When Texas Roadhouse tried to buy the Southern Indiana property last year, another party claimed to have an option to buy. A lawsuit finally was settled, and the project moved forward late last year. After originally projecting to open in early 2016, Bubba’s 33 now is in business locally.
The parent Texas Roadhouse quietly has been developing its new sports bar concept, with just a handful of locations before opening the first Louisville-area branch three weeks ago. Located at 1525 Veterans Parkway, Bubba’s 33 is sort of a Midwestern version of Texas Roadhouse that focuses on burgers and pizza instead of steaks.
The roughly 8,800-square-foot space has a distinctive Texas Roadhouse feel, with lots of natural wood. Even the shape of the building and the logo are reminiscent of the company’s main brand.
But the jarring difference is the number of flat-screen TVs in the place — more than 50, according to the menu. I counted 18 TVs in the bar area alone, but interestingly, Bubba’s 33 packs screens into both of the two main dining areas as well, one of which also contains a bar and seems to cater to adult dining, and another that focuses on family dining.
When I stopped by at lunchtime on Sunday, the place was packed, with a wait outside (where, luckily, there is a cornhole set available to help pass the time). My friend Rob, who met me for lunch, said he drives by frequently and there normally are people waiting outside. Word has traveled quickly since the restaurant opened.
Commercial country music was piping through the sound system during my visit, which contrasted to a smattering of décor that included sports, advertising and more rock references than country — for instance, a mural on the men’s room stall door of Joan Jett seemed odd when backdropped by Kenny Chesney’s crooning.
And if it all seems a bit forced, here’s the anchor menu highlight at Bubba’s 33: a burger that is one-third bacon ground into the patty (thus the “33” in the name). Even the backstory seems a bit over the top, with this blaring from the menu: “So what’s up with the 33? Well, it’s Bubba’s favorite number. Some say it’s because Prohibition ended in 1933. Others say it was inspired by the fresh 33 percent. Maybe 33 is the jersey number of Bubba’s favorite athlete.”
You get the picture: Bubba refers to Texas Roadhouse CEO Kent Taylor, whose nickname apparently is “Bubba.” Nevertheless, it is clear a ton of marketing research and plotting went into the creation of this restaurant concept. It was almost exhausting to take in. For instance, the explanation continues on the chain’s website that the 33 is “more than a number. It’s an attitude and a way of life. The end of the Prohibition in 1933 signaled great times ahead. Here at Bubba’s 33, we’re all about the mentality of pairing great food with great times.”
Trite, but point taken. The menu is about what you would expect from a chain focused on American fare: plenty of appetizers like wings, fried pickles, fried cheese, nachos and the like. There also are salads, including a double wedge salad and a Seinfeld-esque “Big Salad.” The pizzas range from basic cheese to a handful of signature pies like the 33 Deluxe, topped with pepperoni, Italian sausage, red and green peppers, red onion, mushrooms and black olives. We were given a sample of the hand-tossed pizza, which was not bad, but nothing special.
The burgers seem to be the focal point, from a bacon guacamole burger to a spicy habanero burger to the signature Bubba’s Bacon Burger, which features the aforementioned bacon-blend patty. After Rob and I started with some wings — Rob got six traditional hot, which he said were not hot and rather oily, while I chose the signature chipotle wings, which were pretty tasty — I had to at least try this bacon burger.
It took a while to arrive, but when it did, it was massive, matching the giant piles of food and giant mugs of yellow beer people were enjoying all around us in the bar area. The amazing thing is that there is a double version of this monstrosity. Also? They put bacon on it as well as in it.
I tend to eat light, but I have to admit it was a delicious piece of ground meat, cooked a perfect medium, with two big tomato slices, two slices of white American cheese, and the signature Bubba’s Sauce, which looked like thousand island dressing but had a bit of a barbecue tang to it.
I didn’t even get halfway through the thing before the meat sweats kicked in and I had to stop, but I can understand why Texas Roadhouse would target this audience with such a burger. It was like being in bacon heaven.
“How is it?” Rob asked after I had taken a couple of bites.
“It tastes like America,” I replied. He laughed, because he knew exactly what I meant.
Moderately priced but long on ample portions, Bubba’s 33 seems geared toward the family and the so-called “every man,” if you will. I used to go with my parents to Texas Roadhouse on their birthdays for steak. This year, my dad might be asking for a bacon burger.