Booba’s serves up surprises on Fort Myers Beach
In the two months since a new bar opened in the Fort Myers Beach Plaza on San Carlos Island, a fair number of people have stopped by, but they haven’t stopped in.
“A lot of people pull up to take their picture in front of the sign for the bar, and then they get back into their car and take off,” says the bar’s owner. “It’s almost like it’s a famous bar by itself.
“They just take a picture and leave — what?” he says. “I laugh because they don’t know what’s inside. They’re just taking a picture because of the name of it.”
And what is the name on the sign that attracts so many photo stops?
“They’re in their own heads deciding what it is,” says Marc “Booba” Hess. “It’s just my nickname. They’re missing the good times, good people and good fun inside.”
Hess says his parents called him Booba when he was a young child.
He says the nickname is a Hebrew word that translates into English as “doll,” which his parents used as a term of endearment.
If those drive-by photographers bothered to venture into the 38-seat bar on a Sunday, they would find “booba-cue” chicken and pulled pork and shrimp shish “ka-boobas” from the smoker out back, served up with homemade side dishes and Booba’s unique fruit barbecue jams for sauce.
“You don’t need a knife or fork,” says singer and guitarist “Wilderness” Bill Kuhlman during his break. “You could eat barbecue through a straw at Booba’s, whether it’s chicken or pork, and his sauces — Booba’s sauce is awesome sauce. When he opens that smoker up, the food disappears. It’s amazing.”
The pulled pork is moist and flavorful, done up with Booba’s secret homemade rub, and piled generously upon the bun. The chicken features a blackened skin, but likewise is quite moist.
Formerly a disc jockey at local radio station K-Rock as well as a DJ and band manager in his native Broward County, Booba learned his barbecue skills while hosting all-inclusive camp-out fundraisers for the Humane Society of Broward County.
“I got good at it,” he says. “There are people who burn meat, and then there are people who get good at it.”
The camp-outs were where Booba also began tinkering with his most ingenious culinary creations — fruit barbecue jams and glazes.
“The fruits were something different,” he says. “I was just messing around one day, and I made a barbecue sauce out of blueberries. A bunch of people said, ‘Man, you need to jar this.’
“So I started thinking about it — doing different experiments — and I came up with 12 different sauces,” he continues. “I’ve got everything from sweet to hot, with a Blueberry Bang to a Hiccup Hot Sauce. With summer coming in, there are specialty fruits that are seasonal, so I’ll be doing a Screaming Peach and a Popping Pineapple.”
Flavors meld in sauces
The flavors in Booba’s jams meld together deliciously, but in such a way that it’s difficult to distinguish individual ingredients.
The Blueberry Bang is deep, dark purple with a hint of sweetness that comes through the rich spices and subtle after-burn, but other than the color, you wouldn’t necessarily realize it contained blueberries.
The Mango Jam is a little sweeter and fruitier, and it looks somewhat like apple butter. It has a subtle undercurrent of cinnamon, or perhaps another baking spice, but it’s much more intricate and nuanced than a single note of spice amid the sweet.
The kick and range of the spices in the various jams speak more of the curry in Indian food than of the barbecue sauces of Memphis or Kansas City. These are gourmet sauces served up with gourmand food.
“I go to the farmers markets and flea markets in Immokalee to get the ingredients for the barbecue jams and glazes,” says Booba’s wife, Wendy Hess. “They’re all made from fresh fruit, and I mill all of the spices. I do it like a cottage industry in small batches — a few each week — and we sell them and they sell out. People come here for beer and sauce.”
Wendy’s side dishes, such as pasta salad and coleslaw, stand up to craft of Booba’s barbecue, chock full of fresh vegetables and likewise subtly dressed and spiced.
All of the plates of food are served at ridiculously inexpensive prices, ranging from $5-$7.
An important thing to know about Booba’s Bar is that the barbecue out back isn’t the only thing that smokes. This is an old-style, stand-alone bar that serves excellent but limited quantities of food, so by Florida law, smoking is allowed indoors at the establishment.
There are outside picnic tables for customers who prefer not to eat inside a smoking establishment, but alcohol isn’t allowed at the outdoor tables.
Given Booba’s limited food offerings, there is no set menu. Wendy typically prepares a couple of meal choices daily that she serves from crock pots, cooking whatever she feels inspired to make that day.
“I tell people, if you want me to cook for you, it’s better that I feel good about it, that it looks good and that I want to make it,” she says. “I can’t be forced into a menu. A lot of people ask when the menu is coming out. Don’t force me into that because it won’t be as good.”
Other than the Sunday “booba-cue,” the only other day with a theme is burrito Friday.
“If you’re going to party all weekend, you’ve got to start with a full belly is my theory,” Wendy says. “I call it the two-day burrito, and it’s a two-and-a-half pound burrito.”
Kuhlman, the regular Sunday entertainer, finishes his beer at the end of his break and points out the bar’s souvenir display case.
“You see the shirts? They say, ‘Somewhere on San Carlos Island,’ ” he says, emphasizing the “where” syllable as significant. “Not some place — some where. And that’s awesome, because people will find it, they’ll absolutely find it. And when they get close enough, they’ll probably smell the smoke from the barbecue.”
When Kuhlman steps before his microphone, he sings Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” ironically picking the running chords of the tune on a guitar.
“It’s a pretty good crowd for a Sunday barbecue ... ,” he sings, adjusting the lyrics to fit Booba’s Bar.
Connect with this writer: @LauraTichySmith (Twitter)
ALSO ON FORT MYERS BEACH
IF YOU GO
What: Booba’s Bar
When: 9 a.m.-10 p.m. daily (food service begins around 12:30 p.m.)
Food: Typically two meal choices daily; plate of food runs $5-$7
Where: Fort Myers Beach Plaza, 19051 San Carlos Blvd. #9, Fort Myers Beach
Driving tip: Booba’s is on San Carlos Island, which is north of the Matanzas Pass “Sky” Bridge.
Info: 898-0953; search Facebook for Booba’s Bar
Note: Smoking is permitted inside the bar