Eating Out: All change again at Bubbacue – but the meat's as good as ever
THEY used to do ribs at Bubbacue. Oh the ribs they used to do. Enormous, meaty, smoky, yielding slabs of heaven.
Now, I realise this is information, retrospective as it is, isn’t much use to anyone but it’s pertinent to a review of the Belfast city centre American barbecue spot because a lot of people have gotten themselves into quite a tizz about what Bubbacue used to do and what it used to be.
After opening as a pop-up restaurant at the end of 2012, Bubbacue gained a fervent following for its brisket, pulled pork and, yes, those ribs. Last year it closed for refurbishment and re-emerged a slightly different animal – a ribless one.
Other menus items were tweaked and it changed from a sit-down type of place to something that felt much more like a ‘do you want fries with that?’ establishment.
The exposed brick, corrugated iron and blackboard menu were replaced with white tile, red tile and flickering screens with a selection of sandwich toppings staring back at you.
As social media went ballistic, Bubbacue responded that the changes were necessary for the business to make money – hardly an unreasonable wish for a money-making venture. The previous set-up just didn’t allow them to be as efficient as they needed to be – and just not enough people ordered those lovely ribs to make them viable.
Nine months down the line Bubbacue has undergone another relative transformation, keeping the assembly-line nature of their initial reboot while stripping the decor of it’s Happy Meal vibe and bringing in sleek, dark woody tones.
The PR guff says it has “an urban edge to its country heart”, which is nonsense, but it doesn’t matter because the food is just as good as it has been since every day since the day it opened.
The spicy sausages aren’t terribly spicy, but they are terribly good, while the chicken and breaded halloumi options are well executed too, even if they feel like interlopers, desperately striving for attention in the shadow of the menu’s headliners.
The brisket makes for the sort of sandwich you’d treat yourself to after a rubbish morning at work that has you wondering whether or not it’s worth heading back after lunch.
The pulled pork, served with good mash, crisp pickles and decent coleslaw is a heap of shoulder meat that melts together with fully flavoured fat and shards of delicious bark that’s been exposed to flavour-enhancing smoke.
Neither the brisket nor the pork needed any sauce, but the selection which ranges from classic to extra-smoky and sweet don’t do it any harm. As for vinegary, mustard-heavy Carolina variety, that could go on my Crunchy Nut Cornflakes and I wouldn’t complain.
The supporting players shine as well, from the skin-on, thin, salty chips to a fresh, crunchy sweetcorn and black bean salad. Macaroni cheese – or ‘mac & cheese’ if you really insist – is always better burnished and bubbling straight out of the oven, but there’s still plenty of flavour in Bubbacue’s version, merely topped with breadcrumbs for expediency.
The chicken wings are just right too – striking the proper balance between richness and heat – while as long as they serve their BBQ beans and cornbread, even if everything else falls by the wayside, I’ll do my best to keep them in business.
The beans taste like they’ve done a 48-hour stint in the smoker and, paired with the sweet wedge of cornbread, it feels like the best way imaginable to spend a couple of days.
There were a few bum notes – the lemonade and sweet iced tea would be improved immeasurably by being a lot colder, and the coleslaw lacks the punch that’s so evident in their other side dishes and accompaniments.
But that feels like looking too hard for something to complain about. You may as well hold that “urban edge/country heart” schtick against them.
On a previous visit, while waiting for a takeaway order, I saw an elderly couple approach the till, clearly a little unsure about what was on offer and ask “Do you do coffee?”
The young hipster there to greet them replied a little hesitantly, but politely, “Eh, no sorry, we do meat”.
That’s one thing that hasn’t changed about Bubbacue. They still do meat – and do it very, very well.
Brisket sandwich £6.50
Pulled pork mashed potato ‘bowl’ £8
(with BBQ beans & corn and black bean salad)
Chicken wings £4
Ice Tea £1
12 Callender Street
028 9027 8220