Review date: May 2015
Visit Dates: (08/26/07) (04/25/15)
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 visited Bub’s on a weekday afternoon in 2005 (predating this site), a Sunday dinner in 2007 and a Saturday lunch in 2015, all accompanied by different barbecue accomplices. My impressions on all visits were nearly identical.
While the recent visit headed straight for the 'cue, the first one started with a few appetizers.
Onion rings: The puffy battered variety, served hot and crisp.
Fried alligator tail: 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.
A half rack of ribs from a spare ribs and pulled pork combo ($13.95 then) was finished on the grill before serving. The ribs 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. I'd be shocked if these ribs came from anywhere but an oven.
The uncut half rack supplied with another spares-and-pork combo ($15.95 now) had some good signs: thick, meaty, well rubbed, lightly sauced. Cutting revealed pale meat and merely token moisture, though doneness and tenderness were just about right. A cold spot (reheat-from-fridge alert) wasn't such a good sign. Flavor was the biggest drawback, though: not much porkiness, rub or smoke. I'm still convinced that these came from an oven and the smoker out front is just for show.
I was surprised to see a full rack on a babybacks-and-kielbasa combo ($16.95). Then again, most of the bones were shorter than my pinky, so the overall volume wound up about what you'd expect. The surface got crisped up and then some, leaving these babybacks brittle on the exterior and somewhat dry on the interior. Like the spares, flavor beyond the sauce (and crispy char) was fleeting.
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.
Tried on a combo platter along with babybacks, the sandwich-sized pork pile had the fluffiness of scrambled eggs, bringing tender consistency with just the right amount of give and token moisture from the sauce. Flavor wasn't as impressive: no rub, no smoke. If you like your pulled pork sauced and sweet, this is quite workable—the moderate saucing can be amplified with reinforcements from the sauce station.
The highlight of the 2015 visit was lengthy and lightly sauced. Each bite brought a snap, released amnple juices and unveiled a tender interior. Flavor was closer to a hot dog than your typical barbecue sausage, but still pleasing. I'd get this again.
The all-you-can-eat side dish buffet included with the entrees can rescue 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 best 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. But if you look closely near the ordering counter, you'll find two fairly faithful representations of a classic circa-1985 barbecue sauce.
The Bottom Line
If I were a UMass student, I’d probably eat at Bub’s every few weeks or so. Fortunately, both Massachusetts barbecue and my own palate have made great strides since my college days further east.
Although the side dish buffet at Bub’s offers several good choices and a few excellent ones, the meats don't fare nearly as well. I know there's a smoker out front, but I seriously wonder if any of the meats are smoked.
Bub's is 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, so for barbecue atmosphere it's hard to beat. It's for these reasons, and not the 'cue, that Bub's is worth a visit if you're ever in the area.
Roadfood's review of Bub's
Zomato reviews of Bub's
Tabelog reviews of Bub's