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Bub’s: Elk Burgers in Indianapolis

By • Aug 1st, 2010 • Category: Burger Blog

In writing for this site over the past 14 months, I’ve read reviews of hundreds of burger joints from all over the country.  The ones that really strike my fancy go on a master list I keep.  When I find myself traveling, I check my records, looking to cross off another hamburger hotspot while I’m there.

Summer vacation took us through Indianapolis, where we have family.  En route, we got a text that they wanted to meet us for lunch as we passed through.  Despite my intestines still recovering from the Krystal-vs.-White-Castle showdown the day before, my tummy perked up when my brother-in-law suggested a place from my list.

Bub’s Burgers and Ice Cream is a cutesy little cottage in Carmel, on The Circle City’s north side.  The whole area- the town’s Arts & Design District- was crawling with people on a picture-perfect Saturday.  Bub’s is located smack on the Monon Trail, a 15-mile rail trail (an abandoned train track that’s been paved over) that runs through the heart of the city and sees well over 4,000 cyclists, joggers, and rollerbladers every day.

And most of them, it seemed, were at Bub’s.  “Bub” is the nickname for owner Matt Frey, but it’s also shorthand for their flagship menu item.  The Big Ugly Burger is a 1-pound cheeseburger… and that’s the “AFTER” weight of the fully-cooked patty.  (It hits the grill as a 22-ounce mountain of meat.)  Polish off a Big Ugly, and your Polaroid goes up inside.

But Bub’s other claim to fame, the thing that put them on my master must-eat list to begin with, is their elk burgers.

Elk meat is low in fat, calories, and cholesterol, high in protein, and just exotic enough for me to be very, very intrigued.  Like the beef burgers, elk burgers are offered in the 1-pound Big Ugly size, the half-pound Not So Ugly, or the quarter-pound Settle for Less Ugly.  Already eyeballing the hand-dipped milkshakes exiting the kitchen, I went Not So Ugly.

The menu at Bub’s is really basic; in addition to burgers, they sell hot dogs, chili and soup, a chicken sandwich, a big-time mahi-mahi sandwich, or a salad.  Their toppings list was equally sparse: burgers come standard with lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles, although bacon can be added.  Five easy cheeses: American, Swiss, cheddar, pepper jack, or bleu.  That’s it.  No Gruyere, no guacamole, no foie gras, no peanut butter and bananas.    I was glad to see that, to keep me from being tempted to get too jazzy with my fixins, like I did with my Ted Turner bison burger.  A bare-bones lineup allows Bub’s to focus on doing pure, simple burgers exceptionally well.

And they do.  My elk burger was ka-razy good.  Instant induction into my Top 3 Burgers of the Year. No gamey quality whatsoever.  My sisters-in-law divvied up a hunk that fell off the loosely-formed patty and were convinced that the elk meat “picked up the taste of the grill” better than beef.  I was too busy inhaling my burger to do any side-by-side comparisons.

The bun was of particular awesomeness.  Bub’s says their buns were custom-designed to fit their large burgers and are baked fresh by a local bakery.  What I know is that they were really buttery and pleasantly squishy, easily the best buns I’ve had in a long time.

It was all washed down well with a black cherry milkshake to go, but what I really wanted after my phenomenal half-pound elk cheebie… was another one.  I think I’ll keep Bub’s on my list.  Next time through Indy, I’m taking down the Big Ugly.

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