Get a 'Cue
Unlike Cabin Creek Smokehouse BBQ (see review, page 53), Yazoo Barbecue Company is not the kind of place you have to scout out. This white-cement bunker -- occasionally wreathed in smoke, partially walled in by a chain-link fence -- is right in the heart of downtown at 2150 Broadway, just ten blocks from Bite Me World HQ. It's been there for three years, so it's amazing I don't weigh 400 pounds. Yet.
Three reasons I love Yazoo:
First, the Bob. Of the world's great three-ingredient meals (like a whole fish with lemon and butter, an artichoke with garlic and mayonnaise, or coffee and two cigarettes), the Bob is right up there in the top tier. It's a huge chunk of chicken breast, wrapped in bacon, studded with jalapeños and then smoked for two hours. Baby, it just don't get much better than this. (Fair warning: You need to call ahead to get a Bob. The house suggests two hours, minimum.)
Second, when owner Don Hines says he's doing Deep South barbecue, he's not lying. Don is from Mississippi, and it shows when he smokes. His meat cooks low and slow -- twelve hours -- over a combination of hickory and pecan wood, with only a strong dry rub to keep it company. As it says on Don's website, "All Yazoo meat items can fend for themselves in taste, but we will let you add different barbecue sauces."
"Let you" -- that just kills me. As if the pit man needs to grant permission before anyone can fuck up his own supper. But Don's right: Straight from the smoker, Yazoo's meat is so good that absolutely nothing else is required. While his sauces are also pretty decent (and the South Florida sweet is occasionally excellent), the meats alone are so deeply flavored that slathering sauce all over them is really an insult to the craft of slow-smoking.
Third, the pork shoulder, in particular, is so powerfully flavored by that sweet pecan and hickory smoke that even after being packed in a sealed plastic container and wrapped in a plastic grocery bag for takeout, a pound of it (which can be had for ten bucks) will fill my car with the scent of barbecue before I've gone a mile. It is one of the greatest smells in the world, but dangerous. Last week I almost wrecked while trying to navigate through a construction zone with one hand while using the other to eat Yazoo's pork with my fingers -- because there was just no way I was going to wait until I got home.
That's a lot to love. But there are also a couple of things about Yazoo that drive me crazy. Everything served here is fresh, and that's good. Yazoo smokes all day, and that's good; sometimes it smokes all night, and that's good, too. The place is supposed to be open until 7 p.m., but a couple of hours before that, the house sometimes starts running out of that day's product. Many times when I've come in for some ribs or pulled pork around 5 p.m., I've found only a couple half-chickens and some brisket left in the warming box on the counter that shows what's still available.
And I don't like the smoked chicken wings. They're dry, leathery, peppery and not worth your time -- unless you happen to arrive just as a batch is being pulled from the smoker. And even then, they're still too peppery. Maybe I spent too many years in Buffalo and was just spoiled by those wings, but these didn't fly with me.
These quibbles aside, I love Yazoo. It has some of my favorite ribs in the city, super-fast takeout service because of that counter-mounted warming box, and a cool, indolent Southern vibe that I find incredibly comforting on days when I don't want to be hurried. And soon there will be more to love: According to counterman and manager Jon Sowonik, sometime this summer Yazoo will open its first satellite location, at 9555 East Arapahoe Road in Greenwood Village, right next door to JD's Bait Shop.
My wife is always accusing me of never having met a barbecue restaurant I didn't love, but that's not true. There's plenty of barbecue out there that I don't love. I just don't write about it.
Leftovers: Last August, a few months after Brasserie Rouge bailed out of its home in the Icehouse at 1801 Wynkoop Street, Via moved in, with chef Andrea Frizzi wearing the big white hat. But Frizzi moved on a few months later, with plans to open his own place in the former home of Dario's, at 2011 East 17th Avenue. At first, owner Anthony Momo got behind the burners, but then Rollie Wesen (son-in-law of Jacques Pepin) signed on to run the show at Via. And now it looks like Il Posto, Frizzi's restaurant, will open by the end of this month.
Chef Tim Opiel (late of the Fourth Story) has returned to his original gig at the Rialto Cafe (934 16th Street). Meanwhile, a good portion of his former Fourth Story crew spent last week getting their asses kicked at Alex Gurevich's new Peruvian/Novoandino joint, Limon, at 1618 East 17th. When I talked to general manager Patrick Thomas (he being one of those formerly with the Fourth), he said that the house had a very soft opening on Tuesday, July 11, with just 34 on the books -- but ended up doing around 120 covers. And this was all before the place was technically open to the public. That didn't happen until last Friday.
With Steuben's -- which has been packing them in since it opened two weeks ago at 523 East 17th -- and Limon (and soon Il Posto) joining the lineup, 17th has once again become a major restaurant destination. And congratulations are in order to early pioneer Noel Cunningham, who opened Strings at 1700 Humboldt Street twenty years ago this week.
Up in Boulder, longtime chef Bradford Heap has sold out his interest in Full Moon Grill (2525 Arapahoe Avenue) to his partner Rick Stein, the better to focus on the Chautauqua Dining Hall. At Full Moon, managers say the ownership shift hasn't changed day-to-day operations; chef de cuisine Greg Keesy is still standing his post in the kitchen, just as he did when Heap held the exec's title. Look for Keesy's first seasonal menu change sometime in the next few weeks.
Sadly, Monkey Bean, that eclectic little late-night coffeehouse at 2470 Broadway ("Coffee's On," January 26), will be no more after July 31. "It's really awful," says co-owner Amy Rosewater, explaining how the property had been sold out from under them to a big-time developer who didn't just buy the coffee shop, but the whole block, and how the new landlord had hit Monkey Bean with a 400 percent rent increase, effective immediately, followed by another 100 percent next year. And while Monkey Bean has been doing a good business, the partners -- Rosewater and Monique Costello -- are just selling coffee and snacks, not gold bullion and bald-eagle eggs. So they had no choice but to fold up.
"Starbucks could afford to be here, maybe a big chain could afford to be here," Rosewater says. "But not the Monkey Bean."
Though they've gotten pledges of undying love and support from nearly all their regulars, Rosewater and Costello currently have no plans to relocate. Monkey Bean was successful enough in its two years in business that the partners have already paid off their original loan, Rosewater notes, but they have nothing stashed away. As a matter of fact, in order to recover anything from the venture, they're auctioning off all their fixtures and equipment. Bidding closes July 31, and high bid takes it home. Anything left after that will be sold off at the Monkey Bean garage sale scheduled for August 4-5.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Denver dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.