I were concierge in the Loop advising tourists where to find a faux-country setpiece with franchise-level fried grub and fantastic cocktails within a short walk, Bub City, the new restaurant from Rich Melman scions Molly, RJ and Jerrod Melman (Hub 51, Paris Club, RPM Italian) would likely be a go-to recommendation. But a concierge’s job is often to direct tired, hungry travelers without rental cars to a convenient spot.
My job is to identify original and best food experiences for locals and travelers yearning for destination dining. While it is the younger Melmans’ best effort to date, Bub City does not fit that bill.
The American flag made of recycled aluminum cans hanging over Bub City’s north bar, pendant lamps made from crab-pot steamer inserts and the “wall of whiskey” near the south bar create an inventive sort of urban cowboy vibe. But those well-curated choices are canceled out by cheesy country pop star posters (Tim McGraw!), a “Girls, Girls, Girls” sign, a peeing cowboy sculpture in the women’s bathroom, and a smattering of old sports trophies. Such boorish kitsch and manufactured nostalgia feels especially cheap when the soulful, real version is easily found at the many old-man dive bars throughout the city.
And when it comes to barbecue, the crux of the Bub’s menu, except for the unimpeachable slow-smoked “Carolina-Style” pulled pork with it’s glistening fat and deeply smoky perfume, there are so many better local options. At Bub City, sliced brisket is dry and almost smokeless. Its crust is not crisp as on the best brisket at Smoque in Irving Park (Smoque’s is also almost half the price of Bub’s). The crust on the St. Louis ribs is soggy, not quite the bark you’d find on the spareribs at Honey 1. The burnt ends are pretty good, a nice, blackened, sweet, almost maple-like finish, but they’re not the addictive molasses-lacquered meat candy that the now defunct Brand BBQ used to serve. The hot link at Bub has a nice casing and a hefty filling of garlic, but there is very little chili bite like the zesty sausages served at Uncle John’s. The charred lamb ribs at Bub city do feature a cracklin’ crust, but at $19.95, it’s puzzling why such a cheap cut of meat is almost as expensive as a full rack of pork ribs.
Fried chicken is juicy to the bone, but the crust suffers some sogginess when you order it spicy. Instead of drizzling the “spicy” sauce on top, they should put it on the side. Fried pickles are heavy.
Bub City also dabbles in seafood. Blue crab claws are well-chilled as the menu declares, but this requires little chef skill. The clam “yella-bellies” are nicely coated with a thick breading, but the flesh is flavorless, not as a satisfying as the funky almost foie gras-like bellies served at Fish Bar.
Having hired one of Chicago’s best liquor wizards, Paul McGee, Bub is a serious cocktail joint. I like the Jack Rose best, a lime spiked mix of apple brandy, pomegranate and angostura bitters. And yet, serving the refreshing lemon and sweet-tea infused Whiskey Tango cocktail in the kind of plastic glass you’d find at an all-you-can-eat buffet cheapens some of the experience. A bartender also charged one of my companions a dollar more for a drink than the printed menu price. The dining room was crawling with overzealous food runners snatching unfinished plates and half drunk cocktails. Service like this is not fit for a gentleman. I guess for a bub, though, it’ll do.
Michael Nagrant is a local freelance writer. Email the Sun-Times Dining
section at email@example.com with questions and comments.