Just when you thought that River North was fully restaurant-saturated, Jerrod and R.J. Melman have opened their fourth insanely popular place in a two-block radius.
Bub City, which in a much earlier and earthier ‘90s incarnation was located at North Ave. and Weed St., is serving up tasty drinks (with two big bars and more than 100 types of whiskey, alcohol is omnipresent) and fair-to-middlin’ BBQ. If you arrive after 8 p.m., prepare to show ID to the burly bouncers at the front door, but accompanied minors are always welcome to eat.
Buh-Bye, Dragon Ranch
This new BBQ joint is smack dab next door to Dragon Ranch, which had a mysterious fire and closed “for repairs” just a month or so after the Melmans opened Bub’s. The Lettuce juggernaut just keeps rolling along.
If you’re looking for subtlety (or authenticity, for that matter), this is not your spot. But if you want to be part of a happening scene, drink and eat at reasonable prices, and possibly go deaf, you are in business.
For whiskey aficionados, this is the place to be. Choose from 18 options from the Buffalo Trace Distillery alone, including 3 vintages of the elusive Pappy Van Winkle ($55-85). House cocktails ($10 each) were imaginative; we especially enjoyed the Ponderosa Pine (rhubarb, gin, tonic and rosemary) and the North to Alaska (a frozen concoction with blackberries and bourbon).
Fryer Working Overtime
Appetizers are largely fried. That being said, the Homemade Texas Torpedoes ($6.95) were best in class, with each half pepper stuffed with cream cheese and cheddar, battered and fried, and served with a ranch dipping sauce. The Fried Pickles ($5.95) more than passed muster, but the Giddy Up Fries ($12.95) grew soggy under the weight of barbecue pork (or pulled chicken), melted cheddar, sour cream and pico de gallo. Crab Cake Claws ($11.95), which looked more like a mini corn dog, proved to be a crabcake mixture wrapped around a small crab claw, breaded and deep fried. Meh.
The El Paso Chopped Salad ($9.95) is worth ordering, if for no other reason that sharing a fresh salad, here laden with roasted sweet corn, black beans, chopped tomatoes, and chipotle-ranch dressing (which was also served as the dip for virtually every app).
If you’re a brisket fan, you’ll be happy with the Niman Ranch 12-hr. Beef Brisket ($15.95), served in a cast-iron casserole dish. Fried Chicken ($15.95) is served with Alabama White Lightning Sauce (aka chipotle-ranch dressing with a little vinegar added). Supposedly there is a choice between regular and spicy chicken, but the spicy variety was emphatically not so.
Baby Back Ribs (half $15.95/full $24.95) were tender, but the regular BBQ sauce was a little sweet for our taste. We much preferred the vinegary Memphis-style sauce offered at the table.
Tender pulled pork filled a soft bun for the Pulled BBQ Sandwich ($9.95), which came with tots or waffle fries. Go tots. We did really enjoy the Bub’s Patty Melt ($9.95). The patty is made from a mixture of ground chuck and smoked brisket, topped with tobacco onions and American cheese and grilled on rye—a terrific sandwich.
Like with most BBQ restaurants, side dishes tell the story. The sweet Spoonbread ($4.95), like a very sweet and cheesy polenta, was a good foil for the BBQ. They make a decent, very cheesy Phoebe’s Mac & Cheese ($5.95), and we really enjoyed the not overdone Green Beans with Onion Crunch ($4.95), a welcome respite of green in a sea of red (and brown).
The dessert offerings—largely pie, as befits a proper Southern restaurant—were very rich. A little of the Peanut Butter Pie ($6.50) goes a long way, but if you are a Reese’s Cup fan, this is the bomb. Banana Cream Pie ($5.95) was pure comfort food, and the Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp ($6.95) with a scoop of vanilla ice cream was a sweet indulgence.
If you bring family, come early, and make a reservation. This place is packing them in, both weekday and weekend nights alike. And don’t forget your ID!
3 out of 5 stars (B)
435 N. Clark St.