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Bub's Burger Joint

DecorUpdate 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.

The specs: #0624  
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at Isthmus, Madison Hot Bite, Yelp, A.V.Club, 77 Square, Ruppert Food Blog, Fearful Symmetries, TDPF; listing at Eat Drink Madison; Bub's Burger Joint on Urbanspoon

Latest Bub's Burger Joint news and reviews

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.

Burger lunch

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.

Burger pattyFries

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.

Speaking of which, here's a little lagniappe: please enjoy "I'm Taking Your Stuff" performed by Madison's own Robin Good & Art Paul Schlosser from 2005's Shari Elf Tribute Album.

Bacon cheeseburger


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Love the "In a word"


$9 bucks for burger & fries?!? FAIL!
I don't know where all these new-fangled joints get off on charging much more than a base of $5 for what's all in all a simple meal. I do not support this trend. Seems all a place has to do in order to justify their pricing is throw up a few paintings and serve bottled beer, and suddenly the base price of a meal jumps nearly 50%. That's a good way to scare off repeat visits and longevity.

Maybe it's just me, but on my most recent visit it seemed as if the fries had vastly improved, crispier and a bit less salty.

@MadMind: Get a single and split your fries with a date, and the cost drops to less than $5.

I tried the sweet potato fries (there they go again - copying Culver's and Michael's!) and liked them. The fries were heavy, but in a fresh-sweet-potato way, not a greasebomb way. The seasoning mix was good - salt, pepper and - cayenne? Not sure. Whatever, I was eating off-duty.

They also had ~8 different bottles on special for (unofficial?) Madison Craft Beer Week, and the staff was great.

I personally know the person who orders the food for Bub's and am acquainted with the owner. The reason the fries have such mixed reviews is because the food supplier sends a different brand of potatoes almost every time. Many brands are ok, a couple are terrible, and there is one brand that consistently produces flawless fries. Its an issue that needs ironing out, if indeed it can be fixed.

Also, the veggie burger comes from Nature's Bakery on Willy St.

Madmind75, I know $9 for a meal may seem like a lot, especially compared to many of the big franchises. However, Bub's uses higher quality ingredients and the portions are quite large as "Northsider" points out.

bubs is the greatest burger spot to emerge on the east side! if you want cheaper food, go to a crappier restaurant. note, as of 10/2/2011, they have been "temporarily" closed for over a week :( hope it doesnt last!

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