Bub’s Burgers and Ice Cream, Carmel, Ind.
If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I love sharing this journey I’m on with the people I care about. It’s why I write this blog, but it’s even better when I get the chance to experience something new with someone I care about, and I do it at every chance I get. While in Boston for the New England Patriots’ playoff game this January, I drove an hour each way to Eagle’s Deli so that my brothers Simon and Zach (and family friend Brian Scannon) could experience the Eagle’s burgers with me. I’ve had restaurants I’ve experienced with great friends, such as when Tim and Adam Kanak (and Tim’s girlfriend Amber Perkins, another friend) joined me at Aguila’s, or when Stephanie Soukup accompanied me to Melt. Of course, the love of my life, my amazing girlfriend Amy McFann, has joined me at places in Tampa, Chicago, Cicero, Wrigleyville and Iowa City, all of which have been awesome to share with her.
So when my cousin Victoria Swider and her husband Joel suggested a trip to Bub’s Burgers and Ice Cream when I visited them in Indiana earlier this month, I was delighted at the idea. There’s nothing like turning a good trip into a great trip by adding people who matter to you to the equation. Plus, this was a milestone evening for me, as Bub’s was my 80th restaurant from Man vs. Food that I’ve visited, which means I still have a lot of my past to add to this blog since only about 40 of them are up. Joel and Victoria finished our trip only 79 restaurants behind me.
On the burger side of the equation, Bub’s is famous for two things: its elk burgers and its Big Ugly burger, a full pound after cooking of either beef or elk that actually counts as a challenge on its own. Finishing one of these mammoths earns the eater a picture on the wall, and the size of the picture increases with each burger you consume.
Now, finishing one of these is by no means easy, but it’s not impossible. My friend Sam Wilson has finished a Big Ugly on his visit here, and I’ve actually consumed three one-pound cheeseburgers in my life, once at Big Jud’s in Idaho and twice at different Cheeburger Cheeburger locations in St. Louis and New Jersey. Granted, I did that after skipping a meal to clear my stomach, but I’ve also taken down a Thurman Burger after having eaten a late lunch, and those things weigh in at 3/4 of a pound with just the meat.
So a lack of room wasn’t what deterred me from the Big Ugly. What did was the following facts: First, when you’re trying a challenge, you don’t really take the time to enjoy what it is you’re eating. The point of this is to experience what makes these restaurants famous, not try to make myself sick. Second, in case you missed it, this place is called Bub’s Burgers and Ice Cream. Going here and filling up on the Big Ugly would eliminate room for ice cream, and that would leave this review woefully lacking and even worse at getting to the point than Nathaniel Hawthorne.
So I went for the other specialty, the elk burger, in the Not So Ugly size, which is a much-more manageable half-pound. It’s become a trend these days to try meats other than beef in a burger, and what tends to be the case is a juicier and leaner burger because other meats simply don’t have the fat that the cow does.
At Bub’s, that’s definitely the case. This patty is so juicy and has a noticeably different taste than beef. It’s cooked to perfection, and you can tell that it doesn’t have the fat that a traditional beef burger has, but it has just as much taste and flavor. The toppings complement the burger perfectly, as Bub’s uses a less is more approach, going with just lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and your choice of cheese.
Add some waffle fries (definitely order more than you think, we needed two larges for three people) and a sweet tea and it’s a perfect meal. In the summer, you can eat outside at one of several picnic tables, which makes for a nice atmosphere.
That leads us into the ice cream, and Bub’s has a nice range of flavors to choose from, most of which are pretty standard. However, there are a few that you don’t see every day, with one of them being the cinnamon crumb. Once I saw it, it was pretty obvious I had to try it.
It’s simply amazing. Cinnamon is swirled throughout the ice cream, and the addition of the crumbs gives it an extra crunch. It’s a lot like the base of a good pie, with spice flowing through it. It’s some of the best ice cream I’ve had, and after some of the places I’ve been, that’s really saying something. Saving room for the ice cream was a great decision, but even if you don’t, you’ll have a great meal. At Bub’s, ugly has never looked so beautiful.
Time to go: Earlier is probably better. Carmel is a suburb of Indianapolis, but it’s developed into a night destination for young adults on that part of I-465. As such, it gets pretty crowded at night when people get off work and want to have some fun.
Wait during my visit: Substantial. One tip, if you have an odd number in your party, wait around when your name goes on the list. We put our names on the list, then walked around Carmel, expecting to have a table when we returned. Didn’t work that way. What happened was that our name was called since they had a three-person table, but we weren’t there and had to re-wait. The good news is that Bub’s has a game while you wait, where you try to get a metal latch onto a hook. Joel was substantially better than either myself or Victoria at it.
Location: Bub’s is at 210 W. Main Street in Carmel, Ind. Another location exists in Bloomington, home of Indiana University.
Cost: The Not So Ugly’s aren’t bad, costing roughly $10-11 for elk and $8.50 for beef. A Big Ugly is $20 for elk, $16 for beef. Plan accordingly.
Parking: Not so much. Most of it is street parking and walk. There is a little bit behind the restaurant near the Monon Trail, but that’s about it.
Seating arrangement: Chairs inside, picnic tables outside. I say go picnic tables if the weather is good. There are chairs at several of these too.
Website: Bub’s Burgers
Specialty items: Big Ugly burger, ice cream