What to do with a quirky, subterranean space? If you’re chef Frank Bonanno, you embrace the eccentricity and turn it into a low-and-slow barbecue joint, complete with flannel shirt-clad servers. But don’t come to Russell’s Smokehouse looking for traditional Texas-, Kansas City-, or Memphis-style eats; no, this is Bonanno-style ’cue. That means dishes arrive with vinegary coleslaw and a pile of oh-so-Western black beans. That means brisket and pulled pork share menu space with crab cocktail and mushroom dynamite and sweet tea mashes up against house-made soda.
And that means the chef-ed up food is good, real good. The sides alone are worth a visit: hushpuppies (six to an order!) taste like savory-sweet doughnuts, collard greens are tossed with plenty of smoky bacon, and spiced corn swims in butter and lemon.
Main dishes range from staples such as ribs (baby backs, pork, and beef) and blackened catfish to lamb neck and lobster with drawn butter (Wednesday only). Undecided, I stuck to the classics and ordered a combo plate with thick-cut brisket, tender pulled pork, and smoky (but slightly dry) chicken. Glass jars hold the house-made vinegar, sweet, and hot barbecue sauces. I tried each individually, but found I liked them best mixed all together (sacrilege, I know). But then, at this urban barbecue spot, anything goes.
FYI: Portions are huge, so go hungry and plan on boxing up the rest. Ample leftovers (enough for a second meal) help offset the expense.
1422 Larimer St., 720-524-8050