Saturday, July 23, 2016

Foodie Field Trip- Bubba

There is something very exciting about hitting the newest hot spots around town before the big public grand opening and inevitable crowds and long lines and waiting for ages for a reservation. Over the last several years Des Moines has become a booming mecca for hip new dining spots, inventive new chefs, great night spots and an entirely revived downtown neighborhood that's filled with outstanding restaurant and nightlife options and beautiful places to live. In the not so distant past you had to visit Chicago or L.A. or New York to experience cuisine prepared by a James Beard nominated chef or a restaurant that's been featured on a national television show. These days you can walk from your elegant downtown loft to have dinner in a restaurant that's grabbing the national spotlight and quite possibly has been featured in a magazine or two.

For all our new "worldy" ways and big city style, Des Moines can still be a bit of a small town when it comes to the culinary scene. Everyone I know is good buddies with a chef who owns or practices in one of the best restaurants in town. We went to school with them. We live next to them. Our best friend is their brother in law. We bump into them in the grocery store and we know where they like to go for a meal out or for drinks on a night off. Now more than ever when it comes to getting in good with the culinary elite it really is all about who you know. I have been very lucky to get to attend some openings of some of the most successful restaurants around town, and Bubba is no exception. My daughter invited me to join her and her boyfriend Josh for an evening seating during the soft opening- and of course I said yes!

I first heard about this new restaurant just by chance. Skimming through social media I came across an advertisement for a new restaurant that was hiring staff. I immediately thought about my own Chef and wondered if this might be something he would be interested in. As I read more I realized who the owners were and more importantly, who the Executive Chef is! You guys already know how much I love Malo, the upscale Latin restaurant downtown, and this chef spent time in the Malo kitchen. I knew this was going to be a very very special restaurant. I was not disappointed. Bubba is located in the same spot formerly occupied by the Raccoon River Brewing Company. As expected, the brewery had a very rustic feel, lots of exposed brick and ductwork, beer equipment around the rooms and a party like atmosphere. Stepping in the door of Bubba was like being transported to someplace completely different. The red brick is toned down and the restaurant has a whitewashed Southern feel with interesting artwork, sterling silver serveware and an entire wall of framed bow ties. Beautifully upholstered banquette seating lines the wall with sparkling chandeliers overhead. It is gorgeous. Most of the dining room is on the mezzanine level overlooking the bar and entrance with a fantastic view of the street through huge windows.

Since we were there for the soft opening we each received a slightly different menu. Each table got to select an appetizer to share, each diner chose an entree, and a dessert to share as well. We started with the cocktail menu. The full bar was available but a special cocktail menu for the evening featured four signature cocktails- Banana Bread Manhattan, Bourbon Berry Fizz, Bubba Julep and Southern Sunrise. Josh chose the Banana Bread Manhattan, which arrived in a large martini glass garnished with a slice of banana and a cherry, soaking in the boozy deliciousness. This cocktail is made with Bulleit Rye, Antica Carpano vermouth, banana nut syrup and black walnut bitters. It is a knockout drink- the perfect blend of boozy and fruity. Laurie chose the Southern Sunrise which as a clever play on the tequila sunrise, made with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, orange juice, cranberry juice and a bit of grenadine. Delicious !! My cocktail of choice was the Bourbon Berry Fizz. Muddled basil and crushed strawberries hang out in the glass with Bulleit Bourbon and a splash of soda for fizz. The crushed strawberries were sweet and fruity and the basil added an unexpected flavor that was awesome and so Southern.

Banana Bread Manhattan

Southern Sunrise

Bourbon Berry Fizz

The appetizer selections made it so hard to chose just one. There were a couple familiar names- like crab cakes, which I'm sure would have had Bubba's Southern touch, but the real stars were the totally Southern options. Fried okra spears. Fried green tomatoes. White cheddar grits cakes. It was monumentally hard to decide but we chose the biscuit sliders- three perfect flaky buttermilk biscuits piled with smokey pulled pork, crispy fried onions and a homemade rhubarb jam that took these tiny sandwiches to another level altogether. Chef Jammie shared the story of the jam and said it would change seasonally to use the freshest in season fruits. I can't wait to see what fruit makes the dish next.

The dinner selections were just as tempting. No Southern restaurant would be worth a darn if they didn't serve fried chicken so of course it's a star on the menu here. Ever heard of a Kentucky Hot Brown? No? Well, you can try one here. Chicken fried steak, which I wanted soooo badly, is served with white cheddar mash, creamy pepper gravy and smokey green beans. Yum! Catfish is another Southern staple and that's on the menu as well as a twist on Succotash, used to stuff a Chile Relleno. At our table Josh chose the Chicken and Waffles which arrived as a crispy waffle with pecan honey butter, HUGE pieces of buttermilk fried chicken, house made bread and butter pickles and Chef Jammie's secret hot sauce. He would not give up the secret but you can taste a touch of honey in there and its amazingly delicious.

Laurie went with the Dr. Pepper Braised Short Rib. This version is boneless and slow braised in a rich Dr. Pepper based sauce until it's melt in your mouth tender. Served with black eyed peas, roasted rainbow carrots, crispy onions and drizzled with the sauce, it's a stunningly beautiful dish and one of the most delicious meals I have ever tasted.

I had a terrible time deciding. I love chicken fried steak and it's a pain to make at home and not served in very many good restaurants anymore but I decided to try something completely new and decided on the Shrimp and Grits. Good choice too, this is a dish I will have again!  Don't be one of those people who says they don't like grits. Just try this. The grits are creamy and cheesy and the perfect partners for the slightly spicy, lightly blackened grilled shrimp piled on top. The shrimp were huge and perfectly cooked, just as I'd expect. Sweet corn puree added a sweet note and that house made hot sauce was part of the party too. Crispy fried BIG lardons dotted the grits and added a crunchy component that I really loved. And those grits.......

Let's just say I was VERY happy with my dinner.......

Laurie suggested we all try something else we never tried before- collard greens. The greens arrived in the cutest little cast iron pot and were loaded with big hunks of ham, cooked beautifully and yes, very very delicious.

The meal wasn't over just yet. Dessert was next and once again, tough choices had to be made. Bourbon Pecan Pie. Bananas Foster on a giant brown butter waffle. Pineapple Upside Down Cake baked in cast iron. Peach and Blueberry Bread Pudding. Ugh- how do we choose?  We went with the bread pudding. It arrived with a scoop of creamy vanilla bean ice cream and draped in a creamy custard sauce. It was a HUGE hunk of soft and warm bread soaked in eggy custard with huge fresh blueberries and slices of fresh peaches. So incredibly delicious, I highly recommend this. It was not overly sweet either, just the perfect amount of fresh fruit and baked goodness.

I can't wait to visit Bubba again and try some of the other items we didn't get a chance to try this visit. So much delicious, so little time.

You can learn more about Chef Jammie Monaghan by clicking HERE.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received an invitation to attend the soft opening of this restaurant at no cost, with no expectation that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe are of good quality and safe. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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