Ok, so your immediate thought on reading the title of this post is, “What? Barbecue in Buenos Aires? Is it actually possible that we can get seasoned and flavored meats in this land of beef but where the only spice used is salt?”
Bubba’s Smokin’ Barbecue Joint opens tonight inside Buenos Aires’ largest nightclub, Boutique (formerly Museo), and promises to bring authentic deep South barbecue pork spare ribs, barbecue beef short ribs (asado), smoked ojo de bife, brisket, pulled pork sandwiches and lots more to Buenos Aires.
So, how did an expat BBQ restaurant manage to open inside of the largest nightclub in the city? The tale of Mike and Skip is an interesting one and definitely proves that persistence pays. I’m including their story below (told in their own words) and it’s definitely worth a read. However, if you’re not able to make it all the way through, be sure to check out the last paragraph for information on how to be a part of the grand opening tonight and get on the guest list to avoid the $50 cover charge. Way to go guys!
Oh yeah, and be sure and like them on Facebook too!
Now, on to their intriguing tale…
Here are some things that have happened to me and my partner since moving to Argentina almost three years ago that will be of interest to food & drink aficionados. It is kind of a long story, but there is a big finish and if you read to the end you will be glad you did.
My partner, (Mike) & I (Skip) have an internet based business helping restaurants with their online marketing, websites and online ordering systems. For the sake of brevity I’m leaving out a lot (getting mugged by cops, the extortion of thousands of dollars by customs officials, being burglarized, house and car, bribing cops, getting pick-pocketed, etc., moving to El Bolson, moving back to BA). It’s been quite an adventure and it looks like it’s only getting started.
We have been together since 1989 and have had a web based business since about ’96. We moved to BA in March of 2009 to explore the possibility of expanding our business to include clients here. We booked a hotel from the States that would accept our two big dogs which we brought with us.
We discovered the food here after the ride from the airport to check in to our hotel. We were walking the dogs after 18 hours in their travel kennel when we found a small pizza place and decided pizza would be the easiest thing we could do for food at that moment of hunger and exhaustion after the long, brutal flight. They didn’t have pepperoni or much else that we liked on pizza. No biggie, this place had red bell peppers, green olives and ham on mozzarella and that was pretty good to us as tired and hungry as we were. Little did we know or even suspect, it would take over 2 years of searching to find anyone (Punto Pizza) selling pepperoni pizza.
Being born and raised in central California we grew up eating lots of Mexican food and barbecuing at all family get togethers. Our other favorite food was Thai. Thai food so hot you could hardly stand to eat it but so good you could hardly stop eating until too stuffed to eat any more. Yes, it made you sweat and your nose run and eyes water but it was just SO GOOD! Food like that is rare and hard to find in the U.S. and a treasure to be cherished if you are lucky enough to run across it. We just assumed Argentina, being so much further south of the border than Mexico, would have its own unique spicy foods, like every other cuisine on Earth that I knew anything about, so, yes we were very surprised to learn that in Argentina, nobody likes spicy food. This surprise quickly turned to disappointment as we tried many Mexican restaurants only to find the food bore little, if any, resemblance to anything we knew as Mexican. And the Thai place in Barrio Chino is even worse. Terrible bland yucky stuff that I just could not eat. This is not Thai food. Thai food is spicy! Thai food tastes good! We just gradually quit going to restaurants (except Todos Contentos and Dragon Porteño in Barrio Chino. We love their Chinese food). We were SO glad we brought our smoker from the States with us. As anyone who has had it knows, there is no better food to be found on Earth than properly done barbecued pork ribs, beef brisket and all the other fixins’ that go with great barbecue. With the discovery of Gabby’s corn tortillas (Pancho Villa) we could make our own tasty tacos and enchiladas and with the ingredients from stores in Barrio Chino it was possible for us to cook authentically spiced Thai food. So being the “do it yourself” kind of guys that we are, we solved our Argentine food problem. But I’m getting ahead of myself, back to when we first arrived in Argentina…
After about a month of searching for an apartment with no luck whatsoever, our hotel manager told us that our room had been reserved by someone previously and we had 2 days to find another place to rent with our dogs. We took the only place we could find that would accept dogs which was a tiny 2 room apartment with no air conditioner. The apartment was dirty and roach infested but it was small so it didn’t take long to clean and was better than being on the street with our dogs and luggage.
The apartment was located in Monserrat/San Telmo, BA’s oldest part of town. Lots of restaurants and incredible architecture. Across the street from our apartment was a humongous old building, made entirely of iron and built in the 1800’s by Gustave Eiffel who also built, you guessed it, the Eiffel Tower in Paris & the Statue of Liberty in New York. It was now remodeled and being used as a night club with long traffic jams of taxis dropping off and picking up till 5 or 6 in the morning. The place was real noisy with car horns blaring all night and noisy drunk people coming and going all night long. Did I mention that we had no air conditioner? We couldn’t close the window because it was too hot so we just got used to the racket and marveled at how hard and late these Argies partied. Whenever that club was open, it was like New Years Eve in Times Square. Well maybe not that bad…
So over the past couple of years we’ve lived in a lot of different places and met and shared food with a lot of different people. When we knew an Argie would be with us we tried to dump the picante but accidents happen and when a friend drops by unexpectedly and accepts an invitation to join us for a meal that we prepared for ourselves, they can be surprised. I too have been surprised to see people BLOWN AWAY that anyone would make food so hot- and at the very same time keep going back for seconds and thirds, themselves surprised, even embarrassed that they do indeed like some spicy food. This happened a lot with people trying our cooking and discovering that even though they were convinced that they did not like spicy food, especially hot spicy food, they could really enjoy it on occasion.
Because Argentina has a long tradition of how beef and other meats are best prepared, I never made it a point to try to sell an Argentino on American style barbecue. I just assumed they would naturally prefer the Argentino cooking techniques. Our friend Sebastian invited us to his house for some asado on his parilla. Even though he is a taxi driver, he cooks like a professional (actually better than most pros) and we really enjoyed the tasty meats that came off his parilla. With nothing lacking or needing to be fixed, why bring up how we do it differently in the States?
Fast forward to about 8 months ago when we were renting a short term apartment in Palermo Hollywood. The owner didn’t tell us about a previously made reservation until we tried to pay the next months’ rent and she wouldn’t accept it. So just like the first place we stayed, we needed to find an apartment that allowed pets (we now had three dogs and a cat) and we only had a couple of days to find it.
After some panic and anger for not being told we couldn’t renew our rental for another month we did manage to find an apartment in Belgrano that allowed pets and no one asked us the deal killing question of “how many pets do you have?”. The ground floor apartment is small, advertised more rooms than it actually has but it has a larger than average kitchen and a nice patio. We foolishly thought we could use the patio for outdoor cooking and actually got away with it a few times with no complaints. The feedback we got was that the smell was “espectacular” with the only complaint being the smell made people hungry and if we wanted to cook without bothering other people, we’d have to make enough for everyone. Even though it was a joke, that idea had definite appeal. We tried to come up with a way to invite the building down for barbecue but it just wouldn’t work in the tiny apartment.
Then we had a couple of incidents where we totally smoked out the guy in the apartment above ours and the lady in the apartment next to ours. We apologized with smoked ribs, cornbread muffins and cinnamon rolls that we baked and used our ozone generator to de-smoke the apartments. The “victims” of our smoke LOVED the food even though we mistakenly gave them some ribs that were seasoned with a dry rub containing cayenne. One girl thought the ribs were too picante but loved the cinnamon rolls. She gave the ribs to her parents who like picante and they absolutely loved them and told us they were the best they ever had.
We realized cooking on the patio wouldn’t work and decided to do what we have seen being done all over town- cook on the street so the smoke wouldn’t bother anyone.
The smoker we brought with us from the States was electric so we couldn’t use it on the street. So we were building and experimenting with various ideas and configurations for wood fired smokers and so when we took this activity to the street, we got a LOT of attention from passersby. They were fascinated by the various things we were doing to connect fire boxes to cooking chambers. Some even took pictures. So many people asked if we were selling. People were following their noses sometimes for blocks to find where the smell was coming from. Even vegetarians were stopping to comment about how good it smelled. The joke about making enough for everyone turned into a desire to open a barbecue restaurant. We came up with Bubba’s Smokin’ Barbecue Joint as a name and started creating a menu. Since I don’t speak Spanish and Mike does, he was our man on the street giving out samples. We were cooking almost every day and started inviting folks to sample our “down home style” barbecue and the results and feedback was pretty unanimous- upon putting the meat into their mouth, the friendly smile fades as they start getting a taste. A slow affirmative nod of the head begins as eyes light up and widen. The head nod grows into a general whole body undulation as they realize the depth and complexity of the never before experienced flavor of Real Southern Style Barbecue. This is when the emotions take over. They get excited and sometimes have commented that this food is better than sex. They may grab Mike’s arm or hand as an exclamation of astonishment. One guy expressed the affection of a grandfather for a favorite grandchild by reaching over and pinching Mike’s cheek (Mike is forty years old, lol). We don’t really ask any questions- it is obvious that our little sample has been a meaningful and significant experience in their lives. I can only compare what we see here to being like a first orgasm. It changes people and re-orientates them. Even though we don’t ask them to compare our food to any other- especially Argentine cooking, they almost to a person tell us that there is nothing like this in all of Argentina and that it is the best tasting food they have ever experienced. The word most often used to describe the food was “espectacular”, which is an amazing compliment coming from an Argentino. Not a single person ever said “Que Rico”. It was ALWAYS “Espectacular”.
When we started looking for a location to lease for Bubba’s Smokin’ Barbecue Joint we found that it was your basic no-go, dead end road. Without a family garantia we could not rent a commercial location at all. For some reason this did not stop us from persisting with our intention of opening a restaurant, even if it had to be one of those secret, closed door kind of places or just setting up to cook and sell in a park. So we just went on building a menu, perfecting recipes, finding reliable meat suppliers and vendors for the restaurant, creating a website with interactive menu and online ordering and cooking and selling on the street where we live. Every day we were open, we received more and more orders. People who tried it, were coming back for more and sending over their friends to try it. The people we were selling to on the street started asking us to get a table so they could use it to eat on. So we put a table by the street (like lots of restaurants do) and people started using it. We were making sides and baking bread and putting orders together in our apartment. So what we had was a little pretend restaurant that most people liked but some of the busier bodies in the neighborhood wanted no part of it. After they saw the table by our barbecue that was just too much and they started complaining and even calling the cops who came, were friendly and didn’t tell us to stop. I think they too liked the vibe and were interested in trying the food. The cops let us continue but we don’t want to bother anyone so we made plans to not cook there anymore. We’d just go to the park where we wouldn’t be a bother and our neighbors assured us that we could sell out every day.
At the house across the street from our apartment building there lives a couple and their young son and they were interested in what we were doing but were never around at the right time to get a sample. Their names are Pablo and Susanna and Mike thought they were famous because they have a certain “star quality” and Pablo had brought by a famous soccer player who was curious about our cooker. But still no taste tests because the timing was never right. So after three months of doing our little pretend restaurant on the side of the street and we were cooking there for the last time, Pablo was finally home so Mike got some samples together and took them across the street for Pablo and Susanna to try. We really just love sharing this food with people and watching their reaction. It’s actually a very emotionally moving and humbling experience for everyone including us. There is just something awesome about giving people that experience for the first time.
This is where the story gets a bit mind boggling. It turns out that Pablo is the owner of that giant iron building in Monserrat/San Telmo that is now the biggest night club in Argentina. It turned out that Susanna is a famous model who is arguably Argentina’s hottest babe. It turns out that Pablo and Susanna are two of the nicest, most down to earth, sincere people that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and they speak English, so even I can talk to them. Pablo and Susanna loved the samples so much that they invited us to open Bubba’s Smokin’ Barbecue Joint as the restaurant inside Boutique the night club. The club has a dance floor for 2000 and restaurant seating for 900. So in one fell swoop, we go from having a pretend restaurant on the side of the street to opening in a place with a giant industrial sized and equipped kitchen, seating for 900 guests, has giant video projection screens, mirrored disco balls, high tech laser lights with fog, a DJ booth and even a big stage for performers. Line dancing anyone?
Maybe a mathematician could tell me the odds of this happening – 2 times separated by about 2 years and 20 miles, we had our apartment sold out from under us twice and had to do an emergency (unplanned) move with little choice of where we moved both times. The first time put us across the street from Pablo’s club. The second time put us across the street from where Pablo lives. Pablo was looking for something new, exciting and different for his club. And we were looking for someplace to have as a restaurant. In a city of 13 million, we keep being placed in close proximity of the biggest opportunity of our lives. The odds have to be at least a gazillion to one, right? And now we can open a barbecue joint that is beyond our wildest imaginings, it’s got to be the most spectacular barbecue joint on the face of the planet.
You are invited to be a part of culinary history in Buenos Aires this coming Wednesday, November 30th, 2011 as Bubba’s Smokin’ Barbecue Joint opens, introducing to the people of Argentina the cuisine of the Deep South of North America, including Down Home Style Barbecue, at the Boutique Club (aka Museum) After Office party starting at 7:30pm located at Peru 535 (between Venezuela & Mexico streets). This is the first time that I know of this cuisine being offered commercially in Argentina. The cover charge to get in is 50 pesos, but if you RSVP here (include the number of Guests in your party) you get in FREE. When you arrive at the door, just tell them you’re a guest of Bubba’s and they will look your name up on the RSVP guest list and you’re in. We will have Barbecue Pork Spare Ribs, Barbecue Beef Short Ribs (Asado), Smoked Ojo de Bife, Brisket, Pulled Pork Sandwiches and lots more. And keeping with the Southern tradition, everything on the menu is homemade using the freshest & highest quality ingredients available. This may possibly be the tastiest food you ever ate in your whole life, as so many Argentines have told us it was for them. Here is a link to our online menu, the full thing won’t be available the first night, but eventually we will have everything you see online. And very soon, we will be opening up for lunch & dinner so you can come and dine when the after office party is not going on. We hope to see you there!
Thanks for reading!
Skip & Mike