Once lured inside, customers are sure to keep coming back, because owner Bruce Harrison has barbecue in his blood. A native of Kansas City, he claims he learned to cook BBQ by "divine intervention," and while I'd usually scoff at such a statement, his 'cue has made me a true believer. Harrison is putting his whole heart into turning around this cursed location. "We're really trying to do everything we can to just get this place to blow up, you know?" says Harrison. "People should be lining up out the door for this stuff."
And he's right. All of Sweet Bob's meats are smoked off-site, then finished on a rotisserie in the shop, and they have a wicked edge more like what you'd find at a back-country, open-pit BBQ shack in the Carolinas or the Deep South than any inner-city rib joint. The ribs are tender but not mushy, and Harrison also does kiwi-smoked ham and cherry turkey drenched in sweet-hot sauce -- the kind that makes your mouth water when you taste it and fills your dreams for weeks. But the real treat is the sweet-potato fries, with a coating that's as sugary as candy and addictive as heroin. Harrison says it's "a sweet concoction of egg whites, dried kiwi, a little brown sugar, a little cinnamon, a few other little things," but that description doesn't do it justice. Imagine a kiwi cake frosting melted over soft, fried sweet potatoes. Or your grandmother's best sweet-potato pie, topped with warm syrup. Hell, imagine anything you like -- but get down there and give these spuds a try.
Sweet Bob's is open from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and until 3 a.m. on weekends, in case you get an après-bar-hop case of the munchies. Sunday hours stretch from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. And on Monday, Harrison rests. He deserves it.
Neighborhood watch:When Doug Fleischmann left the message on my voice mail last Thursday, he didn't even know what day of the week it was. "You know, now that everything is coming down to the wire, it's all been like one big, long day," he said. "We -- I mean Frank and me -- haven't had a day off in a month."
Frank would be Bonanno, Fleischmann's partner in Mizuna (225 East Seventh Avenue) as well as Luca d'Italia, the rustic Italian restaurant they've been putting in the former home of China Hill, just around the corner from Mizuna at 711 Grant Street. Luca is set to debut this Saturday -- or is it? "Absolutely, positively? I can't say," Fleischmann tells me when I finally catch up with him. "But we're 99.9 percent sure that February 15 is going to be the day. Everything seems to be falling into place."
That means no last-minute changes, no sudden decisions to become an Argentine-French fusion restaurant. "Although," he adds, "a couple days ago we were seriously considering chucking it all and opening an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet."
Like Mizuna, Luca will be open for dinner only, five nights a week, and it will close down entirely on Sundays and Mondays. The menu is shaping up to be a throwback to those traditional Italian family meals, with appetizer courses featuring braciola, house-cured salami and mozzarella made by Bonanno himself. "It's like butter," Fleischmann says. "It's amazing."
Appetizers will be followed by a pasta course (in small portions, designed specifically for those coming in for the entire multi-course spread, with larger plates available on request), then meats, fish and desserts. "We wanted to do traditional Italian in a contemporary setting," Fleischmann explains, going on to describe Luca's interior in blocks of color -- grays and off-whites mixed up with oranges, yellows and reds.
"We wanted it to be a contrast to Mizuna, which is like your grandmother's kitchen," he says. "This is more like going to eat your grandmother's food at your cool aunt's place in the city."
More sweet deals: On February 23, Opal (100 East Ninth Avenue), which I recently gave a rave review ("A Beautiful Dine," January 30), is hosting a culinary all-star chefs' tasting with Duy Pham (Opal's exec), Eric Roeder (formerly of Micole and soon to be taking over the space at 1424 Larimer Street that housed the Little Russian Cafe), Tyler Wiard (of the Fourth Story) and Steven Fling (Roeder's former pastry chef at Micole). Their ten-course menu will include spiced Calvados oysters, butter-braised Maine lobster with lobster-roe rice and saffron butter, chile-grilled Kobe beef served over sweet-potato-chorizo hash with cumin jus, sweet polenta pudding with avocado sorbet and candied limes, and a whole bunch more. Big-name guys like this don't share a kitchen very often, so this evening is a rare opportunity -- and a pricey one, at $125 a head ($150 with wine). Call Opal at 303-861-7999 for more information.