Welcome to CT Eats! This year, our culinary column exploring the best restaurants in Rochester is going to be split between our Publisher, junior Ethan Busch, and our Editor-in-Chief, senior Hailie Higgins. Busch and Higgins will trade off the title of columnist every other week, and come together once a month to write a joint review of that week’s joint for our print edition.
The first stop for this year is Bubby’s BBQ on South Avenue, just past Alexander Street.
Before we taste-tested, the Campus Times sat down with co-owners Demetrius Washington-Ellison and Terrell McClean on Saturday to talk about how Bubby’s came to be.
The two founded the brick-and mortar location during the COVID-19 shutdown in early 2020, but the concept of Bubby’s got on social media in 2019. McClean, the pitmaster, had started barbecuing as a hobby, selling paper plates of smoked meats out of his backyard smoker a few years back. As word got around, he started upgrading his equipment and getting involved with pop-ups at other businesses in the city.
Washington-Ellison and McClean met during one such event in summer 2020 at Viticulture, a nearby wine bar Washington-Ellison was involved with at the time.
“The first pop-up was Ribs and Rose,” Washington-Ellison said. “It was great, it was absolutely amazing. The second time, it was Brisket and Bordeaux. When I had it the second time, I was like ‘I gotta talk to this guy!’ [McClean] loved the idea, he could see the vision of the smoker on the patio […] It just made sense, so we put our minds together and made it happen.”
The smoker on the patio was a great choice, as it was what got us through their doors. Driving down South, you pass their massive machine right next to the restaurant, pumping out delicious aromas all day long. The smell draws you in, and the food backs it up.
The menu is pretty simple: They currently have their meats, their sides, two sandwiches, and some bottled drinks, all written on the side of the wall. In the interest of seasonal fare, the menu will be changing soon for the fall. Though they don’t plan to remove barbecue staples like pulled pork, ribs, brisket, and cornbread, the two hope to bring back their wings in time for football season, as well as their fried chicken sandwich, the Fly Bird.
We got a half rack of ribs ($15) and a half pound of brisket ($14), with cornbread ($2) and mac and cheese ($6) on the side. All of it was incredible.
The ribs were doused in a fantastic barbecue sauce full of flavor, depth, and almost as much delectable smokiness as the meat itself. The meat was just the right amount of tender where it came off the bone, but didn’t fall off on its own. The cornbread was moist, delicious, and a sweet (but not too sweet) reminder of how good a side of cornbread can be. The mac and cheese came with bits of bacon and fresh scallion, providing much-need texture and pizzaz to a phenomenally creamy dish that was interesting enough to eat by itself, but simple enough to elevate the game of the meaty main attraction.
Our only gripe was with the brisket, which felt small shoved into a container half the size of the ribs. But a half pound is a half pound, and we trust it was measured out. We were only sad because we wanted to eat more of it.
So how do you pack so much punch into your meat? You start cooking at 4 a.m., which is what McClean does every day the restaurant is open. This way, the food is ready by the time they open at 2.
As of right now, they’re only open Friday through Sunday, 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., but they usually close a bit earlier. Following a traditional BBQ platform, they cook as much as they can in the morning, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. This usually happens somewhere between six and seven, so we recommend heading in for an earlier dinner at the latest.
Looking for a late-night bite? Don’t worry! The two do have plans to expand both their location and their hours eventually.
“Right now we’re a small business, a very small business, McClean said. “And just like a lot of other restaurants, who’ve been affected lately about hiring the staff, we’re in the same situation. So all of us are wearing different hats right now. His mom has been amazing, my wife behind the scenes has been amazing, we got Ronnie [another chef] back, he’s been amazing.”
Barbecue is rarely cheap, but in this case, it’s definitely worth the price. If you want to go in person, the Orange Line has a stop at South and Alexander, right outside Bubby’s front doors. You can also find them on Grubhub and Doordash.
“Come get some good food, come get some good ribs. You got the Bubby — [if] they want a good hangover sandwich, it’s the perfect sandwich,” McClean said, laughing. “Tell ‘em that: Every Sunday, come get the Bubby.”