Sticky fingers with barbecue sauce. Full stomach. Smoky, spicy flavors linger on your tongue as you lean back and sigh, the light fading on the fields around you. This is a recipe for a summer night made straight from Bub’s Bar-BQ in Sunderland.
This summer, Bub’s makes the transition as Andrea and Chris Moroney, owners since 2011, pass the torch to longtime chef and restaurateur Andrew Garlo. Brimming with enthusiasm, Garlo hopes to put a locally influenced style of barbecue on the map, while honoring the traditions and heritage of this community favorite.
“Bub’s is a bit like a time machine,” says Garlo. “It’s been there since 1979, and very little has changed. When you enter, the first thing you see is the large neon “Bar-B-Que” sign. The cabins are quirky and in the back there is the free old jukebox and a kids arcade game that costs a dollar.
“All over the walls are honors and trinkets that have been collected over the past 43 years,” he adds. The pig motif is prominent among the decorations and the large menu adorning the back wall.
Seating inside is limited. You wouldn’t know there used to be a little dance floor where couples danced to country-western from the jukebox. Outside, the picnic tables under the tents offer much more elbow room – a necessity in recent years and a perfect setting for finger licking.
Garlo has risen through the ranks in the restaurant industry since the age of 14, rising from dishwasher to executive chef and culinary school instructor. For him, being at Bub’s means reconciling passion and circumstance.
“When I first moved into the street in Sunderland, I said to my fiancee, ‘If I ever own a restaurant, I want it to be like Bub’s’,” he says. “Then last spring my friend who knew the current owners, Andrea and Chris, told me that they were considering closing. The pandemic hit the restaurant hard and they wanted to spend more time with their family.
“I didn’t want Bub’s to close,” Garlo says, “so I got in touch with them and started talking. My entry seemed like a good game. I told them that running the place just takes a little energy, and I have a lot of energy to spare.
As a cooking style, the modern American barbecue owes its roots to the indigenous cultures of the Caribbean. As the practice spread throughout the southern United States, distinct styles emerged, influenced by the availability of local ingredients in different locations. For example, Texas-style barbecue emphasizes beef and spicy dry seasonings, while Memphis-style barbecue emphasizes pork and sweet and tangy sauces.
Where does Bub’s Bar-BQ come from? “Right now, it’s pulling in all over the place and doesn’t fit neatly into any major category,” Garlo says.
As they seek to use more local ingredients, could Bub’s help develop a new branch of the barbecue family tree? Garlo considers New England’s bounty of farms, forests and fisheries to be the main ingredients of a style unto itself.
“We could use more apples, maple syrup and New England seafood,” he suggests. “I also talked about making our own kielbasa. I’m of Polish descent – like many people here – and I want to factor that into the equation as well.
“There are so many local farms and suppliers to work with here,” he notes. “I have already been in contact with Warner Farm in Sunderland, Apex Orchards in Shelburne Falls, Pekarski’s Sausage in South Deerfield and Sutter Meats in Northampton. I have purchased from Szawlowski Potato Farms in Hatfield before, and will probably do so again. And I just had a phone call with Berkshore Seafood (which delivers directly from the docks on the New England coast) to get steamers and other local seafood.
Barbecuing often produces heaps of food at once, which is great for feeding large groups in backyards, restaurants, or community events. Watching the chef cook can be fun in itself. Bub’s Bar-BQ has been providing catering services for many years, and Garlo has no shortage of dreams of how he could expand his repertoire and inspire celebrations of local cuisine and culture if the opportunities allow.
“I always thought it would be a good idea to work with a farm on an onsite farm-to-table dinner,” he says, “using all of their own produce and meats to create a three-course, four course meal.”
Another idea: “A Summer Days in Sunderland festival day,” says Garlo. “I could sell pulled pork and ribs. Warner Farm could show its products. Maybe the Blue Heron Restaurant could also do food, and we could have live music. Getting more people to enjoy the area is the goal.
For Garlo, ideas like this are seeds to sow and wait to see what will grow in the future. Today, he’s focused on continuing to run Bub’s Bar-BQ the way longtime customers love it, with a few tweaks to keep the business afloat.
“A lot of clients tell me I can’t change anything,” he says. “But the world has changed a lot in the last few years, and Bub’s has almost closed for good. I’m going to have to adjust some things, and I hope people understand why.
Sidebars are a good example. “For in-person meals, there have always been cold and hot side bars that go with any meal, and you can eat whatever you want,” he explains. “It’s quite unique.” These aren’t going away, but the side dishes menu, which was established years ago, may change to reflect the rising costs of various ingredients.
“At the end of the day, I hope we’re known for the quality of our food and the authenticity of our smoking,” says Garlo. “You take hours and hours to season things, to find the right moment – I hope people see and understand the love and effort that goes into it.”
Bub’s Bar-BQ is at 676 Amherst Road in Sunderland, open Wednesday to Friday, 4pm to 8pm; Saturday, 12 p.m.-8 p.m.; and Sunday, 12 p.m.-7 p.m.
Jacob Nelson is communications coordinator for CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture). For examples of other restaurants cooking with local ingredients near you, visit buylocalfood.org/find-it-locally.