By Gretchen Kurtz
By Mark Antonation
By Cafe Society
By Kristin Pazulski
By Chris Utterback
By Cafe Society
By Jamie Swinnerton
By Jamie Swinnerton
But unfortunately, a good start is mostly all you'll get. At the Aurora location, when I looked past the decor, I saw the kitchen's disturbing setup: a plain galley line set behind the bar, with cooks slapping racks down on standard-issue gas grills to warm for service and big bags of frozen sweet-potato fries being used openly. The product produced here was even more disturbing. The ribs were meager — small and thin and on the wimpy side, the gnarled knots of muscle on one end charred, the rest of the meat strippable in just two disappointing bites. I'd ordered a pound of them and was left with three-quarters of a pound of bones and a still-powerful hunger. Good thing, then, that I had a half-pound of pork shoulder waiting for me — and too bad that the pork was no more than passable. I tried each of Bono's four sauces (available for purchase by the bottle everywhere you turn), but none of them helped. The red was too thick and too brackish, the hot like cheap K.C. Masterpiece hit with a shot of Tabasco sauce. The mild was sticky, mustardy and sweet but too strong, doing nothing but masking the flavor of anything it touched. The sweet and tangy was just a mix of the previous two, plus vinegar, so it came out stingingly sharp, bluntly tart, sticky, sweet and redolent of ballpark brat mustard.
The sides offered little distraction from my disappointment. The sweet-potato fries were mealy, the potato salad inedibly bad — like mashed potatoes laced with vinegar, relish and pickle brine. I washed that taste out of my mouth with sweet tea, which was done properly: a bag of granulated sugar with a drop of tea added for flavor. The meal's only other saving grace was the baked beans muscled up with bits of pork and sweetened with brown sugar.
Two nights later, I ordered the same meal in Centennial and had a much better experience. For starters, this location actually follows the Bono's design, with an open-face grill/oven from which all meat orders are taken — the pork and ribs and brisket and chickens and sausage links stacked up on the grates, a plastic garbage can full of split cordwood sitting close at hand for banking the fires. Outside, I'd seen the massive pile of wood, the chuffs of smoke crawling skyward from the chimneys. Inside, I saw the glaze of smoke and grease around the mouth of the big oven. It was like the heart of a great barbecue restaurant beating inside the body of an anemic chain.
9393 E. Dry Creek Road
Englewood, CO 80112
Region: Southeast Denver Suburbs
The ribs here were a vast improvement — large and fat, with nicely mopped and crusted surfaces and deep, smoky flavor. Encouraged, I ordered the Brunswick stew, a surprisingly authentic take on the Georgia-cum-Carolina classic of tomato broth, potatoes, carrots, okra, peas, butter beans and boiled pork (originally squirrel) touched with a vinegary, almost citric bite. But that's where this Bono's charms stopped. I tried the sweet-potato fries (again, poured straight out of the freezer bag into the Friolator), the potato salad (still bad, but not as bad as at the Aurora store) and the baked beans (still good, and probably better than at the Aurora store). And the chopped pork was a wet, fatty mess: Poorly trimmed to start, the piece chopped for me had not spent nearly enough time in the smoker, and I actually left about half a plate's worth behind — something that I thought I would never do in a barbecue restaurant, tantamount to an alcoholic leaving a wounded soldier on the bar.
It's hard for me to find barbecue I don't like — so when I do, my disappointment is painful, palpable and stabbing. And because I am generally so forgiving of anyone worshipping the cult of the pig, I don't take this disappointment lightly. In Colorado, we attract barbecue restaurants like picnics do flies. And that means that anyone with a serious taste for America's only indigenous cuisine will always be able to find a better option than Bono's.
I certainly know I can.