In the old days — before the craze for so-called gastropubs — some of the best casual eateries in America could be found under old-fashioned signs that read simply “bar and grill.”
Of course, some of those signs were lies: The bar was always real enough, but what passed for a grill was often nothing more than an oven and a cold case.
But when you find a true bar and grill — a place that’s clean and well lighted, a place where the staff and customers are as friendly as can be, a place where the beer is cold and cheap, and a place where the food is fresh, affordable, varied and attractively presented — then you’ve found yourself a genuine American gem.
Such a place is Bud’s Tavern Good Food & Barbecue in Shively. A couple of years ago, while exploring that part of town, I stuck my head into Bud’s and didn’t stay long. It was a sad and grimy place, and if there was food to be had, I wasn’t having any of it.
But last year, new owners came in (Donna and Chuck Davis, Andrew Ernspiker and Linda Hochstrasser). They scrubbed the place up, uncovered some windows, and turned the place into a little jewel, complete with a pleasant wooden patio, comfortable booths, a long, attractive bar, plenty of TVs and live music three nights a week.
They assembled a fine kitchen crew (Jacob Hinton and Brandon Benedict, led by Kevin Malone), and they assembled the friendliest front-of-house staff you can imagine.
Bud’s isn’t a fancy place, mind you. Blue Moon is probably the most exotic beer on the list. But if your taste runs to popular American lagers and great tavern-style food, you’ll love the place.
You’ll definitely love the hand-breaded fried grouper. The menu describes it as “gently fried,” and that’s a perfect description: Fresh-tasting and moist, in a light, grease-free batter, dished up with tangy tartar sauce and some crisp, lightly seasoned fries, it’s a fine addition to the city’s fried fish lineup (the grouper is also available grilled; a generous sandwich on grilled rye bread runs $6.95; as a dinner with sides, it’s $10.95).
If your taste runs to soup, the bean soup is straight out of the South, complete with generous chunks of flavorful ham and served with a slightly sweet cornmeal pancake that arrives still warm — because the kitchen doesn’t cook it until you order your soup ($2.95/$3.95). There are plenty of conventional bar snacks, but for a lighter beginning, a deep bowl of fresh, crisp greens sprinkled with cheese and chunks of tomato makes a fine salad ($2.95/$3.95).
Sandwich offerings include tuna and chicken salad ($5.95) and fried bologna ($4.95), but the most important factor in evaluating a bar and grill is, of course, the burger. And here Bud’s truly shines.
The burgers start with hand-formed patties. A simple, dressed cheeseburger with chips will set you back $5.95, but I commend to your attention an assortment of more elaborate burgers. There is, for instance, a breakfast burger — a hand-formed patty topped with Vermont cheddar, sausage links, hash browns and a fried egg ($9.99).
And the Reuben burger is a triumph of engineering. The burger, corned beef, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing are neatly stacked on crisp, grilled rye bread, each layer a tight little band that holds together at all odds.
If such sandwiches aren’t to your taste, a burrito ($6.95) stuffed with barbecued or grilled chicken and served with house-made pico de gallo is a fun choice, perhaps accompanied by chips, piquant salsa and a melting pool of creamy, savory queso ($5.95).
Barbecue is also a fixture. I can only assume the baby back ribs are good, since on my visits they were always sold out (half-rack, $12.95; full rack, $19.95). I can speak knowledgeably of the brisket — gently smoky, generously stacked and served with three fine house-made sauces, one slightly sweet, one spicy, and one mustard-based sauce so good you might want to pour it over the potato salad — or just take some home in a bottle.