Shortly after Solera closed last spring after twenty years in business at 5410 East Colfax Avenue, founder Goose Sorensen announced that he'd found a new tenant for the building (which he owns). Christopher Nicki, a chef who had previously done time on the line at Old Major, signed a lease to open Hank's Texas Barbecue as a return to his Texas roots.
Nicki, who grew up in Spring, Texas, had originally planned to open Hank's last summer, but ran into permitting and construction delays that pushed the opening out an additional six months. But the result is a complete conversion of Solera's fine-dining kitchen and dining room into a counter-service barbecue joint with a more open floor plan and a meat counter where customers can see their selections being sliced from whole briskets, racks of ribs and other smoked meats (and vegetables) pulled from a smoker on the back patio.
Nicki says there's not too much difference in the style of barbecue he grew up eating in Spring (just outside Houston) and the Austin-style barbecue that's currently one of the hottest trends in the culinary world nationwide, even for cooks with no Texas roots. Simple seasonings and whole-wood smokers (Hank's is equipped with a Tejas Smokers, Inc. model) burning primarily post oak or mesquite are the formula for letting the flavors of the meat come out. Brisket is the focus, but Hank's also serves beef hot links made by River Bear American Meats (founded by Justin Brunson, Nicki's former employer at Old Major), pork spare ribs and shoulder, chicken and turkey, and even smoked jackfruit and portabello mushrooms.
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Sides hew close to tradition as well, with creamy mac and cheese (made with rotini instead of elbow noodles), baked beans, tangy stewed collard greens, coleslaw, potato salad and green beans coated in spicy chile oil. Smoked pickles are a curious surprise on the roster. A full bar pours Lone Star and Shiner in bottles, a small selection of beers and ciders in cans, and a short roster of Willie Nelson-themed cocktails.
Hank's, named after Nicki's low-and-slow dachshund, held a friends-and-family day on Saturday, February 2, when friends, neighbors, displaced Texans and even Goose Sorensen himself showed up to sample the barbecue. Sorensen says he wouldn't be surprised if Nicki will soon have to add another smoker on the patio to keep up with demand.
Beginning this week, Hank's Texas Barbecue will be open from 11 a.m. until the food runs out every Wednesday through Sunday. The restaurant joins AJ's Pit Bar-B-Q (a recent arrival from Chicago) as one of Denver's newest Texas-themed joints; if you're planning a brisket pilgrimage to taste the finest offerings from Texas transplants, don't miss TRU Colotexmex Bar-B-Que & Catering (599 West Littleton Boulevard, Littleton) and Wayne's Smoke Shack (406 Center Drive, Superior).