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Opinion

Westmont's Uncle Bub’s blends BBQ and comfort food

WESTMONT – On Nov. 7, Uncle Bub’s will celebrate their 19th year in business. While there will be several specials – pulled pork sandwiches for $1.19 as one example – it is even more noteworthy for this reason: With almost one million food establishments in the United States and nearly 59% out of business by year three, it’s a pretty small club (3 percent) that makes it to 20 years!

Uncle Bub, aka Mark Link, along with his wife Carri and GM Jay Rushmore have created a four-headed success story. Many of us are familiar with the Restaurant, and the Special Event division did more than 130 weddings last year along with a host of corporate outings. Catering and Carry Out has clipboards filled with orders especially at graduation, Thanksgiving and Christmas, so remember to get your orders in soon. The fourth component is the Festival Division, which not only participates in Taste of Westmont but several other major sanctioned events around the US often caravanning to Reno, Nev. or St Petersburg, Fla or Naperville for the Rib Fest.

Located at the southern end of downtown Westmont, parking is plentiful. Inside, it’s a playful theme that provides contrast to the seriousness that Uncle Bub’s pursues when it comes to bbq. All meats are hand rubbed and hardwood smoked on the premises.

Enter the door, peruse the daily specials board and follow the arrows to the front counter for ordering. Trophies from bbq competitions around the country line shelves providing added proof of both the authenticity and taste.

As a fast casual restaurant, place your order, settle up and receive a numbered table marker letting servers know right where to bring your order. You choose your table from any of the four dining rooms with each having a slightly varied vibe. Two of the rooms have tables easily combined for larger parties.

The menu is a bbq lover’s dream come true with enough variety to keep everyone else in the game. I always begin with either a plate of Southern Nachos or the Onion Blossom. Both are big enough for a table of 4-6 to share as a starter.

Southern Nachos combines many common nacho ingredients: chips, chili, cheese, jalapeños, salsa and sour cream with an added extra, pulled pork. This meat duo of chili and pulled pork really adds to the flavor profile and makes a perfect start to your meal. The Onion Blossom uses a colossal onion that is intricately sliced and then dipped in a seasoned batter before frying allowing the onion to blossom open. The crunchy and tart onion is easily plucked for dipping into the homemade buttermilk ranch. I loved that it came out virtually grease free and was prepped to pull apart without the usual arm wrestling.

Most dining options are accompanied by either one or two sides. While there is a long list to choose from, my first pick is always one of Uncle Bub’s soups. Rotating daily, all homemade, they are hearty and flavorful. Gumbo is a creole version with chicken sausage, rice and okra. Stuffed green pepper soup tastes just like the name implies. My favorite, chicken dumpling is a Thursday option that combines velvety soft dumplings, a rich cream base and pulled smoked chicken leaving a wonderful after taste.

A side salad is another option for some and for those preferring a dinner salad as a choice, Uncle Bub’s doesn’t disappoint. Dinner salads are available topped with either a grilled chicken breast or in the case of the UB’s Smoked Salad; pulled pork and smoked turkey breast. The dinner salads are huge and the salad components nicely chilled.

Most meats are available as a sandwich, dinner or wrap. Pulled pork put Ucle Bub's on the map and it shows up in many ways. A Wednesday special features a Pulled Pork Quesadilla with a freshly prepared pico de gallo.

It’s also a topping on the extra special Uncle Joe burger named after creator and regular customer Joe Wagner. A fresh, hand patted half-pound burger is flame grilled, mine to a perfect medium rare, topped with cheddar cheese, grilled onions and a generous serving of pulled pork. Pick two sides and you’ve got a plateful.

Pulled pork is always available as a sandwich or a dinner, but on Thursday, the entire pig is roasted creating a more diverse taste as all parts of the pig are pulled and combined into a flavorful mix dotted with crunchy bark. Mix up the flavor profile by varying your sides and your sauces.

The Wednesday special Cherry Wood Smoked Ham is another favorite and is also available on the catering menu as full or half ham, both boneless. The cherry wood flavoring is smooth and subtle and the meat is melt in your mouth tender. Add cheese, grilled onions or enjoy it in its natural state.

Other meat options include a house-made hot link, which features a course grind, thin casing and a bit of heat. Topped with a light coating of bbq sauce, this can also be a combination choice on the two or three meat sampler. Brisket is smoked for 12 hours, sliced to order and shows off a beautiful pinkish smoke ring. For those loving the crusty exterior, burnt ends is your option. Cut from the front corner triangle of the brisket, it's drier, well done and has that deep bark color.

While at a national bbq competition in the south, Mark’s team was playing around with catfish and happened upon the recipe for an excellent bbq alternative. A large slab of catfish is coated in crushed pecans and bread crumbs before being flash fried. The result provides crunch, added texture and flavor to the sweet catfish meat and is accompanied by a creamy catfish sauce.

With baby back ribs on the daily menu, most other types of ribs make their appearance sometime during the weekly or monthly rotation. Additionally, applewood smoked pork loin, smoked prime rib, brats, smoked pork chops, chicken pot pie and a smoked turkey plate are just some of the featured specials you can try over the course of the year. For a full list, check Uncle Bub’s online.

If you’re still unsure, the Sampler is the heavy weight champion of Uncle Bub’s. This platter is perfect for 2 and you’ll still need a doggie bag. Uncle Bub’s selects five of their best meats all on one plate; one-quarter smoked chicken, pulled pork, rib tips, brisket and back ribs. Add in two sides and corn bread and this “rib” sticking meal really gives you a tour of the bbq offerings.

Sides at Uncle Bub’s are never an afterthought. Fresh cut fries are served hot out of the fryer and lightly salted and available in both regular and sweet potato versions. Mark’s grandmother provided the recipes for Uncle Bub’s potato salad, cole slaw and bbq beans. Each has a subtly different flavor from other restaurant’s offerings as we all know that every grandmother has that secret ingredient to differentiate her recipes. Add-in fried mac & cheese balls, broccoli salad, corn (sometimes on the cob, sometimes creamed) and a few more, and the combinations are endless, the ordering process daunting.

Dessert options include bbq joint favorites, bread pudding and cobbler along with everybody’s favorite, chocolate cake. Bread pudding rotates between banana and pumpkin and both are topped with a decadent brown sugar butter sauce, a topping shared with the baked sweet potato side. The cobbler also rotates, with peach and apple the usual players and is a fruit on the bottom version with a soft, pillowy sponge cake on top. Both can be served warm with ice cream.

Berry crisps on special along with the chocolate cake complete the straight forward dessert list and there’s not a bad one in the bunch.

In the upcoming weeks, Uncle Bub’s will be adding two new sauces to their mix of bbq sauces and rubs. White Wash is a playful take on Alabama white bbq sauce, which combines mayo and vinegar for its base. This is one of my all-time favorite sauces and I am so glad to see it make a regional appearance. While traditionally paired with bbq chicken, I tried it with the catfish and it was superb.

Also joining the Uncle Bub’s family is Bold & Gold, a spin-off of the South Carolina mustard sauces. As the name implies, it’s got a bold mustardy flavor profile and works with the entire menu. With four different sauces, you can mix and match to find your perfect blend, and on your next visit, start the process all over.

Together with a seasoned team, Uncle Bub’s has won countless awards including the 2016 Westmont Reader’s Choice Awards for the best BBQ, Catering and Fast Casual categories in addition to Best of the Western Suburbs and a truckload of sanctioned bbq trophies. They have also been featured on Chicago’s Best and the Food Network.

Next year, Mark, Carri, Jay and the entire team will celebrate 20 years of business and bbq, but not before a yearlong celebration of customer friendly specials leading up to the big day next November.

With induction into the 20-year club only a year away, best of luck as Uncle Bub’s heads into the home stretch! Stop by and offer your congratulations and then stay for the best bbq and comfort food in the area.

Uncle Bub’s

WHERE: 132 South Cass Ave., Westmont

HOURS: 11am-9pm Sunday-Thursday; 11am-10pm Friday & Saturday

DRESS CODE: Casual

INFO: 630-493-9000 www.unclebubs.com

RESERVATIONS: Accepted

PARKING: Easy

WIFI: Available

NOISE FACTOR: Medium Buzz

PRICING: $$

For morerestaurant action, follow the @chitowndiner on Instagram.

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