The Post-Gazette has just hired a new company president, a scary proposition insomuch as Munch is a shiftless layabout, and if the new president is going to come in and clean house, guess who's the first to go?
Exactly, the shiftless layabouts. Specifically, the one in the mustard-stained sweatpants.
Totally unfair, right? Best to make myself scarce and leave the office for a few hours, just to be safe.
Long story short, that's how Munch ended up at Bubba's Gourmet Burghers & Beer in Bridgeville, the newest in the unyielding series of upscale burger joints to hit the city in the last 24 months.
Munch blames two people for this -- the first is Thomas Keller, the renowned California restaurateur who gave everybody the idea for a "gourmet" burger joint (ironically, the burger place he envisioned, "Burgers and Half Bottles," never got off the ground). The second is Alfred Peet, the barista legend who inspired the founders of Starbucks, who, in turn, realized that Americans -- and, later, the world -- would pay $5 for a cup of coffee that had previously cost 25 cents.
The same thing has happened to hamburgers. Until a few years ago, there was nothing wrong with buying a 59 cent cheeseburger at McDonald's. In fact, it was a practice in which Munch regularly indulged, sometimes six or seven times in a sitting. Now your burgers are coming grass fed and smeared in garlic aioli and draped with artisan cheeses and spiked with daikon radishes and rinsed, ever so gently, in thrice distilled bacon water. And since when is a burger supposed to be the size of a softball?
Which is not to say that Munch is tiring of the trend -- on the contrary, your Gluttonous Gourmand will eat just about any animal part that will fit on a bun, from cow tongue to pork butt. It's just to say that, if you're gonna convince Munch to pay $13 for a burger, rather than 59 cents, you'd better make it worth Munch's while.
It would seem that the burgers here are indeed worth Munch's while. Bubba's -- yes, it's the very same Bubba of local morning radio show fame, born into this world as Marc Snider, who has owned a handful of Pittsburgh and Westmoreland County bars over the years -- has about a dozen burgers on the menu, universally of the hulking, can't-fit-your-mouth-around-it variety.
The N'Awlins burger ($10.99) is prototypical of the bunch -- a spicy pile of ground brisket and short rib, topped with mayo, blue cheese, a thick slice of onion and the rest of the burger staples, flanked by a generous heap of "Bubba fries." The burger (cooked to medium, at Munch's request) was a winner, sloppy while still keeping its physical integrity, and the fries -- a mix of "regular" spuds and sweet potatoes -- filled whatever empty spots might have been left in Munch's belly.
Preceding the burger was the grilled zucchini ($6.99), one of six available appetizers. There's no batter or deep fryer involved, just some oil, some seasoning and some griddle heat, and the results were palate pleasing.
Decor, beyond the seven flat-screen TVs, is mostly an afterthought, though this would be a great meeting spot if you were looking to organize a USC alumni club (which is to say the walls are deep red and gold). The back bar could use some work -- Munch noticed no fewer than 13 bottles of flavored Pinnacle-brand vodka -- as could the beer selection, given that the word "beer" is right there in the name of the place. Absent a tap system, Munch was hoping for a more extensive bottle list, which may not be possible given the diminutive size of the place, squeezed between a sushi joint and a beer distributor. In other words, no cooler space, no bottle selection.
But taken for what it aims to be, a sports bar that serves very good burgers, Munch thinks Bubba's meets that mark. It will suffer from inevitable comparisons to the region's standard-bearers, like Winghart's and BRGR, but this isn't really Bubba's market niche. That said, as the place finds its footing, Munch hopes Bubba's will explore a bit -- an elk burger here, a lamb or salmon burger there. Nothing too exotic, but enough to keep Munch and Bridgeville folks returning for reasons other than the handsome barmaids.
Speaking of, you know who's extremely handsome? New company president Joseph Pepe, that's who.