You’ll have no problem finding Bub’s Bar-B-Q on Route 116 in Sunderland MA. Get anywhere near the intersection of routes 116 and 9, or routes 9 and 5, and you’ll see the signs pointing the way. For more than two decades, Bub’s has been a west central Massachusetts BBQ institution. With tent-covered picnic tables, a one-hole miniature golf course and a basketball hoop for the kids, comfortable seating inside a cozy rustic cabin and an all-you-can eat side dish buffet, it’s an inviting spot that draws a nice mix of families and nearby University of Massachusetts students. Inside, the walls are covered with vintage beer trays, sports memorabilia and newspaper articles about the place. There’s even documentation of Bub’s high finish in a 1980s barbecue sauce contest run by noted barbecue personality Remus Powers.
The menu at Bub’s is a simple one. Appetizers include onion rings, hush puppies and fried alligator. For meats, there are two kinds of ribs (spares and babybacks), barbecued chicken, pulled pork, brisket and kielbasa links. Bub’s also has fried chicken, burgers and several seafood items: shrimp, catfish, salmon and tuna. There are eight specific meat combos; whatever lack of flexibility with the meats is made up by the variety and quantity available in the all-you-can-eat side dish buffet.
I first visited Bub’s with a friend on a weekday afternoon in 2005; I returned recently with my wife for a Sunday dinner. My impressions on both visits were nearly identical.
We started with a few appetizers. Onion rings were the puffy battered variety, served hot and crisp. Fried alligator tail ($4.95) was short on quantity and, though not necessarily short on taste, the chunks were so tough they were literally inedible. I’ve had and enjoyed alligator before, but this was nasty stuff.
For entrees, my wife had grilled catfish ($11.95) and I went with the spare ribs and pulled pork combo ($13.95). The ribs, finished on the grill before serving, were tender—actually a little too tender—but lacking in flavor. The meat was gray, and there was no evidence that any smoke or rub was used. The sauce, used more sparingly than most joints that serve ribs of this caliber, was harmless enough, but it didn’t have enough oomph to make these ribs interesting. Pulled pork was mostly strings, served with more sauce than the ribs. It was tender but completely without bark, without any pink color, and without any smoky flavor. My wife’s catfish was undercooked.
The all-you-can-eat side dish buffet included with the entrees rescued the meal. Not only did it provide an excellent value, but some of the items were really good. I skipped the soup, but it looked like an interesting option. Fries under a heat lamp were ho hum, as were the plain baked beans. Dirty rice with beans was moist and flavorful. Collard greens were a little overchopped and a little sweet, but pretty good. Cole slaw was standard. Potato salad, with just enough Mayo and a nice dose of dill, was among the better ones I’ve had. Smoked potatoes, sort of a barbecue version of hash browns, packed a lot of flavor.
There’s no sauce on the table or choice of sauce on the meats as served.
The bottom line: If I were a UMass student, I’d probably eat at Bub’s every few weeks or so. But if I were a UMass student with a car, I'd probably drive a little further to Holy Smokes or Smokin' Lil's. Although the side dish buffet at Bub’s offered several good choices and a few excellent ones, the meats didn't fare nearly as well. I know there's a smoker out front, but I seriously wonder whether my ribs and pork on either visit were smoked. It’s not easy to slam one of the area's true barbecue pioneers, one of the most cozy, friendly, family-accessible spots you'll ever find and a true slice of Americana, but the 'cue just didn't live up to all the homespun ambience.
Roadfood's review of Bub's
Urban Spoon reviews of Bub's