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Bubba's Brews docks at Lake Hamilton

Beyond Bonnerdale.

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WILD ABOUT 'HARRY': The "beast" of a sandwich is made with ham, bacon and charred sausage. The onion rings are crispy, but few.
  • WILD ABOUT 'HARRY': The "beast" of a sandwich is made with ham, bacon and charred sausage. The onion rings are crispy, but few.

If we were to announce to some visiting out-of-towners that we'd be taking them to dinner at "Bubba's Brews of Bonnerdale," we imagine they'd picture a dimly lit dive, walls lined with autographed publicity posters of NASCAR drivers and John Michael Montgomery's "I Swear" on the satellite radio. Or at least someplace more akin to the original Bubba's location — a log cabin affair in a field in the middle of nowhere, with Razorback flags hanging from the wooden rafters. What started in Hot Spring County didn't stay in Hot Spring County, though, and the Bonnerdale mothership soon grew alter egos: a lakeside spot in Maynardville, Tenn.; the stately taproom branch in an old bank building on Hot Springs' Bathhouse Row; and now, a dockside Bubba's Brews on Lake Hamilton.

The new location is in Garland County (14.4 miles up U.S. Highway 70 from the Bonnerdale brewery), but when we strolled onto the patio, what we saw looked more like the set of an episode of "Miami Vice." You have to make a sharp turn downward off Airport Road at the bridge to get there; the parking lot is in tiers, staggered against the rocky lake banks. (Construction took a looong time, and is an engineering feat in itself.) Bubba's logo glows in neon, two B's with the round bits of each letter facing each other. Their mascot, a cigar-chomping shark — Bubba, is that you? — looks like Jabberjaws' gangster uncle. A fine mist tempered the 92-degree temps when we visited, spraying down upon a spacious, bifurcated patio — which we soon discovered was one of three floors — with smokers thankfully segregated and dogs thankfully welcome.

Barges and boats drifted in and out as the sun set, and uplit banana trees dotted the landscape. Tan women in off-the-shoulder peasant blouses and tiny shorts sauntered by. A string of Christmas lights framed the shoreline and condos opposite this particular finger of the lake, and wind from the fans blew our hair around constantly, but lightly, like we were in a music video. Angular tarps appeared poised to make the sun tolerable whatever the time of day, but it was a beautiful Arkansas summer evening. Bubba's already had us in the palm of its hand.

Our waiter appeared in a muscle tee and a backwards white visor, addressing one of us as "boss." Suddenly we wished we'd donned some crimped hair and two-tone eyeshadow, or at least pushed-up jacket sleeves.

As befits a sports pub, scores scrolled across a ticker on the wood-paneled wall, Wall Street-style. A Cotton Bowl Classic 2012 poster hung on the wall. In a far-off room, a giant neon sign glowed for something called "The Bubba-Tron." We always consider a restaurant's bathrooms the window into its soul, and Bubba's are immaculately clean. Whimsical, functional, full-circle and zen, the men's urinals are made out of old beer kegs.

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Balancing the calm serenity of the lake was a huge table of people having a spirited event and being served gargantuan electric blue cocktails, along with Bubba's Brew Nacho Do-Si-Do ($16), served in a party-sized bowl meant to serve 2 to 4 diners, with a crater in the middle for dip.

We'd chosen Bubba's on a whim, and it was still fairly full on a balmy Wednesday night half an hour before sunset. But we found out the countdown was on, as the kitchen closes an hour before Bubba's actual advertised closing time. So we quickly started with the Stuffed Shrimp ($9.95): butterflied, breaded and fried shrimp stuffed with jalapenos, Monterey jack cheese and cream cheese. We found the (almost suspiciously uniform) flattened shrimp more heavily reliant on cream cheese notes than the intriguing jalapeno twist, but these quibbles were quickly forgiven and forgotten; after all, it was still fried shrimp stuffed with cheese.

Our desired Kung Pow sliders ("a clean and spicy Asian twist on chicken salad," $9) had sold out two hours earlier. So we switched gears to the "Dirty Harry" ($12), a sandwich our server called "a beast." He was right. It's a towering stack of ham AND bacon AND beautifully charred sausage links cut lengthwise with Thousand Island dressing, spring greens, sauerkraut dotted with red pepper, all teetering on a toasted rye tightrope. Harry had almost too much going on, but the messiness of the sandwich worked in its favor; we collared escaping individual morsels that would have been otherwise lost in the chorus of meats. (We didn't miss the waters we'd ordered until right about Dirty Harry o' clock.) Most of Bubba's sandwiches are served with chips and salsa; adding fries costs an extra dollar. We sprang for the onion rings ($2 surcharge), and they were crispy but scant, leaving us fry-curious.

On the other side of the table, we ordered "The Miss Rodriguez" ($11) from the salad portion of the menu. It was fresh, concave leaves of butter lettuce in a ring and a generous pile of sweet pulled pork in the center, garnished with cilantro lime cream, wontons (billed as "tortilla strips"), red cabbage and red onion.

But the brews are ostensibly what makes Bubba's, and the Arkansas Times Craft Beer Festival is, in fact, how we first came across the brand in 2016. The Sandbar Pilsner (4.9 ABV) was light-bodied and unobjectionable — exactly what we wanted on a summer night. The 4.0 ABV Bubba's SupaLight was also supremely (OK, OK, we'll call it "supa") delicate and weather-appropriate, but more flavorful than the pilsner. Either would be a great lakeside companion, and they complemented the heavy bar food well.

Bubba's Brews gets a lot of the details right — down to the check that arrives in a cute metal box so as not to blow away. And while the dockside setting may be posh, even gorgeous at sunset, Bubba's Brews Sports Pub & Grill is bar food to the max — heck, it's right in the name. But it's inventive and done right, and we're happy to report that the list of eateries you can get to by boat in Hot Springs — Sam's Pizza Pub & Restaurant, Fisherman's Wharf and Cajun Boilers among them — is now a little longer. .

Bubba's Brews Sports Pub & Grill
1252 Airport Road
Hot Springs
501-547-3186

bubbabrewsbrewingco.com

Quick bite

Visit on Wednesday for karaoke night; Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" and Paula Abdul's "Opposites Attract" rang down the winding stairs from the patio to the roadside third floor when we visited. Should the booze and brews threaten takeover, consult the "House Rules" section of the Bubba's menu to make sure you're not breaking etiquette.

Hours

11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday and Monday (closed Tuesday), 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wed.-Thu., 11 a.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat.

Other info

Handcrafted beer is on tap, with seasonal rotating brews like the Southern Eclipse black lager and an Irish red called Mog's Ol' Red Ale, as well as margaritas, mules, several oversized "Mason Jar Drinks" and a selection of wines.

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