On Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard stands a building that has seen three barbecue restaurants in as many years. The latest to throw their meat into a smoker is Bub-Ba-Q.
Owners Shannon and William "Bubba" Latimer chose Savannah as the third location for their growing barbecue empire.
On my first visit, Shannon came over and we had a great conversation.
She explained how much love and care goes into the food, their history of opening the restaurants and how she and Bubba met.
While chatting, their 8-year-old little girl came up to the table, and I loved the family atmosphere because it reminded me of how I was in my parent's restaurant.
After looking at the extensive menu, my dining partner and I decided to try as much as we could. We ordered the Bubba PeÃ±os, the pork, chicken and rib combo plate with beef brisket added on, choosing baked beans and collard greens as our sides, as well as a vegetable plate, which allowed us to choose any four regular sides or premium sides for an additional $1 each. We opted for the cole slaw and three premium sides: mac and cheese, Brunswick stew and corn fritters.
There are four kinds of barbecue sauces on the table. Their original is a sweet barbecue (Kansas City style). Their three other sauces, hot and spicy, vinegar and mustard, are all vinegar-based (Carolina style). There's also a rub, so we shake some onto the pork rinds they've brought out to the table and it's a very sweet-tasting rub.
When the Bubba PeÃ±os came out, they are hot and delicious. The smoked, bacon-wrapped stuffed jalapeÃ±os were like something you'd eat in heaven ... but smuggled in from hell, given their smokiness and sinful decadence.
I love that these aren't fried; they are put in the smoker to cook and absorb some great flavor! This is definitely a promising start.
Two platters of food make their way out and we start looking and tasting.
I go for my favorite first, the pig - specifically, the chopped pork. I can see they've left the outer char on it and it is moist, flavorful, smoky and super tasty!
I move on to the beef brisket. It has a nice smoke ring around it and is sliced very thin. Unfortunately, it's rather bland. The sweet sauce was incredibly sweet; the molasses, honey and sugar really come through. The hot and spicy sauce worked best with the beef.
Next, I set my sights on the chicken. As I pull it apart, I'm not liking how it feels. One bite confirms it is dry, really dry, and the seasonings don't work. I have to take a drink just to be able to swallow it.
Looking at the ribs, I'm hoping they are good - and they are. They are tender, moist and fall away from the bone easily. I thought the vinegar sauce worked best and I put them on my mental list to order a full rack in the future.
Given that barbecue places live and die on their baked beans, I eagerly take a spoonful of them. Wow! They are sweet - super sweet. They also have a slight metallic taste to them.
While my preference is for Kansas City style barbecue (molasses-based and on the sweet side) these beans are a little too sugary for my palate. Shannon later tells me they are from a can and they doctor them up with lots of love.
The collards receive the same kind of care as the beans, but the tinny taste is even more prevalent. The suggested Geaux Jus (pronounced go juice), billed as a premium pepper sauce, is also very sugary and isn't capable of masking the aluminum can flavor.
The corn fritters are good, but they are brought in and that explains why they taste like other fritters I've had around town.
The Brunswick stew was OK. Nothing outstanding, but not offensive.
The mac and cheese was like something out of a box, so I was surprised when Shannon said it was made on site. They use shredded cheddar and processed yellow cheese with milk. I miss the stringy cheese pulls one finds with a homemade mac and cheese, but given the ingredients, it makes sense why that isn't there.
Made in-house, the cole slaw has a great flavor. Waiting on the machinery, the kitchen was forced to hand chop the slaw, but there are no complaints! I added a little bit of salt and pepper and it was perfect. I like the mayonnaise base with the hint of celery seed. I would definitely get this side again.
I love how this building feels - it has a great indoor and outdoor space - but ultimately, this is a place where the pig is king.
For me, it's all about the Bubba PeÃ±os, pork and slaw, as well as fantastic outdoor seating. With three locations and appearances on Food Network and TLC (where they won the $100,000 grand prize on Pitmasters) they're doing lots of things right, and I hope this warm family finds Savannah to be a welcoming new home that embraces them.
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