The uglier the better

Bub’s helps diners pack on the pounds

Terry Kirts
Terry Kirts's Blog

Big Ugly Burger, a whopping full pound of well-seasoned beef grilled to order and piled high with toppings. Burger joints aren’t typically known for their décor. When you aren’t even using a fork and knife and are squirting condiments from plastic bottles, you don’t exactly need linen tablecloths and strolling violinists. But Bub’s in Carmel takes “bare bones” to a new extreme. Aside from a few murals on the walls and some TV screens broadcasting he-man prize fights and college basketball, Bub’s lets customers do the rest. Literally. Nearly every inch of wall space is plastered with photos of diners who have loosened their belts and downed the restaurant’s signature item: the Big Ugly Burger. A whopping full pound of well-seasoned beef grilled to order and piled high with toppings, this hyperbolic take on the American standard contends with the largest meals in town. Eat every bite and you’ll earn a place in Bub’s lore for posterity — or at least until they run out of room on their walls. Of course, you can have a normal-sized dinner here. But when a quarter-pound burger comes with a name like “Settle for Less Ugly,” you might feel a little inadequate about your gustatory abilities. For neophytes, that pressure starts right inside the door. A case displays your basic dinner options in all-too-lifelike proportions. In its pre-cooked state, the Big Ugly is bigger than any dinner plate you’d have in your cupboard. Staring up at you from behind glass with a less than demure bun perched to the side, the raw burger conjures images of the meals zookeepers might prepare every morning for the ravenous carnivores in their care. Bub’s location on the Monon Trail in the heart of Carmel just adds to its cheeky appeal — and to the agony of joggers and waist watchers on the Northside. You can’t help smell the burgers cooking from at least a block away. The brainchild of Matt (“Bub”) and Rachel Fey, this neighborhood burger and ice cream emporium has been serving its mammoth patties since about May of 2003, but it already has a healthy following. Stop here for lunch on a summer day and you’ll have trouble even getting in the door. Thankfully, an outdoor patio adds seats in fair weather, but lines grow so long come late spring that Bub’s provides games such as a ring toss to help entertain the impatient throngs. While size clearly matters at Bub’s, people don’t wolf down a pound of meat if it doesn’t taste good. My friend Troy, who had his picture snapped the very first time he ate at Bub’s, said he never could have done it if the burger hadn’t been so delicious. On his recommendation, and with a few eternally famished teen-agers in tow, we set out on a winter evening to test all that Bub could bring to the table. Thankfully, one of the hungry adolescents had his sights on a Big Ugly, so the rest of us could guiltlessly settle for less. The menu here is one of the few things that’s relatively small, but not everything on it derives from the bovine. Bub’s also serves respectable chicken and grilled mahi mahi sandwiches, as well as burgers using leaner elk meat. Just don’t ask for a salad. While the quarter-pound elk burger ($6.25) was perfectly delicious without being gamey or tough, the beef burgers are the juiciest, most succulent things in the house. Assertively seasoned and just shy of salty, they arrived exactly as we’d ordered them, the “well-done” nicely charred and the “medium” flashing its pink middle. The “Tour de Fat” burger special of the week was a spicy affair with jalapeños, grilled onions and pepper jack cheese. Bub’s excels at sides as well. Standard fries were crispy, if also generously salted, but the super crispy waffle fries were the real winners, dusted with a bit of cornmeal to make them even crispier. You can get them loaded with bacon, cheese, sour cream or even chili for a “sloppy” version for a few extra bucks. Coleslaw is crunchy but almost as sweet as other things are salty. Hunkered down over our baskets and platters, however, we could hardly look up except to grab another wad of paper towels from a roll right at our table. This was fortunate, given that the friendly but harried waitstaff was easily distracted. Ice cream specialties, the other half of Bub’s indulgent mission, brought a little confusion to the evening’s experience. While shakes and malts are available at your table, you have to walk back to the ice cream shop to get a waffle cone or a sundae. But it’s worth having to expend a couple of calories for the other best offering from the almighty cow. Since ice cream generally holds more appeal in summer, we promised ourselves we’d be back in a few months. Even if we had to wait in line.

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