(12/03/06) (07/06/07) (12/30/07)
When you think of casinos like Mohegan Sun, you think of celebrity chef driven high end restaurants and hokey theme restaurants. Any barbecue joint found in such a place would have to be one of those hokey boil-and-broil, drown-the-meat-with-sauce, Cowboys-and-Indians themed affairs featuring faux 'cue, right? Wrong. Big Bubba's BBQ at Mohegan Sun is the real deal. I had heard pretty good things about Big Bubba's previously, but when barbecue legend Paul Kirk tells you he consulted for it and it was still very good the last time he visited it, you move it up a few notches on your priority list.
After quickly losing a few dollars on quarter slots, my wife and I braved our way through the smoky casino in search of smoky meats. As we boarded the up escalator, I saw the neon BBQ signs and started salivating. Through the large glass windows we saw the decor, which consisted of vintage advertising and neon signs. The tables are mostly deuces and 4-tops, packed pretty close together, with just a few booths. A long bar runs almost the full length of the back of the restaurant, offering about 50 different beers. Big Bubba's BBQ has somewhat of a theme restaurant feel, particularly with the gift shop by the door. It's obvious that a lot of money was put into the place; I was just hoping a good portion of it went into the kitchen.
One cool aspect of Big Bubba’s is that there are no napkins. Instead, the silverware is wrapped in a plush towel.
The menu at Big Bubba's BBQ is pretty impressive. Appetizers include standard pub fare (chili, onion rings, cheese fries), Southern treats (hushpuppies, popcorn crawfish) and barbecue (trash ribs). Barbecue entrées include pork spare ribs, brisket, pulled pork, chicken, sausage and lamb. Sandwiches include pulled pork and brisket, assorted po' boys, a 12-ounce Bayou burger and other 8-ounce burgers. There's also fried chicken, a few seafood dishes, a number of steaks and three different salads.
We started with a couple of appetizers. My wife’s succulent popcorn crawfish ($9.95) were fairly large pieces in a floury batter. My “trash rib” appetizer ($7.95) had 8 full sized (the menu said bite sized) ribs that had been soaking in sauce to tenderize them. Not bad, not great.
For entrées, my wife got the 2-meat combo with lamb and chicken ($17.95) and I got the Big Bubbaque ($24.95) featuring ribs, pulled pork, brisket, chicken and sausage. Although sauce is used minimally here anyway, we specifically ordered all of our meats without sauce. The chicken on both plates was smoky, tender and very moist—even the white meat—with crisp, spiced skin and a really nice flavor. I’m not a lamb guy, and I wasn’t converted by my taste from my wife’s plate, but she swears it was excellent. I can vouch for its tenderness. There were four ribs on my plate, twice as many as I thought I’d get in a 5-meat combo, and they were unlike any ribs I’ve ever had. They were slightly smoky, crisp on the outside, and they literally melted in my mouth. These weren’t fall-off-the-bone ribs you get at chains; the meat held to the bone until I bit into it, then had the consistency of buttery halibut. There was nothing fishy about the flavor; it was very porky and very good. Pork was very moist, with just the right chewiness, although I wish there was more bark. Brisket was sliced thin, with a beautiful smoke ring and some char at the periphery of each slice and a juicy, tender center. The flavor was fantastic. Sausage was the smokiest meat on the plate, super tender (it’s hard not to be) and spiced nicely. Overall, the meats were very impressive. I want to try those ribs again to figure them out. Actually, I want to try all of it again.
None of the meats needed sauce, but an empty 6-pack carton offered several good ones to augment the flavor. These included a Memphis style house BBQ sauce, a hickory (smokier) BBQ sauce, a “Real Hot” BBQ sauce, “Hellish Habañero” pepper sauce and “Heavenly Jalapeno” pepper sauce. I tried them all and they were all good. I didn’t see a South Carolina sauce (mustard) that I’d heard they had, nor did I see any vinegar-based sauce. My favorite was the “Real Hot” variety, which wasn’t all that hot, but had a good compromise between sweet and heat.
Sides were pretty good. The cole slaw was very creamy, with some mustard to add some yin to the yang. Collard greens were sliced thin and cooked just past the point of wilting. Baked beans were a nice mix of sweet and smoky. The only dud in the group was the cornbread, which was studded with an herb (chive, I think) and a little stale.
Service at Big Bubba’s wasn’t a problem, but was probably its one weak link. The table next to us never got the onion rings they ordered and we waited a while to get drinks refilled.
It would be hard to review Big Bubba’s without mentioning that the prices are a little high for barbecue. Appetizers approach $10, a-la-carte sides are $4.95 and a 2-meat combo (no matter what the meats) is $17.95. Let’s face it: it’s a casino, so prices are expected to be higher than normal. I think there’s some value, though, as the portions are fair, the quality is high and the parking is free.
The bottom line: Very good barbecue, possibly the best in all of Connecticut. The meats are smoky and flavorful, the sides and sauces are good, and the menu has some interesting choices. The gambling at Mohegan Sun never attracted me, but I bet I’ll be back soon.