Second Helping: Bubba’s Riverside

Each month, we return to a Shanghai institution to see how they’re holding up. Whether they’ve opened a new branch or just relocated, we sample the old classics and new dishes to see if they’ve stood the test of time.

With its honest-to-god barbecue smokers out at its Hongqiao outlet and an annual inebriated celebration of beanless chili, Bubba’s has been bringing some much-needed Southern charm to Shanghai since 2006. This year, the Longhorns-loving restaurateurs headed to the Cool Docks, opening up their third branch along the Huangpu.

The walls of the latest location are sorely lacking in college football paraphernalia; a lonely U of M ‘Go Blue’ flag marks the entrance to their patio, which will be a surefire hit among football fans come warm weather. But Kenneth Walker, aka Bubba, is inviting all his regulars to bring in their team colours for proud display, so we expect the visible lack of school pride will change soon. Other than that, Walker is sticking to the tried-and-true formula that has made him a bit of a local celebrity around town. A handful of flatscreens playing the latest game dot the walls. The menu is a facsimile of the other restaurants and the same drink deals are on tap as well, including the can’t-miss all day, every day happy hour that offers a draft beer or house pour for a bargain RMB 20.

We started with the festival favourite Mel’s southern fried pickles (RMB 45). Sliced length-wise, the pickles were beer battered, then deep fried to a golden brown for one addictive vinegary crunch after another. Determined to branch out from our usual guilty pleasures at Bubba’s, we sampled the Cajun crab bake (RMB 55), which transported us straight back to the shecrab soups from our childhood spent in coastal Carolina. The rich and creamy mess of crab meat and spices was capped with a slather of baked cheese – a perfect topping to the accompanying crispy corn chips.

The tried-and-true pulled pork sandwich (RMB 80) has been known to cross state lines when it comes to palate pleasing – not an easy feat, as anyone from the South will attest. Bubba’s piles on the authenticity, slow-smoking the USDA pork shoulder for 12 hours until it falls apart with just a hungry glance. Tossed in the house mustard barbecue sauce, the pork is tender, flavourful and smoky. For RMB 10 more, the sandwich comes dressed in coleslaw. The slaw debate is still raging from region to region among barbecue aficionados, but the tangy crunch of Bubba’s slaw adds a dimension you don’t want to miss. (Although, being from Tennessee, my advice is considered sacrilege by many a native of the Peach State).

We gorged on a Southern-styled fried chicken sandwich affectionately named the Dixie chicken (RMB 80). Also topped with the house slaw, the crispy skin gave way to juicy cuts of exceedingly tender meat. To round out the Southern culinary triumvirate, we sampled the Texas-style smoked ribs (RMB 120 half or RMB 200 for whole). Flown in from Spain, these tender cuts of pork are dry-rubbed before smoking, then braised in the house barbecue sauce for a just a hint of moisture. We like our ribs dripping, so we doled out an extra portion of the sauce on our plates for dipping. The ribs showed just the right hint of pink under the browned meat. Known as a smoke ring, this shows that the meat was slow-cooked over indirect heat, just as God and man intended.

Bubba’s Riverside. The Cool Docks 2, Wharf 1846, Section 4, 653 Waima Lu, near Wangjiamatou Lu. Web:

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