By DAVID MOWERY for Alabama Daily News
After attending the soft opening, or the Cheers Class Reunion, last week, word came down from on high that tonight was the night. Like Paul Newman in The Color of Money, the Chicken Sandwich Is Back.
If you have not been in the Bar Formerly known as Bud’s since the pandemic forced it closed in 2020, some changes have been made. It is noticeably brighter, cleaner, and generally more of a pleasant and welcoming neighborhood bar than its previous incarnation. Don’t get me wrong. There was a need for a home for Lawyers Who Smoke and The Lobbyists Who Smoke, Too, alcoholics who have to be home before 8 as a condition of their parole, and the various harmless ne’re do wells and Area Men who inhabit local watering holes. But Tyler Bell’s reimagining of the place is definitely an improvement.
It’s now Dino’s, as in “Friday night they’ll be dressed to kill down at Dino’s Bar’ n’ Grill” from “The Boys are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy. It has new TVs, the jukebox is gone and the bathrooms are both clean and currently have doors (on hinges!). The vibe is a little more East Atlanta Village and a little less Johnny Zip’s.
The main thing, though, is that Bubba Burch is behind the bar. He knows everybody’s name and silently chuckles at their game. He knows why you’re there, whether it’s because you can’t face your family without 3-4 strong drinks, you’d be fired from any job that wasn’t with the government, or you’re hanging out with your buddies doing that thing where everybody is telling a wilder story, riffing off what the other guy said and feeling 40 year old White Dad Energetic. Joining Bubba are Emily Martin and Todd Snow. Emily is a familiar face from her stints at Vintage Year and LeRoy, but political types will remember her late father, the legendary photographer Dave Martin, and her mother, Jamie Martin, who was a photographer for AP and in the Bentley administration. Many Montgomery politicos know Todd from his days pouring drinks at Pine Bar.
The menu has been improved. There’s a chef. The buns are buttered and thick. The chicken for the famous sandwich is pounded thin and tender and cleverly named “Buddy’s Chicken Sandwich.” Get it? The pickle chips are thicker and actually crunchy. The onion rings are deeper fried or somehow prepared so they have some crunch, and the onion doesn’t come unmoored from its breaded shell and end up slopping down your face and onto your shirt.
There are several new menu items. The corn dog looks really interesting as does the hot soft pretzel. We had both the spicy fried cheese curds and the loaded fries. Both served with ranch dressing, the fries are thick and square cut and covered with melted cheese that is coagulated and gooey, but neither comes off in one piece as you try for a normal human sized bite, nor drips like standard issue Mexican restaurant queso.
A quick note on cheese curds. In life, the vast majority of foodstuffs that have an oddly strong regional appeal but are scarcely found elsewhere are that way for a reason. They’re not good enough to reach a critical mass to spread to areas that don’t have an ancestral agricultural reason for their popularity. Like white barbecue sauce, or moonshine.
Cheese curds are not one of those things, and I don’t appreciate those assholes in Wisconsin keeping them from the rest of us for so long. They are essentially fried blobs of cheese, but really more like the chicken nugget to a mozzarella stick’s chicken tender. You didn’t know they could came in Flavor Crystal form and now that you do, you’re probably going to want to get on a first name basis with your cardiologist and cadge a digitalis prescription from your general practitioner.
All in all, the establishment previously referred to as Bud’s has risen Phoenix like from the cigarette ashes of its incarnation of yore. It is a fine neighborhood eatery, a cool bar, a sports bar, a college watering hole, and home to the best bartender in Montgomery.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the music. I don’t remember the first day I met Dave Burch, but I remember what was on the stereo. It was the first time I heard “Ode To LA” by The Raveonettes. With the TouchTunes getting the Heave Ho, Bubba is in charge of the music, and so you’re going to get a little edgier fare than Toby Keith and some dude’s idea of a good time being playing 6 Widespread songs in a row. Maybe every once in a while he’ll let Todd Stacy belt out “Neon Moon,” God help us. I bet if I asked him nice, he’d put on my favorite album. “Spanish Rocketship” by Buster Poindexter.
Go visit Dino’s. You’ll be glad you did.