Bub's Burger Joint
Update 9/16/11: Bub's is (temporarily?) closed.
Update 10/8/11: Bub's is closed-closed.
In a word: This is not the greatest burger review in the world. This is just a tribute.
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Brett ate the Western burger special (bacon, pepper jack, grilled mushrooms and onions, BBQ sauce) with a Hopalicious.
JM ate the bacon cheeseburger with a soda.
John M. ate the Western burger special with a small fry and a soda.
Nichole ate the single cheeseburger with bacon, Swiss, fried onions, mushrooms, and mustard and an Ambergeddon.
The bill was $9ish/person.
Brett, JM and Nichole gave Bub's Burger Joint an A-; John gave Bub's Burger Joint a B+ or 3.5 stars (see our grading rubric).
We ate at Bub's after we heard many comparisons of this locally-owned spot to the chain Five Guys. Some folks went so far as to say that Bub's stole the Five Guys concept.
We don't buy that. Within the "burger joint" medium, Bub's differs from Five Guys in many respects. The concept is simply too constrained to draw conclusions of plagiarism based on little more than fresh, hand-cut fries in paper cups.
Our reading of A Hamburger Today's authoritative burger style guide has us putting Bub's firmly in the fast food-style category, and thinking fast food Five Guys just wishes it were there. While some Five Guys (and In-n-Out Burger) apologists may advocate for appending -style, we are in Wisconsin, home of the Cheese & Burger Society, and we assert that a stylish burger joint needs cheese options other than plain old sliced American. Bub's has them, Five Guys doesn't.
Besides, we prefer to take Bub's middle name, Bona Fide, at face value.
Put bluntly: Bub's has more personality and better food; Five Guys may have reached Madison first, but they're best at serving boilerplate greasebombs and that's pretty short for a long suit.
Our table all got beef burgers and were well served by following that rule of thumb (cited blind, but also presumably in good faith, by writers for both Isthmus and the Onion) about the wisdom of eating the menu item that appears in a restaurant's name.
Our customary thanks are due to Kate of Accidental Hedonist for allowing us to use a modified version of her Burger Grading System. What follows is a composite view:
- Bun: Wonderful non-Wonder white bread, cloud-light yet sturdy, with sesame seeds on the crown and stuck in charming, disheveled clumps on the heel. Lightly toasted and buttered inside, crackly outside.
- Meat: The patties have the crinkled edges that imply hand-packing, and are very flavorful and filling. No one who got a full double-patty Bona Fide burger felt the second patty truly necessary.
- Bun/meat ratio: A perfect match.
- Cheeses: The Swiss on Nichole's was tangy and waxy. Brett and John's Western specials benefitted from the distinctive pepper jack (a recent addition to the menu, judging by the cute crayoned sign on the counter) and JM's American melted in the best possible burger-fusion way.
- Misc. fragments: Fresh mushrooms may have been marinated pre-saute to achieve their extraordinary richness. Crispy lettuce. Stretchy bacon that didn't overwhelm the other flavors. Pinkish tomato. A wide variety of condiments on the counter (wasabi, Dusseldorfer, and yellow mustards; ketchup, mayo, and ranch; malt vinegar, A1, a jar of balsamic vinegar with a spritzer top, and more) to round everything out.
- Nichole gives Bub's burgers an 8.5 of 10 overall.
Now, the bad and sad bits.
- The fries are not super. Brett, a Bub's fan, warned us off the sweet potato variety, which he said are often both overdone and too floppy. The regular fries suffered the same problem. John observed that they were way too salty, but that keeping the skin on was a good choice.
- $9 for a burger, fry, and soda lunch is steep for fast food, so recalibrate your expectations (think style!). Or just skip the fries.
- This is the only place Nichole's been chastized for using her camera (unless you count Fruit Stand's good-natured ribbing). A man with a managerial bearing gave her a curt "can I help you, ma'am?" as she tried to take a snap of a nifty antique tabletop Foosball game. We can't entirely blame his suspicion. Once we heard his story we could relate: people have abused his generosity and repeatedly stolen the Foosballs. Actual theft sucks.
Bonus points are due Bub's for the bendy drinking straws and the beer selection (Ale Asylum and Lake Louie especially). We liked the decor - discarded doors, windows, and odd little starving artist pieces assembled in a DIY style similar to Nostrano's. Being as into art-from-trash as we are, it was right up our alley.