I was less than thrilled last year upon hearing that Bubba’s 33 would be opening on the corner of Kellogg and Towne East Mall Drive. Not that I have anything against the restaurant, a chain owned by the same Louisville-based company that has Texas Roadhouse. But I’m tired of the sameness – of restaurant after restaurant that serves burgers, pizza, steaks, seafood and salads. And that particular corner already had – count ’em – four of those restaurants: Logan’s Roadhouse, Longhorn Steakhouse, Old Chicago and BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse. Yes, they’re all different concepts, but their menus are pretty similar.
But I gave Bubba’s 33, which opened to big crowds in February, a chance. And although the menu didn’t excite me, the restaurant itself – a dizzying explosion of color and flash and television screens – is different enough from its competitors to warrant a visit, especially during sports season. (Important note: Bubba’s 33 is not open for weekday lunch, so don’t try to visit before 3:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays.)
▪ ON THE MENU: Bubba’s 33, named for the chilled-to-33-degrees beer it serves, has a menu populated by sports-bar appetizers like fried pickles, nachos and wings, plus several kinds of pizza, burgers, sandwiches and a few entrees, like rib eye steak, fried shrimp and chicken fingers. The servings are large, and most of the food comes in plastic baskets lined with red checkerboard paper.
▪ DON’T-MISS DISHES: The food at Bubba’s was serviceable, but in many cases, it was overly salty. And if I – the world’s most heavy-handed salter – think something is too salty, believe it.
We started with two appetizers – Bubba’s 33’s version of mozzarella sticks and its chorizo queso dip. The mozzarella sticks are called crooked mozzarella sticks, and they’re exactly that, fried in a shape that makes them look sort of curled, which the kids loved. They came with a small side of marinara sauce served in a small plastic condiment holder. They weren’t too greasy and were fun to eat. The queso was fine, too, and came with a side of slightly spicy salsa. The accompanying chips were coated in a bit of spice, which the kids did not love.
Bubba’s 33 touts its pizza, and it was our favorite. The pizzas come in eight classic preparations, including cheese, deluxe and Hawaiian. They’re constructed on a thin crust with bready edges and topped with a mixture of mozzarella and provolone cheeses. We tried the Meaty Meaty, which also was topped with smoked bacon, sausage and pepperoni. The pizzas had a surprising artisan look and flavor to them, and even the cheese pizza off the kids menu was a beauty.
The menu also lists eight types of burgers, including a bacon cheeseburger, a Hawaiian-style burger and a burger topped with a fried egg. The bacon burger, according to the menu, is made with a patty that’s 33 percent ground bacon. That’s what we ordered, and the finished product was a bit dry but full of flavor. The fries, which we ordered covered in cheese and bacon at our server’s suggestion, were way too salty, and even the fry fanatics at our table left them mostly uneaten.
My Philly cheese steak sandwich also was overly salty and didn’t have near enough cheese to hold the steak, onion and peppers together inside the toasted bun.
We did, however, love the rib eye. We got the larger of the two cuts available at Bubba’s 33 – a 14-ouncer with a sweet espresso marinade that was char-grilled and had a nice crust. My husband ordered it medium, for my sake, though implied that he wouldn’t be heartbroken if it was more medium rare. It arrived decidedly medium rare, and it was perfect. The cut of meat seemed high quality, and we finished every bite.
▪ AMBIENCE: The best thing about Bubba’s 33 is the interior of the restaurant. The place is a crazy mishmash of neon, retro diner tables, big-screen TVs, hokey vintage signs, sports memorabilia, music posters and animal artwork. It’s total sensory overload.
The dining room is enormous, and the seating is a mixture of modern-looking booths and tables with retro boomerang-print laminate tabletops and multicolored diner chairs. It has two bars, including a separate and large first-come, first-served room fitted with garage doors that can be raised in good-weather months.
Nearly every wall is covered with an uninterrupted line of big-screen television sets, and each one is playing something different, from music videos to sporting events. Space not taken up by television sets is covered with signs, which even cover the ceiling. The bar is fitted with whimsical stools which from behind look like the backsides of a cowboy and a woman in short shorts. Outside, old kegs are turned into ashtrays, and people play Bubba’s 33-owned cornhole games while waiting to be seated.
▪ PRICE RANGE: Prices are reasonable. Our appetizers were $4.99 and $5.99. The bacon burger was $5.99 with fries, and the Philly cheese steak was $9.99. Our 12-inch meat-covered pizza, which could easily feed two, was $12.99. The rib eye was $18.99 and came with a choice of two sides.
▪ SERVICE: We had no problems.
Ratings reflect the critic’s judgment of the food, service and atmosphere in relation to the price. If you would like to nominate a restaurant to be reviewed, call 316-268-6327.
☆☆1/2 stars out of four
Where: 412 S. Towne East Mall Drive, 316-681-9111
Type of food: Bar food, pizza, burgers
Hours: 3:30 p.m. to midnight Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays
Alcohol: Full bar