Editor's note: For profiles of a couple other CNY barbecue pit-stops, see my cover story in the May 22 edition of The Syracuse New Times. Click here.
If you’re in Skaneateles or Auburn and have a hankering for barbecue, get yourself to The Bucket.
The Southern-flavored restaurant opened in February on Route 20, near Auburn, at the onetime home of The Pioneer Restaurant. It’s owned by partners Michael Henty, Gary Robinson, Tim Gillooly and Marc Albino.
Albino, a native of Auburn who is also executive chef at Rosalie’s Cucina, spent several at restaurants in the South after graduating from culinary school. He says he had a lot of fun developing The Bucket’s down-home menu – a big switch from the Northern Italian/gourmet Italian fare he’s known for at Rosalie’s -- and testing it out on his family, friends and partners.
Almost everything on The Bucket’s menu is smoked in a smoker in The Bucket’s kitchen, rather than a big contraption outdoors. The aroma of slow-cooked meat smacks you in the nose when you walk in the door.
The Bucket is a nice alternative to other fast-casual restaurants in the area, like perennial favorites Doug’s Fish Fry and Johnny Angels Heavenly Burgers. Bring the family and queue up for some ‘cue.
THE VIBE: The Bucket is casual with a capital “C” -- warm, wood-paneled and slightly rustic, with custom-made wooden tables downstairs and upstairs in the loft and picnic tables outside. It’s a plastic tray, paper plates and wait-on-yourself kind of place. Choose your meat at the counter, proceed down the line and choose your side dishes.
THE MENU: Meat, meat and more meat. You’ll find the usual suspects, like ribs, brisket and pulled pork, plus poultry (pulled chicken, smoked turkey), along with about a dozen side dishes (a k a fixins’). Some of the sides are traditional (macaroni and cheese, corn bread, salt potatoes) and some are more uncommon in these parts, like fried pickles and fried okra.
LIQUID ASSETS: There’s a soda fountain with soft drinks and a short list of domestic and import beers and wines. Utica’s Saranac is represented, and we started with two bottles of lager.
A half-rack of Kansas City ribs ($16.25) had a nice char and was fall-off-the-bone tender, but could have used more seasoning, we thought. The collards were cooked to perfection but lukewarm. As for sweet potato fries and onion rings: What’s not to like about deep-fried vegetables every now and then?
We really liked The Bucket’s trio of sauces in squirt bottles at each table. One is slightly sweet, one hints of mustard and vinegar and one packs a little heat. All worked well with the ribs.
WHAT’S A VEGETARIAN GOING TO FIND: Not much, to be honest. You could ask for The Bucket’s Caesar salad minus the bacon (bacon? in a Caesar?). Or feast on the side fixins’, like a smashed sweet potato, fried pickles and okra, cream corn and coleslaw. Collards are prepared Southern-style, with meat.
THE DAMAGES: $38, give or take, including two bottle beers and a tip at the counter.
THE NEXT TIME: We’ll go back for the pulled chicken, smoked wings, smoked and deep-fried turkey leg and/or smoked kielbasa. Of the desserts, which we didn’t have room for, the bourbon blackberry peach cobbler sounds delicious and could be really good when local peaches and berries are in season.
THE DETAILS: The Bucket is at 3193 E. Genesee St. Road (Route 20), Auburn. Phone: 315-255-1227. In spring and summer, the restaurant is open Monday-Saturday for lunch, dinner and takeout. Note: Large orders for 20 or more people require 24 hours notice.
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